A defining element of motherhood for me has been the intense emotions that some from the "infant survival" instincts. Any thought of harm coming to my baby, or anyone else's, sends my anxiety through the roof. I experienced these emotions to an awful degree in the high-SIDS-risk months. It's also what kept me in such a state of high anxiety--and depression--when I wasn't able to breastfeed my baby well in his first weeks.
Lately, it kicks in whenever I hear a news story about a tragedy involving a child. For example, last night I watched a Dateline NBC show about a deranged woman who murdered a man after he ended a relationship with her. The story was told from the perspective of the man's parents, who left their home to move closer to their son's killer and her baby, their only grandchild, born after the murder. The show was filled with home movies and pictures of the baby, chubby and cherubic like Sam. It ended in absolutely the worst way possible: a murder-suicide by the woman, stripping from the grandparents the one ray of hope in their lives and depriving an innocent child of his future. This morning I can't stop thinking about this poor child every time I look at Sam.
A few weeks ago, I found myself agonizing for days after listening to a radio interview with a female author of a memoir who discussed in detail aborting a baby in the fourth month of pregnancy after testing positive for a genetic disorder.
And last week, I read an article in Time magazine called "the only child myth," which discussed some things parents consider when deciding whether to have more than one child. I thought, morbidly, that it did not mention the risk of child loss as a reason for having more than one.
Things like this rarely crossed my mind before I became a mother, and news stories certainly didn't send adrenaline coursing through my blood. Of course, harm comes to children every day, and lots of it, because of humanity's imperfections. Not long ago I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which takes place in mid-century Africa, where women give birth to nine children in the hopes that two will survive to adulthood. What are the mechanisms that allow people, especially mothers, to cope with the reality of children who suffer, and children who die?
Maybe it will get easier for me to face the truths of the world as Sam gets older. But for now, the only thing I can bring myself to do is turn off the radio and TV and bury my head in the sand.