Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Could’ves

Being a mum can be a terrifying thing. Being a mum to a little boy only amplifies that. There have already been a few times in Hayden’s short life that he’s given me a soul-shaking fright. The first was of course his birth: That terrifying moment when they enter the world and you have to wait for a second that feels like an hour until they cry. After his dramatic entrance with a whole resuscitation team on hand and an emergency vacuum extraction, that paralyzing feeling was quadrupled. My heart clenched and then overflowed in the space of a second or two that day.

The second time Hayden tried to stop my heart was when he was about seven months old. He was still sleeping in our bed, even for naps. And although I was on mat leave, Adam’s job no longer allowed him to be Super Husband and do all the housework. So I would put Hayden to sleep in our bed, surround him with a barrier of pillows, and then go about my housework, carrying the monitor with me and listening carefully for the first sounds of waking. As soon as I heard that first whimper I would race up the stairs like a shot to get him. For you see, Hayden could crawl and had no concept of the edge of the bed. This routine worked flawlessly for quite some time. And then one day it all changed.

I was in the basement changing over the laundry. Over the monitor I heard his telltale whimper that meant that he was waking up. (And here is where I made a mistake that I still kick myself over.) I decided to just finish throwing the last few pieces of laundry into the dryer before racing up the stairs. It took all of 15 seconds to do it and the whole time I was yelling up to him that I’d be right there, just hold on two seconds. I flung the dryer into action and then made record time clearing two flights of stairs. I opened my bedroom door to see him perched on the edge of the bed, a big smile on his face. He saw me and crawled forward to greet me – his little hand coming down into nothing but air. I threw myself at the bed, but I was a second too late. He flipped off the bed, landed square on the top of his head and tumbled over onto his back. For a moment, he simply lay there, still and quiet. My heart leapt into my throat and my head whirled. I’ve killed my baby. I killed my baby just to finish a load of stupid f@#$@$ing laundry! He’s snapped his neck. My precious baby, my world, is gone so that the laundry would be finished faster.

And in the next second, his legs curled into his tummy and he let out a heart-wrenching wail that was at once the most horrible and the most wonderful cry I’d heard since his birth. I scooped him into my arms and joined him in sobbing. So close. So close to losing him. So close to being able to catch him. So close to having to witness my angel’s final moment and it being entirely my fault! I cried for a good hour and relived that horrifying moment in my dreams for many months.

It wasn’t until nearly 10 months later that Hayden gave me my next emotionally scaring moment as a mother. He was 15 months old and an accomplished walker. We had just moved into our first house: a two story brick Victorian. For weeks, I had been nagging my husband to get a gate for the top of the stairs. We had one at the bottom but all of our baby gates had a piece across the bottom that would spell certain doom at the top of a curling, wooden staircase! Finally, Adam relented and installed a great swinging wooden gate.

It was only a few days later that Hayden and I were upstairs putting away some toys. The gate was securely fastened and Hayden was having a blast exploring this new space without mama holding his hand. When we were finished, I picked him up and attempted to unlock the gate. Not being used to the lock yet, I found that I couldn’t do it one handed, so I put Hayden down while I manoeuvred the mechanism. I turned to the left to pick him up again and as I did, Hayden came around my right side and pushed on the now-open gate.

It was reliving the bed incident all over and in a much worse way. With my arm outstretched and my fingers just brushing his shirt, my angel boy did a full somersault down the first three wooden stairs into the wall. He then barrel-rolled down another horrifying ten unpadded stairs to land on the ceramic tile in our front hall. The whole time I was a step behind him trying desperately to catch him without tripping and falling on top of him. I think I was actually screaming “No, no, no” the whole way down. When he landed, a pile of arms and legs, face down and still, I was sure he was dead. If not dead, then knocked unconscious or broken. Again, there was a second of nothingness. Silence that filled my head and my heart as I took those final steps behind him and kneeled beside his crumpled form. And then from that little body came a big breath and a high-pitched cry that at once pierced me and relieved me. I carefully cradled him and carried him to the couch where I lay him down and checked him all over for broken bones and split skin. When it was clear that he was in one piece, I held him to me and took what seemed to be my first breath since I left the upstairs landing.

Again, I cried the sobbing cry of a mother who has seen in her head what could have been. What seemingly should have been after such a huge fall. I very nearly watched my baby die. Very nearly caused that death by my fumbling nature. Once the worst of the sobs had subsided from both of us, I checked him over again and noted the angry red marks on his head.

I tried to call my husband and took at least three tries to get my shaking hands to dial the right number. He was calm and reassuring as always and did what I needed him to do without asking: told me that it wasn’t my fault – it was an accident. There was nothing I could have done. He made sure that we were both okay and then promised to be home soon. I then called the wonderful people at TeleHealth Ontario (who have saved me quite a few times) to see if they thought I should bring him to the hospital just to be sure. They asked a gazillion questions and then told me to watch him carefully for the next 48 hours, but not bother with Emerg.

Hayden stayed in my arms for much of the evening, snuggling away his traumatic experience. We then slept in my bed together for the first time in months so that I could monitor him for a concussion. I dreamt horrible dreams of losing him, of him drowning, being stolen, hit by cars…all while I was just an inch too far away. Every time I would startle awake to feel his sweet, even breaths on my face and hold him a little closer. I still get a sour stomach and tears leap to my eyes when I think about it. As I type this message, my heart rate is that of a sprinter while I relive those moments in words. Hayden awoke the next morning with only two yellow bruises – one above his eye that mimicked his eyebrow and one on the back of his head. Amazing…

You know that your child is the world to you. And yet it takes those close encounters for that fact to truly strike home. Faced with the thought of not having them there, the temper tantrums and power struggles and sleepless nights seem so insignificant. I know that as he grows, I’ll have to endure more of these “could’ve” situations. These moments where the world stands still and you’re a millisecond too slow. They are something that I would never, ever want to relive again, but I am thankful that they gave me clarity to appreciate, truly appreciate what I have.

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