Fear, stress and sleep deprivation

My dad once told me he had never fully relaxed since my birth. Or maybe that he had always been slightly stressed out. (I am my parents oldest child). I don’t remember the exact words but I remember thinking I understood. I did, on some level. It makes sense that having children makes a person emotionally vulnerable. How could it not? A piece of you out in the world, taking risks, having risks thrust upon them. 

I understood the sentiment but I didn’t really understand the intensity that feeling could have. Even since becoming pregnant, I began to get a glimpse of the terror a parent can feel. In a way, it was worse during Elsie’s stint in the womb. I couldn’t see her and I could only feel kicks (albeit painful and impressive kicks) when the time came for her movements to be felt.

“When she’s out, and the birth has hopefully gone well and we get to see that she’s happy and healthy and has all her fingers and toes and we can see her breathing, then it will be easier to relax,” we naively said to one another. 

The birth went well and she’s happy and healthy and has all her fingers and toes and we can see that she’s breathing. We check often. Many times a day. Sometimes a few times a minute. It isn’t easier to relax. 

That newborn babies are especially sensitive to viruses and bacteria is a fear factor that we are gradually getting better at breathing through on public transport and in shops. Right as I type this, I have a cold and the darling gnome is asleep on my chest. 

The anti-SIDS recommendations are many and varied to the point where the first couple of weeks we were afraid of putting her to sleep at all. She could overheat or underheat or pull a blanket over her face or roll over or sleep too deeply or… it’s better now. 

Part of a number of Facebook groups from my time as a hippopotamus (read: pregnant person) I have watched the posts turn from “are these Braxton Hicks contractions?”, and “Is this a piece of my mucous plug? (Pic in comments 🙈)”, to “Does my baby’s breathing seem labored???”, and “Is this normal for newborn poo? (Pic in comments 🙈)”. These groups are invaluable, sometimes completely counterproductive, always educational, and give a very good picture of the kinds of things new mothers worry about. But my point is that, though I’ve inherited the stress-head gene from my dad, I’m far from alone in my new-baby-terrors. Some of them I know are illogical, some I know are legitimate, and plenty of others just depend on the day. 

I’ve already started absentmindedly thinking about the day Elsie starts begging for an iPhone (if it’s still iPhones by then?) and the conversations I’ll have with her about the risks associated with being online. About being a woman in a less than perfect world. About the importance, and perhaps lack thereof, of school. 

Though we are soaking up most moments (nobody loves every minute of newborn parenting and those who disagree are looking back through rose-coloured glasses and need to stop shaming poor, sleep deprived people like me) of Elsie’s earliest of childhood days, but there are times we say “when she’s a bit bigger and less fragile and has had her vaccinations… then we’ll be able to relax a little more.”

For now, I’m just looking forward to the next time I get to sleep more than one and a half hours in a row, simultaneously adoring the little bubbles my gnome is blowing in her sleep. 


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Lily Ray
Lily Ray

Journalist, photographer, traveller and knitter. Mother to a small but demanding infant, Lily's life is messy but generally lovely. She has a lot of thoughts. Here is where she puts them.

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