How to let go of fear in parenting

This headline should end with a question mark. Sorry for the second misleading title in a row.

I don’t have any new, adorable photos of Elsie from this week. I have badly lit photos on my phone of her blotchy eyes and spotty face. That’s because she came down with a sudden, high fever on Sunday evening (Swedish Mother’s Day) and has only just returned to her normal, giggly, pear-eating self. 

A three-day fever followed by what we suspect was nausea and a truly awful night’s sleep complete with screaming and vomiting. The intense fear I felt for Elsie back when she was three weeks old and suffering from her first cold came back with a vengeance. 

When I posted about my experiences with post-natal anxiety and general feeling of impending doom, I received lots of lovely, supportive comments. And many comments which I’m certain were intended to be lovely and supportive, but which came across more along the lines of “stop worrying so much, enjoy your baby”. 

I wish it were that simple. I also wish I knew how much of what I felt – and in fact, am feeling – is par for the course, how much of it is my reasonably highly strung personality, and how much is just exhaustion. The fear is worse after a bad night’s sleep.

Last night, watching my husband pacing back and forth, holding our dear little baby, patiently waiting for her sad screaming to stop, it really hit me. To me, this is the worst part of parenthood. The fear that something is or could be badly wrong. The fear that I might not be able to identify it if it is. The fear from googling and from not googling. 

The knowledge that I am just a person. Having created and birthed a person does not arm me with the knowledge to look after her. What if I’m not enough and what if I overlook something that was really, really important. 

Usually, I squash the feelings down, trying not to let them form into sentences in my head, somehow believing, even microscopically that thinking the words of my worst fears and nightmares could somehow jinx them into reality. 

I will add, for anyone panicking about my state of mind, that I don’t have these thoughts regularly and, when I do, they rarely get out of hand. 

Feeding my little baby all day for days while she recovered from her fever, watching as a viral rash spread across her face, covered in vomit over and over again, knowing she is almost definitely just dealing with a regular little baby illness but really second guessing everything my instincts are telling me just has a way of draining my batteries and leaving me vulnerable to the fear.

On a good day, the fear is that she will wake up after we have put her to bed. On an average day, the fear is that she didn’t eat quite as much as the day before. On a bad day, the fear doesn’t bear writing down. 

How lucky we are to have one another on all of these days, Felix and I. How lucky we are to have our parents just a phone call away, even accessible in different time zones. How lucky that these bad days after bad nights of bad sleep are rare, so that these feelings of doom seldom visit.

My own mother, and all the mothers I know look so strong from where I stand. They know which rashes are scary and which ones are nothing to worry about. They know how to fold everything perfectly and how to get stains out of the nice linen. They know how to sew and how to disinfect. They know which creams to use on which cut. 

When will I feel like a mother, really? When she’s a year old? When she’s five? When I stop thinking about the question altogether? 

I can research until the cows come home (in my mind, these cows are also seasoned and competent mothers) but I hope one day it clicks. 

Until then, I pray for sleep and to absorb by osmosis the calm and confidence of all the mothers in my life. I might also keep an eye our for a good therapist.

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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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