“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it is gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” –Frank Herbert’s Dune
it starts early. As in “the pink line just showed up on the test” early. It’s insidious, worming its way into your jubilant thoughts, casting a shadow of dread over your hopes.
The first day I knew Sue was pregnant the paranoid, primitive portion of my mind was constantly jumping to horrible conclusions. Sue’s belly hurt — was that normal? Her right side ached a bit. Ectopic pregnancy? They were tiny little dashes of fear, gone in moments but returning over the next few days until finally fading..
Miscarriage — that’s a big one. There’s not a week that goes by when I don’t have at least a fleeting thought about that horrible scenario or its equally evil twin, birth defects. Is there any cause for these fears? No Ö just informed concern arising from reading plenty of pregnancy books and articles over the last few months. Oh, and let’s not forget the unending litany of seemingly innocent but actually quite evil food threats, like raw clams or too much salmon.
Then there’s labor and delivery. There’s so much to fear there — after so much work and time it can all still go to hell in the final minutes. Breech birth? Failed progression? Umbilical cord strangulation? The list is near endless, and hell, I’m not even considering the threats to Sue’s health.
And of course, it doesn’t end there. Once the baby is born we’ve got all the real-world fears, including my personal paranoid best: dropping my newborn son or daughter (or the larger category of “how the hell do I hold this kid?” questions). Don’t get me wrong — I’ve held plenty of babies before, but never so young, never so little. Yeah, it’s irrational, and yeah, I’ll figure it out damn quick. But the fear is still there.
Putting aside my baby juggling fears, there’s all the other fears that accompanying being a parent — what if the cat tries to sleep on the baby? What if our German Shepherd trips Sue while she’s carrying the baby down the stairs? What if the baby decides to crawl into the Wrangler and shift it into neutral for a little accidental ride down to Lafayette Street and heavy traffic? What if — well, the list goes on and on and never, ever ends
So what to do? There’s a reason I opened this column with the quote from Dune. It’s always struck me as one of those few literary passages that holds a great deal of distilled, pure, truth. The answer, as the Herbert’s Bene Gesserit knew was to acknowledge, understand and finally defeat the fear.
There can be a lot of good reasons to be afraid, and I think a little fear is always healthy Ö as long as it doesn’t get out of control, which is something that American society in particular seems to have trouble with over the last few decades. Child abductions, terrorist attacks, high school rampages, and other, more mundane crime waves all send Americans into a frenzy of self-flagellation, regulation madness and dictatorial lust.
The knee jerk reaction is to pass laws first, and think later, which is why we end up with kids getting kicked out of school for bringing a butter knife to class, or for drawing pictures of guns in class. And we don’t end up any safer — that wonder zero-tolerance rules prohibiting weapons, guns and mean thoughts in schools won’t help one bit when a kid decides to start taking out the less-well protected school buses, or decides to run over a half-dozen peers standing at a bus stop.
The answer, as Anakin Skywalker learned, is not to feed the fear nor to give into it. The hunger for absolute control it feeds can lead only to tyranny and misery. It may sound like some cheesy 80s self help manta, but you need to master the fear, or it will master you. Continuing the Star Wars reference, stark, unrelenting, uncontested terror leads to the Dark Side. And once you start down the Dark Path — once you let fear consume and overpower your life — it will forever dominate your destiny (at least until you wise up and throw the damn thing down a convenient psychological shaft to your mental engine core).
Me? I’m going to follow my own advice, and try and master my fear. I’ll acknowledge it, and take precautions to protect my child from reasonable dangers, but I don’t let fear dominate my life — or the life of my baby’s. To do other wise would kill everything that makes life worth living.