There’s an amusing adage I’ve been hearing about babies all my life: They make ‘em cute so you won’t kill ‘em.
The F1, last week
Evolutionarily, there may be something to that. If it was anything other than your own darling offspring screaming purple-faced at you at three in the morning, who wouldn’t, in the just-woken haze of chronic sleep deprivation, be tempted to — as a shamefaced new-parent friend recently confessed to me — stash them in a cardboard box out in the back garden?
I was ready to be faced with the physical and emotional trauma of lost sleep and howling tantrums. But nothing prepared me for the gut-clenching fear. You hear about it, of course, how new parents “worry”. The phrase You can’t wrap them in cotton wool is an understated nod of the century to the trepidation that having a child inspires. In some ways I was conditioned gradually; after already having suffered a miscarriage, my pregnancy was one long stretch of anxiety about the stability of the new life within me. Once I’d passed the 28-week milestone, my thoughts then turned cheerfully to birth defects. But having borne a ridiculously hearty and hale little boy, squirming and grunting and squealing vitality out of every pore (and other orifices), I now wake up in night sweats from sick visions of him being ill, or dying, or tortured, or snatched away by human traffickers.
My son has wound his way so tightly around my heart that the what-if terrors shimmer around my every thought of him, shadows that can never be brushed entirely aside.
What is the purpose of this all-encompassing and superfluous fear? Is it adaptive? It can’t be right to want to shelter a child from every conceivable harm — not if it prevents him from living a normal life. And it can’t be right for my own personal sanity. I will of course strike the right balance, even if stepping back somewhat makes my stomach eat itself from the inside out. But was it really so necessary, biologically, to build this into the mix?