Anxiety Questions and Answers

I’m learning to live with my fear for my baby’s safety: it’s the price we pay for love | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Anxious expecting parents should know the terror doesn’t dwindle, but it does become more manageable as time passesI write this from a house that is slowly emerging from Covid, which finally caught us after two and a half years of the pandemic. In some ways, nursing a small, sick baby with a sick husband while also very sick myself was a more hellish experience than childbirth. There were points at which I wondered how we would be able to care for him. Thankfully my mother arrived bearing Calpol and some seriously old-school cough syrup, and for the past week has been feeding us and nursing us, risking her own health in the process.These challenges mean that I have been thinking rather a lot about fear and how it relates to parenthood. The baby’s history of breathing problems meant that I was genuinely frightened when we caught the virus, and though I knew it didn’t affect children much, a child I happen to know and love had a very severe reaction to the disease. That, as well as my son’s time in a newborn intensive care unit, made it difficult not to let myself become consumed by terror, and yet somehow I coped. While I was there, I saw some very sick babies and some very frightened parents. There was a moment in the bedroom, as I feverishly rocked him back and forth, when I semi-hallucinated all the women who had done the same with their own sick offspring. Most of us need only look at our own family trees to see multiple infant mortalities. In my own family’s history is a tale of returning home from burying one child to find another dead.This all sounds rather dramatic, but I’m convinced these past tragedies are somehow encoded in us. They are, after all, part and parcel of the history of humanity, and in many parts of the world continue to be a living reality. Perhaps it’s why the other mothers I speak to admit that they, too, check their babies’ breathing in the night. How many times in the last few months have I placed my hand to my son’s chest to check that he still lives? It makes sense, though: it is only in the past century that we have been able to have much confidence that our babies will survive, and even then you have myriad terrifying, unpredictable threats: Sids, meningitis, polio – again.Fear, my mother says, is the price we pay for love. The fear I feel that something will take my child away from me is so terrible that, like an eclipse, it’s better not to look directly at it. And yet I am not an especially neurotic mother and nowhere near as anxious as I thought I might be. My history of PTSD – which at one point manifested as health anxiety – meant I considered parenthood with trepidation. Would I be consumed by fear? Would I transmit that fear on to my baby? And yet the things we believe will happen do not always come to pass.Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a Guardian columnist and authorDo you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at guardian.letters@theguardian.com Continue reading…

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