So I’ve been guilty of uttering, “My first child died, so I have anxiety about XYZ <insert almost any parenting related thing under the sun>,” as though no other parent has ever experienced anxiety. And usually whomever is on the receiving end of my statement either validates me or (more often, it seems) reminds me, “Oh, but EVERY new parent experiences anxiety – hahaha (yes, they sometimes laugh).”
And sometimes I try to be all normal and sympathetic and human again and be like, “Oh okay yeah you’re right HAHAHA.”
But after a few recent encounters (two of which occurred this morning), I’m now thinking, “Uh huh yeah sure every new parent experiences anxiety whatever just keep telling yourself this.”
Like a few weeks ago a friend told me someone she knows recently crossed AN OCEAN to go on a vacation with her spouse without her child (who’s close to Fredrik’s age). As it relates to the distance I’ll allow myself to venture away from Fredrik??? Let’s just say it’s an achievement for me to cross the freaking living room.
Then the other day on Instagram I saw a picture of this (non-bereaved) parent (with a baby close to Fredrik’s age) out to eat. In a restaurant. With her baby. During flu season. Meanwhile, Fredrik’s only outings to date have been to the pediatrician and to an empty furniture store and just outside (if it’s warm enough).
This morning, we took Fredrik to one of said pediatrician appointments, and in the waiting room there was this baby around his age in a car seat, and this baby was all slumped down, and, I shit you not, her head was resting like perpendicular to her torso (bent at a 90 degree angle). And her mom was literally just happily chatting up the receptionist as if her daughter didn’t look to be on the edge of positional asphyxiation.
Also, in the waiting room was another baby in a car seat… I have no idea how old this baby was… Because I couldn’t see him/her. Because he/she was under at least three or four fleece blankets, some of which completely covered his/her head. And I am not referring to the breathable car seat cover specifically designed for the job of protecting from the cold – the kind where there’s space between the baby and the fleece material. Nope. This baby’s face was just plain covered by a thick blanket. And his/her mother didn’t appear the least bit concerned either. So this is kind of a far cry from around this time last year when I fired our first nanny at least in some small part because I checked the nanny cam, and Joel was resting in a swing with a blanket the consistency of tissue paper draped over his feet.
I don’t mean to suggest that these parents are bad (although in some cases they are) or that I am a better parent (although in some cases I am) just because I am overly cautious because of extra anxiety I may have that was born out of my tragic experience. My anxiety is a potential detriment to my living children on many levels, and I must make a concerted effort daily to attempt to manage it to ensure it doesn’t leave a negative impact on them… In fact, while I think in many instances my anxiety might offer some protection to my living children, in other cases it doesn’t, rendering it completely unnecessary. The effect is that I suffer, and, in return, I receive no real benefit. In this respect, I’m actually jealous of these parents on whom I’m currently railing.
So more than anything this post is purely observational.
While I know that “EVERY new parent experiences anxiety hahaha,” and the vast majority worry over their childrens’ well-being, I don’t think it is fair to say that their anxiety is the same as mine – much like my (very real) pre-loss anxiety about pregnancy pales in comparison to my post-loss anxiety about pregnancy.
I once read a statement (and I don’t remember where I read it so that I may properly cite the source) that went something to the effect of, “If you want to try to imagine the pain that results from losing a child, attempt to imagine the greatest pain you could ever know, and then multiply this pain by a million, and then you’re still not even in the ballpark.”
In my opinion, truer words have never been spoken. So, yes, I think my anxiety in parenting after loss is greater compared to what a normal parent experiences. I mean, how could it not be? When non-bereaved parents worry that something could happen to one of their children, they are envisioning something abstract. Something abstract they can quickly push aside because tragedies only happen to other people, right?
When bereaved parents worry that something could happen to one of their (living) children, they are not envisioning something abstract. They are remembering and re-living a reality – the most awful reality. And instead of being able to push the scary thoughts aside, they take the thoughts further, potentially even plan another funeral in their mind. Because they live in a very different world. One where tragedies don’t just happen to other people. Tragedies happen to them.