Sunday, 26 February 2012

Motherhood: The Hazard Perception Test of Life


Seven weeks ago, I gave birth to my first child (you can read my birth story here), a beautiful little girl called Ebony. Since then, life has changed completely. I haven’t been away from her for more than an hour since she was born. And during that hour, while getting my hair cut, it felt like I was missing a limb. 

Some parents are constantly worried that their child is ill in some way. Ebony’s Dad is one of these parents. Over the past seven weeks her potential ailments have included being cross eyed, having a stroke (this was in fact a REM cycle), slow development (because she does not cry as often as the babies on TV), cot death (because he couldn’t hear her breathing), choking (or coughing as most people call it) and it was feared at one point that she suffered from congenital insensitivity to pain (again because she doesn’t scream the house down very often).

I’m not worried about these things. I feel pretty confident that Ebony is a healthy, happy baby. My neuroses lie not with Ebony, but with everyone and everything else.

For me, being a mother is like taking the hazard perception test for a driving licence. In every situation, I am on the alert for potential hazards. In fact, I spot so many imagined potential hazards that if it was the test, I would get penalised for pressing the space bar too many times.
I can’t help it. I know I’m being completely irrational most of the time, but I am terrified of so many things.
Some of my fears are justified I think. For example, drinking hot drinks around Ebony is a no-no. And anyone holding Ebony is informed of this immediately to avoid any awkward moments later on when I start manically hitting the space bar and demanding the baby be returned. This, to me, makes perfect sense. Hot drinks are dangerous, babies have very sensitive skin, and sometimes people spill tea.
I am aware, however, that some of my fears are at least slightly irrational, and may, in some cases, be reason for my sanity to be scrutinised by professionals. For example, the other day Ebony was sat in her bouncer in the living room, close enough that I could bounce it with my foot. Ebony’s Dad walked into the room carrying a tray of hot breakfast foods. Immediately my hazard receivers switched onto full alert. Apparently I think real life is a bad 1980s sit com because I genuinely thought Ebony’s Dad might slip on the wooden floor and slide across the room only to cover Ebony and her bouncer in a piping hot breakfast and pint of water. Obviously this did not happen, in fact he walked to his seat and sat down without any mishap, unless you count me not breathing as a mishap? Sometimes it is very hard for me to keep inside my crazy thoughts and I cannot help but say aloud things such as “Be careful with that spoon!” as if a spoon is a well known danger to new babies.
It’s not just situations that can be potential hazards in my mind, it’s people too. I find myself weighing everybody up. As every parent will know, the first few weeks of a baby’s life are spent being admired by pretty much everyone. Friends and family flock from afar to see the new life you’ve created and, well, it would be rude not to let them have a cuddle from the baby. But each time Ebony is handed to a new person I find myself honing in on them like the terminator. In my mind, I create a profile for each person. I subconsciously recall each time I have seen this person drop something, trip over or spill a drink. While the friend smiles down at Ebony within their arms, I have assigned to them a risk grading. Some people are low risk and I can feel completely at ease while Ebony is with them. In fact, I can take the opportunity to leave the room and have a shower or make a cup of tea, because I know Ebony will be safe while I’m gone. High risk visitors, for example those I have previously seen step on a cat’s tail or fall down the stairs, will be (discretely) watched for the duration of the cuddle. Just in case. Because I would never forgive myself if something bad happened. Unlikely as that may be.
As Ebony is getting older (I know, seven weeks doesn’t really count as older) I am not getting any less irrational, but I am getting better at keeping my fears to myself. I imagine I will spend the rest of my life becoming more and more neurotic. I dread the day that she can leave the house without me. What if a stranger goes running towards her a spoon? Maybe it's best if she just stays with me forever, so I know she's safe...

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