Sunday, February 22, 2009

Owning Fear, or not...

I always hesitate before posting something which was inspired by a comment, because I absolutely thrive on reading comments, and I am so grateful to those who regularly contribute to this site with their reflections and dialogue.
And so it is that I hope that what follows will inspire a devoted reader (and commenter) to feel proud that she inspired deep thought (which I am prone to) and not self conscious of her words....

The comment was in response to a few posts ago, where I confessed to a moment of panic where fear threatened to surround me during an evening meal. I wrote of the reality of realizing that death could happen right there at my dinnertable, that my daughter could choke and die on the food I was spooning into her mouth. I truly don't think most people would go there, but I did, and here is what one reader commented:

.. don't own fear that you don't need or want to have. Don't accept it. You've already told us that you can go most days without it. So when it rears it's ugly head.. say "i don't accept you. I don't want you. go away." Then make it. Take deep breaths. Thinking that if Aoife had choked on food that it would have been your hand that did it is owning that fear. So why own it??

That, my dear, is a very good question. I have thought a great deal about this, and it reminded me of one day while I was pregnant with Liam, and I had run to my therapist after a night of virtually no sleep. I had been frozen with panic, terrified that the baby had died, unable to sleep and unable to accept, even, that his movements indicated his well being.
The dear, dear woman, who I loved and trusted so much, met my eye, and said, "Is there any way you can just trust this baby? Can you trust that it will be allright?"
Everything in the room turned red, and I exploded.
Trust? You want me to trust? Do you know how it feels to be a person whose child has died on HER watch? Who lay there reading a novel while her daughter was silently suffocating within her womb? Do you know what it feels like to be carrying life; yet know that one hundred percent of your children have died and you could not stop it? Do you know what it feels like to wake up in the morning in my silent house and know I have to live another day as myself, the woman whose baby is dead and will always be dead? Do you know what this feels like? No, no, no. I cannot trust. I cannot trust.
I wanted to trust, truly I did. But I could not. Not then, anyway, and things have changed.

When I first toyed with the idea of not owning the fear, of pushing it away, I thought, yes. This is what it means to NOT have a dead child. To not have a dead child means that when you think about your child dying, and the fear doesn't even quite rise in you, you have the power to make it someone else's problem, to push it away and tell yourself that worrying won't accomplish anything and that the likelihood of the child choking or otherwise dying is so unlikely that it's not meaning much to spend a flicker of a moment worrying about it.

I think I agree with this, that without having truly been slammed with true fear, you can control it. But what I realize I don't agree with is what I used to think, back when I verbally assaulted my gentle, kind therapist, which was that I had no control over the fear. I think what happens now is almost a combination of the two. I neither own, nor disown the fear.
There is no way that I can avoid feeling the fear, when it rises, because I know the fear. It is woven into the grains of my muscles, into each blink of my eyelashes, into each pulse of my heart. When I remember back to the moment that the doctor met my eye and said to me, "I'm sorry, your baby's heart isn't beating anymore, your baby is no longer alive," the emotion that still surges into me like adrenaline is not sadness, or grief, or anger, it is pure, raw terror and fear. It is the icy grip of death on my neck, of knowing that I have fallen victim to something that was always someone else's problem, and that I can't backpaddle my way out of it. It's horror, it's terror, it's fear. It's irreversible. It lives in me, that memory, and that is what I can feel when I think about death ever returning to our household. I know I am not immune.
However, while I can feel the fear so intensely on demand, I also have matured in my grief and mothering process to recognize and accept that the fear will get me nowhere, except into a place which is worse than where I am now. And so while I don't feel that I'll ever be able to reject the fear, and truly disown it, I will refuse to look at it in the eye. I will refuse to let it spend more than a fleeting moment in the conscious recesses of my brain. While I will let the fear influence my decision making to some extent, I will not let it inhibit me from living. I must go on, and I must love life for what it is. Fear will not accomplish anything.

And so, perhaps, I can say this to the fear: I know you are there, and I respect you. You come from an honest place. But I will not let you take away from what I have now. You belong in my life because of what has happened to me, but I will not meet your eye. Fade into my background and live there, as a memory, and please try not to interfere with what wellness and good surrounds me now.


Anonymous said...

I see what you're saying.

If I may,

I can relate to this point:

"And so while I don't feel that I'll ever be able to reject the fear, and truly disown it, I will refuse to look at it in the eye."

on a completely different level than having lost a child.

My second semester of college I was raped. I didn't tell anyone for a very long year. My mom, she knew something was wrong because I had quite obviously changed, but she couldn't figure it out.

There are people who have a fear of rape because they've seen shows where women were raped. and then there are the victims, and the survivors.

