If your babysitter drops your six month old, did it happen according to her description, or like the horror story you have played in your mind on repeat ever since? This is the modern working mom version of, “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody heard it, did it actually fall?” I wish this question was hypothetical. I really do.
Last week, my now very much former babysitter left my baby unstrapped in a stroller, and left her alone for a moment. At this moment, the baby fell onto the garage floor. This, naturally, occurred on my day off when I was squeezing in a workout.
While I was leaving, I noticed a bunch of missed calls from the sitter, and yet - she didn’t pick up when I immediately called back. Not good. I could sense the tsunami of sheer panic coming on quickly.
As I was racing home, my calls continued to go unanswered, but my mind remained calm and focused on getting home.
The scenarios in my mind escalated with every passing ring. Three minutes away from home, she finally picked up, and scream-cried saying she called 911, and they were on the way. She said the baby fell on her head and was not OK.
I arrived home just as the ambulance arrived, and I had no idea what I was about to walk into. My husband stayed with my toddler in the car, and tried to distract her, while I tried to calmly speed walk into the house. I could hear the baby screaming from outside the home, so when I entered the kitchen, I sprinted towards her and immediately scooped her up.
She was inconsolable, but thankfully, the paramedics came in and assessed her quickly. She was alert, pissed, but alert. With a bump swelling on her head, they recommended she go to the hospital for a more thorough evaluation. So there we were, on the way to hospital for a head injury. A fucking head injury. A FUCKING HEAD INJURY.
Fast forward some tests and a cat-scan, and we were extremely lucky, as everything came back fine.
I was not.
I felt rage and wanted to extend an icy eff you to the former sitter. Not only for the obvious carelessness with which she regarded the safety of my child, but for making me doubt my ability to make good choices, adding new and heavy meaning to the term Decision Fatigue.
The tree fell in the forest, hit its little head on a concrete floor, and I was not there to witness. The tree has a bump on its (adorable) head, and I got a hefty serving of guilt and fear. The unconditional, hurts-in-your-bones love my children have brought into my life, is matched by an equally overwhelming helplessness, and feeling of being at the mercy of the world.
I have never felt more vulnerable. My soft spots are easy to find, they are quite loud and poop in their diapers.
The tough lesson learned is I can’t protect them all the time. Trees are going to fall in the forest, and I need to focus my efforts in not thinking of all the ways they may fall. This means every choice I make has a price. One of the choices I have made is being a working mom.
Being a working mom requires me to trust someone to take care of my baby. It requires me to trust myself enough to find the right person, and to be in the right mindset to make the best decision. Good thing early motherhood has made me an olympian in self-doubt.
It has been over a week since that terrifying event, and I have just started to let the actual fear be felt in my body. Clinically speaking, the delayed fear response typically means the sense of danger persists beyond the actual event, and the body and nervous system are slowly moving away from survival mode.
Trauma is the reverberation of a negative thought or belief which continues to echo in your system long after the traumatic event took place. If the traumatic event was in alignment with what you feared or thought you deserved, its impact will be more profound.
When your kid gets hurt on your watch, and it is always your watch, how do you remove the screeching echo that you are a bad mom? And how much of the echoes that I hear within me are not even mine but passed down hymns that weren’t challenged?
Trees will continue to fall in the forest. I am slowly realizing this is the price of admission for having a forest at all. And yet, the one thing I can control is the echo I wish to hear back from myself.
I have asked myself why I am sharing such a personal experience I have yet to fully integrate. I keep coming back to the following; sharing my story will heal me and heal someone else. The ownership of what happened, as well as the subsequent processing through writing, provides a safe container to uncover what I may still struggle to verbalize to others. This is not just my Creative Arts Therapist side preaching the gospel of why art is healing, it is my mother self, knowing that I cannot be the only person who experiences this.
I have noticed that for every scary moment of motherhood, there were other, more experienced mothers, who graciously shared their hard earned wisdom with me. They shared their stories with me and made me feel like I was not alone; I was part of something bigger than myself.
It can be easy to overlook the importance of community when the only thing you want to commune with is your bed. I hear you. I am you. And, I know in my bones, that when a tree falls in the forest and a mother is frightened, there will be other mothers that will rush to her aid and tell her about their own scary experiences. Maybe if we hold hands, walking in the forest won’t be as scary.