It’s easy to look at a newborn baby and imagine you can protect them from everything, writes Eleanor Gordon-Smith, but you can’t, and that’s OK
I am 30 years old, married to the most exceptional person I have ever met and have a six-month-old baby girl. Since the day she was born I have been consumed by an overwhelming love for her, which sometimes feels almost hard to bear. I find myself always wanting to hold on to her, nervous to take her to public places, and most nights I only half sleep, worried that something might happen to her. My impending return to work date is looming over me, and the idea of an eight-hour day during which I can’t touch her, soothe her, hold her, feels like … well I don’t even have the words. I want to raise her to be resilient and strong, but I don’t feel like I am modelling that at all at the moment. I don’t want the volume of love in my life to change at all – I just want to have the strength to wrestle with it a bit more. Advertisement
Sometimes when fear starts pacing around us we let it eat a little of our lives. We give it what we think it wants, like it’s hungry and this will make it hush: I’ll get up to check the baby one more time, I’ll ring the doctor to make sure, I’ll google symptoms just this once. It takes many people a lot longer than it’s taken you to realise that sometimes the more you try to sate a fear the more of you it wants to eat.
The bad news is you won’t be able to entirely get rid of it. There’s no way around the fact that a life with attachments is a life with worry. You adore your baby girl in the way Elizabeth Stone was talking about when she said to be a parent is “to have your heart go walking outside your body”. And the more we adore someone, the more gut-liquefying we find the thought that something might happen to them.
But I hope there’s a kind of relief in remembering that it’s not possible that something will happen: it’s certain. Your daughter will get sick, and she’ll get lost, and some dumb love will make her cry. She’ll get stuck one night without her wallet and she’ll get bad haircuts and you’ll have fights. It’s so easy to look at the blank slate of a newborn and think that if nobody makes any sudden movements they could stay unhurt forever. But there is no timeline like that; bad things will happen.
And that’s OK. You wouldn’t want it any other way, because being hurt is what bends us into the shapes we’re proud of being. It’s the price we pay for admission to a life where we get to eat fairy bread and learn what butterflies are and hold hands with people we like in the pocket of a jacket in the cold.
Whatever goes wrong for her, she will find something glowing in the middle of it, because the ways that things go wrong will be hers, and because you’ve already kept her safe in the biggest way you can, her mum will be there with her.
In the meantime, fear lives in the body, and you can do a surprising amount to curb it by meeting it there. Exercise hard, if you can. A lot of anxiety withers on the other side of physical exertion. Wrap yourself up in tight comfy things, really swaddle yourself. And hold on with everything you’ve got to the reminder that it’s not your job to protect her from everything. It is not a referendum on your parenting when things go wrong.
You don’t have to starve the fear entirely, but don’t let it starve you.