For a year I was a victim. It happened and then two short months later I met my husband. God bless him, I clung to his kindness like a rock. I didn't tell him it happened until after he proposed. Men scared the shit out of me, but he didn't.
I was constantly scared no matter where I went, and hardly went anywhere, because penises where just everywhere!

after a year, and just before our wedding, i finally told my mom what had happened.
she pressured me into counseling, but talking about it just made the feeling burn alive even more. so i stopped going.

somehow, and i can't remember how, but i stopped being the victim of rape. i saw all these women who fought back. they called themselves the survivors and that's what i wanted to be.

it took a lot of work (and i regret having not turned him in) but i stopped being afraid.

before the mere mention of the word rape brought flashbacks, and i'd panic. but somehow i made that stop. i "willed" myself to be stronger than the fear.

i can relate to it being ever present. knowing what other people don't.
but i got tired of being afraid of men. i got tired of not being able to look people in the eyes. i got tired of the flashbacks and the nightmares.
I'm not saying that's something you can do. rape is a different level than babyloss.
just saying i can relate to it being ever present. sneering at you behind your back. waiting to pop up and hurt you again with memories.

i am strong.

you are strong.

i think this is good:
"But I will not let you take away from what I have now."

Delia said...

You are an amazing lady!! I love this post and seeing someone else talk about fear. My second pregnancy happened almost immediately after my first daughter, Somer, was stillborn. I lived the entire 38 weeks in fear and still find myself in that fear sometimes. But now I grasp ahold of what little sanity I have left and have learned to "live" with the fear. It doesn't control me as much but it's still there. Fear and I have become friends, if that's even possible.

mama said...


This is such a beautiful post.
I too live with "that" rests upon my shoulder everyday, it rests there, perched quietly.

My fear is a quiet silent passenger. I simply can't ignore it, and it can't ignore me. We sort of just co-exist together.

Does this make sense?

Though my Holdyn is here with me alive, breathing and nursing...I am terrified of something happening to him. Not just in a "regular" old parenting sort of worried way, but more so as a loss mama who knows what we know....

You know what I mean.

I guess what I mean to say is, I totally understand what you are saying through this post. You put it all so eloquently out there.

Jen said...

Carol, I love how thoughtfully you write about fear, about what you can and can't control, about the basic reality for you, and I love that you inspire thought and reflection in so many people who love you and need you.

I have been thinking a lot about death anxiety, and reading a book about it called "Staring at the Sun" which I am getting a lot out of. I am intrigued by the idea of harnessing fear, or transforming it, to make life more precious. There have been many times when I have been hobbled with fear.

ezra'smommy said...

I'm not far enough out from my loss for the fear not to be ever-present. Fear is still with me every day. Thank you for this post.

Gretchen said...

Thank you for exploring this in such detail. I am loathe to share my fears with non-babylost mothers/fathers b/c I know for the most part, though they think they might, they just can't relate.

"There is no way that I can avoid feeling the fear, when it rises, because I know the fear. It is woven into the grains of my muscles, into each blink of my eyelashes, into each pulse of my heart." -- Oh so true!

Though I'm not happy about co-existing with this fear, somehow I feel fortunate to know it is real.

Ya Chun said...

Not recognizing your fear would be dangerous, it'd be more like denial. And fear makes us aware of dangers, to be prepared to take action. I had no fear during my pregnancy, maybe if I had I would have known when to take action. Have fear can be healthy; it does need recognized and then filed awway.

Cara said...

Carol - It is like you always know exactly what we need to read. I needed this. That is obvious if you have read my last few posts. Even more so if you saw Bear's first ER visit, stiches and ensuing panic attack that I had to stay calm for - trying to ease her anxiety.

Fear is our barnacle.

Gal aka SuperMommy said...

Stunning, Carol. You're right, we can't backpaddle out of it, but we can adjust our response.

Charlotte's Mama said...

Of COURSE you may, that is why we are all here, to think and reflect upon each others words...
I do think there is definite legitimacy in comparing your experience, because it, too, is something you never envision happening to you and the vulnerablity (forgive me for assuming) that must ensue, the loss of innocence, that is all very much on the same level of what we mamas experience, although of course the experience is vastly different. I applaud you for letting go of your fear, I cannot imagine what bravery that must take. I'm not even sure how to respond, in terms of why or how I feel that my fear lingers, and perhaps it is only because I feel that a certain amount of the fear protects Liam and Aoife, and that serves all of us well. Perhaps that makes sense? That by having a little bit of fear left, I am warding off things (like whole grapes) that might bring me back to that place. And this might bring me a little bit of power, in the process.
Thank you for all your responses, they mean a great deal to me.