Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Preciousness of Life

Three times I have had to call my son to keep him in this world. The first was when he was five days old, admitted to the children's hospital with a golden staph infection after being born at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane. His tiny body lay floppy and unresponsive on the bed, and I called to my little baby, dangling my nipples over him, begging him to rouse and feed.

The second time was after he had his first and only round of vaccines when he was four months old. We came home from the doctor's, and my baby lay in distress on my chest until he cried himself to sleep. I listened to his intermittent sniffles and sobs as he slept. Then, his noisy breathing stopped, and his body turned blue. I grabbed him and shook him, calling to him not to die, and wailing until he roused thirty seconds later.

The third time, he was standing next to me in the bathroom while I had a shower, and he was one year old. He was teething and chewing on a Heinz baby rusk, one of the long finger types. I turned to look at him, because I could no longer hear him chewing and babling. His face was puffy and blue, and his throat was spasming. I knocked him on the back of the chest. When this did not work, desperately put my fingers down his throat and pulled out the chunk of rusk that was stuck there, all the while screaming for him to hold on.

Each of these three times, I was doing what I thought I needed to do to be a good mother. I'd had my baby in a hospital suite, in case anything went wrong. I'd chosen to vaccinate him, except for the Hep B vaccine, thinking that the risk to him was greater if I didn't vaccinate him. I was giving him a rusk, from a packet with a happy baby on it, to relieve his suffering.

I have done many things in his three years of life and nine months of gestation with the motivation of protecting him from known and unknown dangers. I saw medical professionals for my pregnancy and birth, I avoided all foods that might be a carrier of listeria, I bought a playpen, I put up safety gates and safety devices in and around our home, and put a leash on him when we went walking, to name a few.

If I hadn't done those things, he might have been hurt, or he might not. In each case, I wonder at the cost I and he paid. For example, in my pain to avoid foods that might carry bacteria, in my busy lifestyle I failed to eat the variety of healthy foods that are necessary for good nutrition of mother and child, probably contributing to our low zinc and magnesium levels. And it always felt wrong to enter the kitchen without him, leaving him beyond the gate or in the playpen, feeling unworthing and unwelcome, when I might have carried him on my back. I wonder how he felt wearing a leash.

There was a point when he was approaching his second birthday when I let go of my fear for him, and I trusted he and I to know what we needed to be safe. It was before I read Leidloff's Continuum Concept, which I picked up, some months later, because the idea of the book appealed to me. I had observed that, in the three out of three cases when I looked the reaper in the face and snatched my baby back, my irrational fear had caused the danger to my son's life.

Last night, I had a dream. More accurately, a nightmare. I was on an outing with a group of adults and children, some of them known and some unknown to me. My son was with me. As we went about, to the park, a restaurant, and on the street, we kept seeing images of dead and dying children. Some were on TV, or in photos, and some of them we actually watched die on their way to hospital.

The children were dying from faulty toys, bee stings, illness, and car crashes. A companion commented on how terrible a day it was. I clutched my son to my chest, and started running away. Demons representing each cause of death left the bodies of the children we had seen, and chased us. I stopped, surrounded, and, to my surprise, yelled "Go Away! You Don't Belong Here!"

They left me alone, and flew back to terrify my companions, who called out to me for help. I carried my son back to them, untormented by the spectres, who were swirling around the group. I told them what I had done to drive the demons away from me, and together we chanted, at the top of our voices, "Go Away! You Don't Belong Here!" We were left alone, safe with out children. At that point, I woke up. It was the happiest ending to any dream that I have ever had.

Before falling pregnant, I had never been afraid for what might befall a child of mine. I didn't know that feeling that grips my chest, throat, and stomach, and brings tears to the eyes, at the mere contemplation of my child feeling pain. When I became pregnant with him, and I started to feel this fear, I thought it must be something important that I had to listen to and take action on.

I learned something in my dream last night, and it is this. What I thought was fear, is in fact an acute awareness of the preciousness of life and of mortality itself. I was aware of neither of these things before carrying my son, and since I only felt them once I was pregnant and a mother, I thought that this feeling was a message to protect him from each and every risk that he might face, even if that potentially exposed him to other risks.

I myself have created my own trauma from making a decision "just in case". Despite wanting a water birth, and a birth with midwives, I birthed in hospital with an insecure obstetrician and (at best) neutral strangers. I made that decision because I was (irrationally) afraid that I would tear. When I tried to breath my baby out, I was continually interrupted by people concerned that I wasn't making any progress. I was moved to the bed, where I was coached to push and suffered a second degree tear. I now have keloidal scarring from an allergy to the acrylic stitches, and zero lovelife.

My dream has given me a great gift. What was once fear there is release. I feel joy that we are alive, and that I had the strength to tell the unreal dangers that he did not face, as he slept in the crook of my arm, that they had no power over us. I say again that fear, a mere thought in my mind, has no power over us. I am responsible for the life that I create for myself and my children, and it will be a life of courage and compassion. He may die at any time, and he will die one day. I may tear with my next baby. I am not afraid.

Katarina Konkoly


  1. What a great blog. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. I know of this from my own child dying and although I don't let the fear of another one dying alter me completely it is never far from my mind. It is on the horizon at all times and I have to live with it.

  3. Thank you for sharing this....beautiful!

  4. "I didn't know that feeling that grips my chest, throat, and stomach, and brings tears to the eyes, at the mere contemplation of my child feeling pain." That sums up my fears about my daughter. I am still learning to control my fear, and I am afraid it's a long road ahead of me. Hopefully your article will give me some perspective in the future.

  5. oh Tracey, you are so strong. hugs.
    thanks everyone for your support. i'm really proud to have a blog here.