I had lots of dreams growing up. Dreams of being an astronaut. Dreams of travelling the world. But I never thought I'd have recurring dreams of accidentally suffocating my son to death. Becoming a parent does strange things to you, but this has to be one of the worst.
Experts say that postnatal dreams of losing your baby in the sheets are common. Then again, an 'expert' definition of common could mean just about anything. Still, I'll take that, because normalisation of parenting trauma is the first step to emotional recovery.
So why do new parents have these dreams? Because the biggest change of all is the complete responsibility for survival. In our case, it doesn't help that for the first four months of his life we were bed sharing every night. This was against our better judgement. But as my wise sister once said: it never gets any less scary, you just become so tired that you stop caring.
On one early occasion I even did roll onto him. That lasted all of two microseconds, before his shrieking reflex kicked into its well-oiled gear. Sure, he's not much of a sleeper, but he has a hell of a strong survival instinct.
After that ignoble experience he was placed on the other side of my wife. We figured him falling off the side of the bed onto the floorboards was probably less risky than the weight of my body suffocating him. These are the kind of crazy rationalisations you make when you're getting around two hours sleep a week.
Regardless, the dreams didn't stop. They are barely abating now that he's five months old and getting to know the cot.
People often think doctors have to take responsibility for patient's lives. That's definitely true, to an extent. I work in cancer, where the stakes of any decisions made can be incredibly high. But compared to having a baby, it doesn't come close.
When decisions happen in my line of work they are made objectively, with consensus and in consultation with a competent, consenting adult patient. When decisions happen at home they are largely made based on whatever is most likely to stop the screaming fastest.
These home decisions have the ultimate goal of sustaining our son. He cannot tell us what's wrong. He cannot feed himself, bathe himself, or change his own nappy. He cannot even defend himself against our fearsome kitty, though the cat does seem to hate the sound of crying even more than we do.
That total level of responsibility is new to me. It is new to all parents, because when else would anybody have such an all-encompassing need for care? Even nurses in hospitals and aged-care facilities do it in shifts.
The craziest thing is that it's all by choice. From his very first cry we knew what we had in store. From the minute he was plonked directly on my wife's chest we fell madly in love with him.
We chose, without question, to take on the full care of another human being. Now that we are, it seems insane that such a choice has been made so easily, by so many members of society, in every generation before us.
Sometimes the weight of this role can be overwhelming. Certainly we have days where discount plane tickets to Siberia seem tempting. But, ultimately, we opted for this madness, and we'd choose it a million times over again.
I wonder whether that responsibility is just the price you pay to be a parent. To see them smile, to hold them in your arms, to watch them grow... nothing else really matters. Caring for a baby may be a heavy burden, but in the end I think we've done pretty well in the deal.Suggest a correction