Tag Archives: anxiety

Peace Like A River

Two weeks after Dominic was born, Mike announced that he was going out for a bike ride.

“Just a 50km loop,” he said. “I’ll be back within two hours.”

I nodded and told him to have a good ride, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to cry. I wanted to clutch him and beg him not to go. I wanted to demand that he tell me how I would survive if a car hit him – which happens to cyclists all the time, you know – while he was being so irresponsible as to be out riding for fun. Fun. What was he thinking to be indulging in something so very dangerous and call it fun?

I had expected my son’s birth to deliver love into my life. What I had not expected was that right alongside love would come something else, something that would assault me more often and more viciously than I had ever imagined.

Fear.

In the weeks following the miraculous trauma of Dominic’s arrival, I found myself battling fear at every turn. I would see myself dropping the baby, or accidentally smothering him while I was feeding him in bed. The thought of unintentionally stepping on his tiny hand while he was lying on the floor made me stop breathing. Whenever I left the house I visualized car accidents. I lay awake at night when I should have been getting desperately needed sleep thinking about the plane ticket that had my name on it – the ticket for the flight that would take all three of us back to Laos.

How, I wondered, am I ever going to be able to take this baby to Laos when I don’t even want to take him to the local grocery store? What if he catches dengue fever? What if he picks up a parasite that ravages his tiny insides? What if he gets meningitis and we can’t get him to a doctor in Bangkok fast enough? What if the worst happens?

What if?

One of my favorite hymns was written by a man who was living through one such horrific “what if”. After learning that all four of his children had drowned when the ship they were traveling on collided with another boat and sank, Spafford left immediately to join his grieving wife on the other side of the Atlantic. As his own ship passed near the waters where his daughters had died, he wrote It Is Well With My Soul.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

This hymn is one of my favorites because it puzzles me. I’m awed and confused by Spafford’s ability to write these words in the face of such loss. Because of the story behind it, the song demands my respect.

Plus, I really like that image in the first line of peace like a river.

I think of this line sometimes when I’m out walking around town, for Luang Prabang is nestled between two rivers. The Mekong is a force to be reckoned with – wide, muddy, and determined. Watching the frothy drag on the longboats as they putt between banks gives you some hint of the forces at play underneath the surface. Mike likes the Mekong, but my favorite is the other river, the Khan. The Khan is much smaller and at this time of year it runs clear and green, skipping merrily over gravelly sand banks and slipping smoothly between the poles of the bamboo bridge that fords it.

I used to think of peace primarily as a stillness – a pause, a silence, a clarity – but that sort of peace is not the peace of rivers. There is a majestic, hushed sort of calm to rivers, but they are not silent and they are certainly not still – even the most placid of rivers is going somewhere. They don’t always run clear, either. But all that silt that muddies the waters of the Mekong? It ends up nourishing vegetables growing on the riverbanks.

Dominic is five months old now and the worst of the post-natal anxiety appears to have subsided. I managed to get myself to board that plane back to Laos and it no longer terrifies me to see Mike head out the door to ride his bike to work (most days, anyway). My fear of what ifs never leaves completely, though – it’s always lurking around waiting to be nurtured by my attention and amplified by my imagination.

I used to feel like a failure that I couldn’t banish that fear altogether – that I never felt “perfectly” peaceful – but I don’t feel that way any more. I’m learning to greet that sort of fear respectfully without bowing before it. I’m learning to use it as a reminder to turn toward gratitude rather than worry. And I’ve stopped expecting peace to look like the pristine silence that follows a midnight snowfall. I’m coming to appreciate a different sort of peace instead – a peace that pushes forward, rich with mud, swelling and splashing and alive with the music of water meeting rock.

Peace like a river.

The Khan River, Luang Prabang, Laos

(Update: In an irony of the sort you never want to live through, the day after I posted this my mother in law slipped on our stairs here in Laos and Dominic broke his femur. We are back in Laos now, but must return to Thailand for follow up in two weeks. Continued thoughts and prayers for good healing appreciated.)

Other posts in this series:

Share on Facebook

Follow the link to read other posts linked up at the Practices of Parenting Carnival hosted by Sarah.

EmergingMummy.com

Advertisements

The baby has hijacked my brain

Last night Mike asked me a work-related question during dinner.

“I can’t think about that right now,” I said, “I’m eating.”

There was silence. I figured that Mike was probably thinking that during the almost three years of our marriage I had heretofore shown myself capable of having a conversation over the dinner table and thus, presumably, thinking and eating at the same time.

“The baby is awake,” I said, taking a brief break from shoveling takeaway Indian food into my mouth as fast as possible to point to Dominic with my fork. Dominic was sitting in his stroller beside the dinner table, happily engaged trying to bat the purple toy cow I had strategically dangled beside him. I figured that he would be happily engaged for another 57 seconds, maybe 59 if we were lucky.

“The baby takes up 80% of my brain power,” I explained. “I can monitor the baby and focus on eating with that other 20%, but I can’t monitor the baby, eat, and think about your question all at the same time. When I’m finished eating I’ll use that leftover 20% to think.”

Mike may have been tempted to ask why I felt compelled to spend 80% of my brain-power monitoring a perfectly content baby when said baby was clearly in my line of sight and his other parent was sitting right beside him. If Mike was tempted to ask this, he didn’t. Wise man.

If, however, Mike had asked me this, I would have had two answers for him. The first would have been (cue slightly snarky tone here) that when your spouse is gone 30% of the time and you’re single parenting in a foreign country it gets to be a habit that is awfully hard to break. After I got done with this passive aggressive piece of venting, my second answer might have been a simple statement.

I don’t know.

I don’t know why my brain short circuits at his merest squeak, why I will immediately lose my ability to pay attention to any conversation I might have been having before that little lip pouted out and those doleful yelps began to mount. Why I will tense up when I am lying in bed and hear that faint and terrifying clink of plastic upon plastic that signals a pacifier falling out. Why I sometimes wake up thrashing in the middle of the night, still tangled up in a dream that I’m feeding or holding him, reaching out to find that small body and panicking when it’s not there.

I don’t know.

I was going to do all this online research about what pregnancy and new motherhood does to brain chemistry and weave that into this blog post so that: (a) we could all learn something new, and (b) (much more importantly) I had scientific proof that I’m not completely crazy.

But it’s 8pm. Mike’s been upstairs trying to settle Dominic for 45 minutes now and I can hear him crying (Dominic, that is, not Mike, though for all I know Mike’s up there crying as well). This means I have no brain space left for research or even a graceful wrap up. It means that I’m going to draw this to a close the way that I end a goodly number of my skype calls at the moment – with a hurried: “Baby’s crying. Gotta go.”

Catch you tomorrow for Writing Wednesday.

Oh, and other parents, did you experience a similar phenomenon when your first child was born (or should I be checking out what sort of anxiolytics I can buy over the counter here in Laos)?

What? Me? Needy? Never!