Updated: Oct 22, 2022
I often mindlessly scroll instagram, in the hopes the pretty, curated, aspirational pictures, will dull the anxiety induced by mindlessly doom-scrolling Twitter. Proud parents share stylised, wholesome videos of well-behaved toddlers with the quote “Making the decision to have a child (...) is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body”.
The quote is attributed to the author and academic Elizabeth Stone. I can’t decide if this really captures the feeling for me. On the one hand, I have an almost visceral sensation of not only my heart, but my entire nervous system (and trust me, it is nervous), being outside of my body. On the other hand, it misses a quality of vulnerability, not even captured by having your vital organs haphazardly running around with carefree, proprioception-free abandon. Rather there is a vulnerability I feel now, after birthing tiny, helpless little humans, that surpasses even this.*
This vulnerability is multi-dimensional. It stretches across time. It connects the memories of a shy, awkward pre-teen, to my four year old daughter clinging to me on her first day at school with social and separation anxiety. It is a daily vulnerability that ties a persistent feeling of emotional immaturity to the responsibility of developing emotionally resilient children, teenagers and later adults, in an increasingly volatile world. The temporal dimension is possibly the most difficult to contend with. For someone who craves control, I struggle with two major uncertainties, both related to one major certainty, death.
First to contend with is my own mortality, which has never been so acutely in my consciousness. It is an extraordinary feat of my 'selfish genes', that the overwhelming feeling is not an egoistic fear of my own demise, but rather a palpable fear of the infliction of pain and sorrow on my little babies. The second contender, is of course the vulnerability of these ingenuous, powerless, little creatures skipping innocently through a world rife with mental and physical harms. Worse still, what if it is me that brings them harm? What if the decisions I make, as someone just feeling my way through motherhood, like a newly sightless person in an alien environment, have long-lasting psychologically damaging effects? What if instead of fostering resilient children, I create even more vulnerable ones?
At the same time, this vulnerability has emboldened me to seek security for their future. It has heightened a sense of culpability both for what they inherit and for how I can change it. Paradoxically, a susceptibility to imposter syndrome, has been replaced by a new drive to secure their financial future, taking me out of my comfort zone in ways I would never have expected. Here I am, sharing these deep fears, vulnerable and yet willingly exposed.
*I feel a responsibility to caveat this with the fact that I have generalised anxiety disorder. My brain is in a state of chronic hyper-alertness, and hyper-awareness of my own vulnerability in the most benign of situations. Undoubtedly, this plays into the depth of my feelings of vulnerability.
These posts serve partly as therapy for me, and partly in hopes that the words will resonate with you and help build a community of parents and friends that can support each other. Take a look around the website, and join if you want to see more.