I’ve been thinking alot lately about my inner fears, those tip-tapping thoughts that have kept me awake some nights during this pregnancy.
The fears that probably stop me writing about my hopes and dreams for this pregnancy and the baby boy I’ll be welcoming in around eight weeks time.
You see, last pregnancy I felt like a goddess. I was blooming, full of hope and wonder about what my body was doing and was capable of. I went to yoga weekly and got in touch with my baby from early on in the pregnancy, I read about pregnancy and birth and I felt educated and in awe of this life-changing event that was taking place.
This time, not so much. Sure, I’ve felt well for the majority of the time and at 32 weeks I don’t yet feel too massive and have been taking walks around my neighbourhood, while work and running after the boy keeps me busy.
But the fear, it’s always there. The fear, not of the birth itself – though that is sometimes there too – but of the aftermath … replaying in my head the moment that I found out that my perfect baby boy that I’d held in my arms for a few hours at that point wasn’t as perfect as I thought.
Memory flashbulbs click: the paediatrician looks him over while I fuss over packing my bag to leave. Trivial things. My hindsight marvels at how confident I was that all was well. He leaves, says he needs to discuss something with his superior. I think nothing. He mentioned that we had different blood types and we’ll probably have to stay in.
FLASH. A perky female paediatrician walks in with a team of student doctors and asks if I mind if they come in to discuss my son. Thinking it’s about the different blood type thing I agree.
FLASH. She holds my son and begins pointing out his face to the students, discussing its asymmetry and mentioning Sly Stallone.
FLASH. I look at my baby boy and for the first time see what they are seeing. I look helplessly at Mr P who looks helplessly back and I wonder if they can tell by my face that this is the first I had heard about this. That I never saw it, that my love for him was so instant and blinding that I never for a second thought there could be anything wrong.
FLASH. They are gone as quickly as they arrived and I remember us both shedding tears and hugging, confused as to what this meant, while we waited for word that Dr Superior could see us and tell us more.
FLASH. Dr Superior is busy so we’re asked to walk down to Special Care to meet him there. We push our baby boy down in one of those see-through baby bed trolleys, while he screams.
Dr Superior greets us and is joined by the perky paediatrician and her army of students. He is straight into business, inspecting our son while firing questions at the students about ‘upper and lower movement’ and other things that seem straight out of an episode of House. I cry silent tears, while I watch on. My baby held aloft. Scrutinised. He calls off the questioning and speaks to us matter-of-factly. I don’t think he names it at that point, but tells us the right side of our baby’s face is not moving. There are two possible outcomes: that the right facial nerve was damaged during the birth and would come good in a few weeks, or that it is a congenital problem that would be here to stay.
I remember the bulk of the students seemed awkward and said nothing to us, but one of the young female students touched my arm and said ‘Bells Palsy or no Bells Palsy, he is radiant’. Well that’s the closest to a direct quote my hazy mind allows. I know the word she chose was an unusual one and that it was instantly comforting. I felt in that moment that she could see what I saw – a beautiful and healthy baby boy.
Although not life threatening, a permanent and noticable difference like facial palsy has the potential to be life defining. I worry that J will struggle for acceptance among peers, that in a world obsessed with the external that he’ll be harshly judged or overlooked. I worry most about what he’ll grow to think of himself and hope he doesn’t grow to hate his smile, learning to hide it out of fear of what others will say.
It took me a long while to embrace these as legitimate fears – I was told ‘it could be so much worse’, that ‘at least he’s healthy’, that ‘it’s barely noticeable’. Words of comfort that only served to intensify my guilt and concern, while I smiled and pretended it was fine.
And now more than two years on, it mostly is.
Learning that there is something ‘wrong’ with your baby just after birth is not something anyone is ever prepared for. In so many ways, in those first hours you are left wide open and vulnerable, so opened up with love for this little person that such news delivers a powerful sucker punch leaving you wounded and confused and so, so scared.
And I’m scared of that happening again – I’m scared instead of welcoming my new boy with that all-consuming love that I did with my first born, that instead I will be consumed with fear, looking him over and bracing for that first check-up.
But in writing these fears down and sending them out into the ether, my hope is that they won’t weigh as heavy on me and this little one who will soon be here. This little one who has also chosen me to be his mother for some crazy reason, just like his brother before him. I wonder what this little soul has been sent to teach me?
And in that thought I realise how open my heart still is. And in the emotion version of paper, rock, scissors, an open heart beats fear every time.