The thing causing this constant heart stopping terror: parenthood.
I should probably clarify a little here - I'm not afraid of my children; they fill my heart with a love so complete that I sometimes wonder how I ever thought I was happy before them. The creeping terror that lurks on the edge of my consciousness is the fear of them being taken away from me. Not by social services, you understand - that would be awful, but I'm pretty certain it's not an imminent threat - but by some awful and unpredictable tragedy.
When Blake was small, I woke throughout the night just to rest my hand on his stomach and feel the rise and fall of his breath. Once he went into his own room, I opened his door every morning with my heart in my throat, terrified that I would find him cold in his bed; taken from me by the unseen evil that is SIDS. I know that it isn't healthy to think that way, but think that way I did. Only ever for a second, just as the door creaked open. As he's grown older, the spectrum of my fears has broadened. Now, I live in a waking nightmare of fast cars on busy roads and little hands that slip out of mine; of a blonde haired boy darting away from my turned back in a busy shop and a bad person that notices before I do; of daring climbs that end in devastating falls. Just writing these things makes me feel like I'm betraying him, as though by manifesting these fears with words, I'm somehow giving them life and opening the door to them. It's not rational, but I'm sure other parents understand.
I thought that with Merryn I would feel more relaxed, but I was wrong. Last night I found myself lying in my bed, exhausted and desperate for sleep, but too frightened to close my eyes in case my baby was taken from me when I wasn't conscious enough to protect her. Social media seems so full of tragic stories about sleeping angels and tiny lives taken too soon, that somehow it had seeped into my soul and convinced me that my family was next; that my life with my perfect children was too good to be true and I was about to suffer the consequences. Of course I was being ridiculous; I woke up in the night and Merryn continued sleeping peacefully and today I feel less afraid again, but it never really stops.
I sometimes wonder how old my children will be before I no longer wake up in the night, taken by the sudden urge to go into their rooms to check they're still breathing, but I doubt it will be any time that they live under my roof. I try to be rational; I know that I'm keeping my children as safe as I can and I don't want to smother them, but I also know that I can't control the world around us.
So I try to accept it. I try to embrace The Fear and let it make me feel more alive than I ever have. I'm a parent now and The Fear will be a constant companion for the rest of my life - I might as well get used to it.