Some nights I sit on the sofa, the noise from the tv suddenly white and rattly, my chest compressing with fear, and I have to steady myself by remembering to breathe – in, out, in, out.
I'm panicking that something bad might happen. The feeling is physical – a rushing through my veins. Horrific pictures flash behind my eyes as vividly as cinema, imagination derailed, careering toward places I never want to know.
I can be specific. It's terror that something terrible is going to happen to my boy. The anxiety consumes me – mercifully it's temporary, breeding after sunset and lasting through fitful sleep until dawn. It arrives sometimes quietly, like leaked water creeping across a wooden floor, but often unforgivingly.
It's the love. I wasn't prepared for it. It's big and bouncy, like a too big inflatable in a not quite big enough room – it lifts you up and suffocates you simultaneously. It's everything. And everything can be too much. It's love in all its velvety-ness, but it's lined with razor sharp fear.
I was fine when he wasn't sleeping well. How cruel! The hourly night feeds were incessant and exhausting, but they kept us close – my skin skimmed his and clocked lungs, fingertips, toes all working. Then suddenly he slept! Eight, nine, ten hours at a stretch – I should be elated, I should be resting, I should be at ease. I'm not. My knuckles feel like lead. My blood has been replaced by gallium.
I've lost people before, unexpectedly – phone-call-in-the-night sort of news that's rendered me unable to answer my mobile without a struggle to this day. So, while my rational brain plucks measured lines to lay before me – "he's just sleeping / he's in his room / he's safe / you can see him on the monitor", experience tells me that bad things do happen, that worst nightmares can thud into a room uninvited, without warning.
And so I struggle to reconcile the ordinary-ness of day to day life with this otherworldly fear that I might not be able to protect him.
A friend shares a beautiful piece of writing with me on pregnancy and parenthood by writer Lucy Jones, and I'm calmed by a string of words in her final paragraph: "I'm learning to live with higher stakes, to bear the reality that she [he] is vulnerable and nothing is certain. I am learning to enjoy the frightening enormity of this new love."
He sleeps. The sky turns cotton wool pink, and the familiar metallic sensation begins its journey around my organs. I open the window and fill my chest with winter air. My knuckles unknot, my breathing steadies. I make daily efforts to quit anticipating badness.