I have spoken about how emotional motherhood has made me before; briefly alluding to the fact that I am unable to cope with sad news stories about children without dissolving into tears since having a child of my own. It was just a small paragraph that made up part of a longer blog post, but it's such a huge influencing factor in my life nowadays that I think it's time to further examine it.
My decision to look at this issue today is brought on largely by the fact that I have just been crying at work. I was having my morning coffee break and flicking through the Saturday paper, when I saw a story about the sentencing of a woman who had ended the lives of her three disabled infants (you can find details of the case here). I would normally give such an article a very wide berth after seeing the headline, but I have been trying to re-harden myself against all of the atrocious shit that happens out there in the big wide world in the hope that I will one day be able to consider myself a fully functional adult again. Not only that, but I wish to be a writer, and shielding myself from the sad and the awful is not the way to absorb source material. So I chose to read this story; a baptism of fire, if you will. I got almost all the way to the end and the details of how the children were found tucked up in their beds, surrounded by toys, when I fell apart. My face crumpled in devastation and I began to cry in wretched, muffled sobs that would have made any passer-by think I was reading about the deaths of my own children. And that's the thing - I might as well have been.
When you're a parent, any story about any child immediately becomes about your own. Not literally, of course, but there is something in your head that instinctively puts yourself and your child in the shoes of those on whom the tragedy has actually befallen. For example, any time someone on my Facebook friends list 'likes' a page that has been set up in memory of a victim of SIDS, I have to hide the story from my newsfeed. It's the same with stories about babies who have been stillborn; the very word makes me feel sick with terror because I can't help but maudlinly imagine that happening to me and my family. Last year, shortly before Blake was born, my own cousin gave birth to a baby boy at twenty four weeks gestation. He's a healthy and happy little boy now but I have to admit, whilst he was fighting the battle for his life in hospital, I had to skim over some of my cousin's updates; Blake was brand new and I found them too difficult to read.
It's not only the compulsion to put myself into the shoes of others that has caused this shift in emotional strength, however. After looking in more depth at the particular stories that affect me the most, I have come to realise that the real reason that I find these stories so hard to handle is that now I simply just know babies. Before I had Blake, I had a vague idea about the true innocence of infancy, but it's only now that I spend all my time with a baby that I really understand what it means. Babies have no knowledge of the absolute horrors that occur in the world around them; they happily go through their days in a blur of giggles and nappy changes, literally protected from harm by those that love them. It's when that system of protection and love fails that my heart breaks, because a baby has no capacity to understand what is happening to them or why. They know only one response: fear. It's the thought of these pure little souls being frightened and confused that makes me fall apart, and only knowing a baby as intimately as I know my own could have had this effect.
I wish that I could save all of the babies in all of the world from ever having to feel scared, but I simply don't have the capacity to do so. All I can do is pour as much love and protection into the one that I am responsible for, and hope that he will be happy and healthy for as long as I am on the face of this planet. I wonder if, one day, I will once again be able to scroll through the news without fear of any tragic infant stories popping up, but I won't hold my breath. I have known true innocence now and there's no forgetting that.