'I thought my child would be switched at birth': The irrational fears all first-time parents experience

Nobody tells you that the birth of your child will turn you from your usual smiling-at-strangers self to an irrational get-away-from-me-and-my-baby mama bear. Welcome to the irrational world of rookie parenthood 


Welcoming a child into the world is everything the Hallmark cards shout about — the snuggles, the soft hands, the overwhelming ache of love.

But hang on, what's this glimmer of fear that now dances around everything? An anxiety that something, anything, everything is going to happen to this little dot of new-life that's been placed in your shaking hands.

I was so irrational

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This week, singer and celebrity judge, Cheryl Cole, admitted that when her son Bear was born, she wouldn't let him be taken out of the hospital room in case he was switched with another baby.

Speaking on the RuPaul and Michelle Visage podcast, she opened up about his birth. "I'd read this story about two girls being swapped at birth and it was playing on my mind. I was so irrational... I didn't want anyone to take him."

Instead of the usual chuckle at the draaaaaama of another celebrity admission, I suddenly remembered a girl walking through a hospital corridor at 4am clutching her newborn and asking the midwives to call her a taxi.

Spoiler alert — it was me.

 

Overwhelming

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I feared she would be switched, I feared someone would drop her, I feared she'd die in her sleep.

I was euphoric the day my daughter was born. Of course, I was also out of my mind on morphine but, either way, I was that mother telling everyone who walked past me in the recovery room that my baby was here and she was safe.

Examining her tiny, well, everything, it dawned on me that the responsibility was all mine. ALL. MINE. Not just to keep her alive and clean and happy but to be her protector for as long as I lived. And while I'd have plenty of help and she, of course, belonged to all of us, I took that responsibility exclusively on my exhausted shoulders.

I trusted no one

And it culminated in not letting her out of my arms. Mostly ever. I feared she would be switched, I feared someone would drop her, I feared she'd die in her sleep, I feared I wasn't giving her enough milk, I feared the routine BCG injection would poison her. I trusted no one.

I continued to clutch my tiny bundle to my chest, refusing to put her down, even to sleep. I changed her sneakily on my hospital bed, instead of the designated nursery, like a prisoner with contraband, glancing over my shoulder in case a midwife caught me. I even fashioned an extension onto my bed with an elaborate chair, pillows and cot combination so she would be safe to sleep on my chest at night.

Responsibility

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The final straw was when the midwife caught me tying my daughter to myself with a blanket so she wouldn't fall out of the bed. I refused to dismantle my hospital bed castle, refused to give up my cute hostage, and so ended up trying to storm out at 4am (which isn't as dramatic when you have to shuffle slowly away, wearing only a nightie and slippers).

And while I got over that particular incident, I still remember the tiny acts of irrationality both me and my partner did in those first few months. We'd wake up convinced our baby wasn't breathing (in a cot now beside us) and we'd float our hands above her mouth, sighing in relief when we felt her soft, warm breath tickle our palms.

But it felt important, vital to be so constantly heightened to her safety and protection, even though we laugh now about how we avoided all the roads with ramps on the way home from the hospital.

Friends too admit they also had elaborate fears — one pal thought she'd damage her baby's spleen while burping her. Another didn't trust herself not to drop her son after she took him out of the bath. A relative wouldn't let anyone hold her newborn for a month after she was born because she was afraid the baby would get germs and be overstimulated.

Other parents told me they were unnaturally fearful that something would happen to them and the baby would be left defenceless. They spent their days terrified they'd be victims of some freak accident.

Most of the fears I'd expected to experience centred around the unrealistic expectations society had about motherhood but the real anxiety is the overwhelming responsibility for a life — a very vulnerable, skull-still-not-formed life. And that, in turn, leaves you exposed emotionally.

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Of course, it is all nature's fault, a biological reaction reinforcing feelings of fierce protectiveness and devotion to keep the next generation alive.

It's also annoying as hell. That too.

I became scared of everything. And it began the night my daughter was born. Nine years later, I no longer avoid ramps or examine her poop, but I do still take her hand as much as she lets me when we are out and about. I still crush her with hugs.

My fears for her safety have evolved into new fears for her future, happy fears, more rational fears; normal anxiety that most parents face; that she can handle a broken heart, mean girls, Instagram expectations, the pressure of exams, failing at something and being able to bounce back, spots, a really bad day.

Cheryl was right, holding on as tight as we can is all we can do.

Image via Instagram

Read more: Parenting in the age of fear

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