My oldest boys have vasovagal episodes in response to painful stimuli. In other words, when they get hurt, they lose consciousness.
The boys have different pain thresholds, so this has happened only twice to Bubba but has happened about a dozen times to Froggy. Monkey hasn’t had an episode but is only just now about the age at which this first happened to his brothers.
At age six, Froggy has lost consciousness so many times that he can often anticipate when it’s going to happen. He tells me “the floor feels fuzzy.” I’ve been working with him to lie down wherever he is when this feeling comes over him, but he has yet to remember on his own, so I will either call to him to lie down when I’m suspicious he’s hurt badly enough to pass out or, if he’s close enough, scoop him up and lay him on my lap, feet elevated.
Froggy has lost consciousness eight times, give or take, in my arms.
I have watched his eyes roll back in his head, his body stiffen and convulse, and foam seep from his lips. I have held him while he holds his breath and then gasps for air, as his bladder and bowels relax and release. I have hugged him when he wakes up confused, panicked, wild-eyed, afraid, dazed.
On the outside, I suspect I appear calm. Even though I know Froggy can’t hear me, I soothe him with reminders. “Mommy’s here. I have you. Breathe, Froggy. Breathe. Wake up for me. Breathe. I’ve got you.” I hold him gently, remembering not to cling too tightly. I tell bystanders who’ve never witnessed this before, “It’s okay. He passes out when he’s in pain. He’ll be fine.” I must be convincing because the last time this happened, the other moms on the playground just went about their business, rarely even glancing back to see what was happening.
But the truth is, in those terrifying moments, I’m barely holding it together.
What if all the doctors are wrong and this isn’t benign? What if this episode is different from all the others before when he was just fine? What if he doesn’t gasp for breath this time? What if he doesn’t regain consciousness? What if he hurt himself too badly this time?
What if, at this very moment, I’m holding my son as he dies?
This is why, no matter how many times Froggy loses consciousness in my arms, it will never get easier. Because each and every time, I am confronted headlong with The Fear.
Usually, when we’re going about our day-to-day business, I can easily hold The Fear at bay. I don’t think about The Fear when I’m watching the boys play soccer or when we’re chatting about our days over dinner or when I’m folding laundry or when I’m mediating another disagreement. But sometimes The Fear creeps in: When the boys are sick and I can’t do anything to make them better. When, in the still of the night, I kiss them goodnight and marvel at my good fortune to be their mother and feel my heart race with the possibility that one day I might look back on The Fear and wonder if it was really a premonition.
When I’m holding my baby and it appears to all the outside world like his life is slipping away.
Sometimes, I think it would be easier if I didn’t love them so completely.
But I do. And because I do, the only response that makes any sense to me is to lean in. Lean into the love. Lean into The Fear.
When Bubba first lost consciousness, I had no idea that the boys had this condition, that it was normal, that I had the same condition. (Boy, did that realization explain a lot about my medical history.) So when my father yelled inside to call 911 because Corbin had hit his head and wasn’t breathing, I fell apart. I dialed 911, handed the phone to my stepmother, ran into the other room screaming, and crumbled, weeping, onto the floor. It wasn’t until my sister took me by the shoulders and firmly told me, “Bubba needs you. He needs his mother. Go to him.” that I came to my senses. (Yes, it was just as Lifetime movie-like as it sounds.)
Leaning in means that I now run to my boys when they’re hurt, even when I know they’re hurt badly enough that I will hold them while they slip out of consciousness and panic will grip me and The Fear will take hold. Leaning in means that when they wake up, the first thing they will see is their mother’s face, and they will know that I am always with them when they need me the most.
Leaning in means knowing that if The Fear becomes a reality the last thing my boys will know in this world is their mother’s touch and remembering that I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Leaning in is remembering that I never make good parenting choices when guided by fear. Leaning in means letting my boys decide when they’re ready to hop back on the monkey bars. Even if it’s just five minutes later. Leaning in means remembering that roughhousing and running and climbing and pushing limits and experiencing freedom are good and necessary for my boys.
Leaning in is giving myself over to loving them fiercely and completely, knowing that however long their lives are, this is the kind of mother I want to be and this is the kind of love my boys deserve to know. Leaning in means tearing down any barriers I have feebly erected in an attempt to protect my fragile heart. Leaning into The Fear, sometimes, looks a lot like letting go.