Elliot is 7 months old
I lay in bed drifting in and out of the light sleep that I had become accustomed to. I am primed to answer my baby’s every whimper, every stir. He coughed. A deep chesty cough that had seemingly come from nowhere. I was awake. Wide awake.
I always knew the first illness would be tough. It reintroduced me to the fear I felt throughout my pregnancy. Suddenly he was tiny and fragile and my mind darted through scenarios of losing another child. A simple cough took me from zero to one hundred in seconds. It whipped away the solid ground that I had stood upon throughout the last six months. My mind raced; What did it mean? Was it serious?
With Matt away I felt the all too familiar feeling of being my child’s only advocate. Alone, it gave my brain nowhere to bounce off but it’s own paranoid walls. Not knowing where else to get the answers I needed at that hour at night, I googled. My old friend Google. Ever the extremist. It told tales of whooping cough, of baby being unable to breathe, of suffering and of death.
I counted his breaths which were seeming more shallow than usual, I took his temperature, which was high and I panicked, repeatedly placing the thermometer into his little ear and willing his fever to go down. There was no part of me that could rationalise that this could just be a cold; I was in worse-case-scenario mode and I knew all too well what the worst case scenario looked and felt like.
I called an out of hours doctor, who quizzed me about his breathing. They took no risks and sent an ambulance. I was torn between feeling like I was being over the top and feeling terrified of missing something vital. I felt that old familiar mistrust of my instincts that I had experienced in pregnancy.
The paramedics were fabulous and diagnosed Croup. I was relieved it was given a title and even more relieved to be told he could have steroids at the children’s hospital. A diagnosis and a ‘cure’. I was reassured that he would be ok and felt that my anxiety had been validated.
Unfortunately it appeared that whilst at the hospital he managed to pick up a vomiting bug, because 48 hours later he was violently sick. My mind raced with what could be wrong with him and I started to question the original diagnosis of Croup and consider meningitis or other more serious illnesses.
Matt was still away and I was holding the fort. Elliot threw up again and went limp in my arms. I felt sheer terror run through my body and for a brief moment my brain considered that I had lost another child. I called 999 with a calmness in my voice which must only have been driven by adrenaline. It was like I left my body and someone else took over.
By the time the paramedics arrived Elliot had done a complete 180 degree turn and was calm and cooing contentedly. My brain was frazzled and I felt the battle to get an objective hold on the situation. The paramedics concluded that he had likely picked up a bug and that there was nothing more sinister going on. They were wonderful but in the end I was a sobbing mess, recalling the tale of losing my daughter and the fear of losing my son. They were understanding and reassuring but I was totally unnerved and struggled to get ahold of myself.
Two days later he had made a great improvement and my nerves began to settle. His fever had gone, the vomiting had ceased and the cough had improved. As I put him down to bed that night (why do these things always strike at night?) he coughed a little then inhaled. It sounded like the ‘whoop’ i’d watched on the videos earlier in the week.
Still without Matt, I delved once again into that place of panic. I read up about the condition for reassurance but everything I read served to convince me he had it. I watched videos of babies with whooping cough which only injected more fear into my already over-active imagination. I could not get a hold of myself, I lost all sense of rationale and was overtaken by panic that he would die. I sobbed and sobbed.
Somehow I fell asleep and at the first light of day I whisked Elliot off to the Doctors with my concerns. The Doctor was amazingly reassuring. He spoke of all the scare mongering around whooping cough and he settled my mind that Elliot was in fact looking well and unlikely to be carrying it. I felt calmed.
It concerns me how quickly I lost control of my nerves. How my irrational brain took over and I couldn’t get a hold of myself. I do not want to be this person. I do not want to live in fear of every sniffle and every graze. I do not want my son to grow up feeling the effects of this fear, afraid to take risks or feeling secondary anxiety because of me.
I’m hopeful that this first experience with illness has given me the reassurance to know that even though he’ll get sick, he’ll come out of the other side. That even though it’s important to be aware of the serious illnesses, these should not be my first thought.
I recognise that I need support. Matt being away has been very difficult and dealing with a sick child on your own is really physically and emotionally draining. I often try to ‘do it all’ by myself. I’m Elliot’s mum so I feel like I should be in charge of his care, I should know when something is wrong and I should know the answers. I can now see that this thinking is flawed because feeling sole responsibility is what feeds my anxiety. I can’t do it all and I don’t know it all.
I’m learning to ask for help and to share the responsibility for my son’s care. I feel this will be the key to overcoming these fears which threaten to overwhelm me at times.