Facing Fears

Like every parent, I have a fear of something bad happening to my child. Isobel was my first baby so I don’t know how strong those fears are in normal circumstances, compared to mine in a world where my daughter dying was an actual reality. While I do freak out at times, and picture Theo’s death or shake him a little to check he’s still alive, I know that I haven’t been as anxious about him dying since he was born as I was during his pregnancy. The Snuza breathing monitor that I thought I wouldn’t be able to do without, remains unopened. I leave him upstairs asleep for brief times without even a regular baby monitor, knowing I will hear him if he cries. I have left him overnight with my parents on two occasions and have also let my friend babysit him for a few hours. I have moved on from purées and given him foods that I know he could conceivably choke on and watched him gag as he tries to manoeuvre it around his mouth. 

New Year’s Eve however was the most challenging experience yet when Simon and I took Theo up a mountain (Cavehill in Belfast)! Simon was wearing Theo in the baby carrier and obviously was very careful with his footing but I was really terrified that he was going to fall with the mud, or be knocked over by one of the mountain bikers that were whizzing down the mountain, or equally by one of the joyful dogs bounding around, or even that I would fall and knock Simon down! On the way up, approaching a narrow ledge that wound around the hill (this part is called The Devil’s Punchbowl, you can kind of see in the picture below – but I swear it seems worse in person!) I told Simon I was too anxious, I couldn’t do it and that we would have to go back.


Simon pretty much ignored me and kept on going! Cue lots of deep breathing and practicing of repeatedly bringing my mind back to the present moment every time it ran away to the most catastrophic of scenarios. Every now and again, Simon would turn and smile reassuringly and say we were nearly at the top. I would thank him and tell him to turn the fuck around and watch where he was going! 

We have climbed so many metaphorical mountains since finding out that Isobel had died that day in June 2015. Putting one foot in front of the other again and again even when we wanted to give up, treading as carefully as we can, but still taking risky chances, knowing that is the only way of moving forward and living the kind of life that we want to live. On New Year’s Eve the mountain was real, the ache was in our legs rather than our hearts, the fear of falling, of something bad happening to our baby, enough to make me want to turn back. But with encouragement and a reminder of the reward, I kept going and eventually we made it to the top! 

Was it worth it? Well it was bloody feeezing and so windy! But there was a good sense of achievement that was pretty sweet and some justification for all the chocolate consumption later that night! 

The big difference between Cavehill and my metaphorical mountain is that in the world of life after the loss of a child, I don’t imagine there is ever a top to my metaphorical mountain. Maybe plateaus and times of easier terrain or rest. But there won’t ever be a sense of being done with the struggle, taking a pitcure, saying we made it, it’s all downhill from here. 

That’s the thing that I don’t think anyone except another bereaved parent understands. To more or less of an extent, every day for the rest of our lives, we will be trekking up that mountain of life without Isobel. 


Who’s next?! 

Since Isobel died I frequently find myself worrying that I am, or someone else I love is, going to die. 

Shortly after giving birth, I felt incredibly weak and faint. I could barely move my limbs and felt like I was going to pass out but my blood pressure was fine and the doctor did a neurological exam which I had no problems with. I think it was just a combination of the pain relief medication, extreme exhaustion and the trauma of losing my baby. I was convinced that I was dying, having never felt like that in my life. I even said goodbye to Simon! After being sick a couple of times and then some tea and toast I began to come round. 

The feeling that I am going to die hasn’t completely gone though. A pain in my tailbone becomes bowel cancer. An ingrown hair under my arm is breast cancer. A headache is clearly a brain tumour. My latest concern is cervical cancer so I have booked in for a smear test even though I’m not due one until next year. I can’t stress enough how unlike me this health anxiety is. The old me (the real me!) was almost too relaxed about everything. Nothing would go wrong, everything would work out fine. Something would need to be hanging off before I would visit the doctor! As a psychologist I would say that I had an internal locus of control. 

An internal locus of control means that generally I felt that life was in my control – that if I did everything I was supposed to do, things would go my way. This was mostly how my life had been before losing Isobel. 

Isobel dying despite me doing my very best to keep her nourished and healthy destroyed my sense of control. Now I know exactly how fragile life is. I know that healthy babies can be starved of oxygen and die, days before their due date. If this can happen, of course I can die too. 

Last week Simon was a little late home from work and his phone was going to answer machine. I convinced myself that he had been in a car crash and had been killed. I could picture it. I worked myself in to a total state and was crying when Simon calmly walked in the door on his phone! I have gone from being the person who ridiculed others for their catastrophic thinking, to being the catastrophiser myself! 

I am especially worried about my parents dying. My dad turned 70 this year and my mum is 66 so I guess it’s not unreasonable to be concerned about their health but I never was significantly concerned before. My big worry is that they will pass away before I have another child/children and they will never get to meet their other grandchildren. I see the amazing relationship my parents have with my niece and nephew who have grown up with loving grandparents and I’m jealous that my children (if there are to be more) are less likely to have that due to the age of my parents. 

One of my best friends has just recently gotten the all clear after breast cancer treatment. I did not let myself think that she would die but when I got the news that her surgery had been successful I wept and wept with relief. I was so happy for my friend, her husband and her family but also selfishly for me – that I would not have to face any more loss. 

I have told everyone I know that they are forbidden to die. I have told them I could not cope with losing anyone else. However in my new view of the world, I know that anything could happen to someone I love at any time – and it’s terrifying.