When the Iraq war started days after Lucie's birth, all I could think of was Iraqi mothers and their children. I wondered how I would keep my children safe, let alone fed, sheltered and clean if I was in a war zone. I contemplated what was happening to families as our troops marched into their country. I searched for news stories on women and children, and I worried obsessively. Knowing this behavior was part of my usual post-partum anxiety, I stopped watching and reading the headlines for a couple of months.
Later, when I read accounts of mothers and children involved in car crashes or fires, my anxiety reawakened. I scanned the newspaper trying to find out how the mothers saved their children and imagined worst case scenarios in my head. Could I get Nathan and Lucie out of our burning house? How quickly could I get them out of their car seats if I accidentally drove into a pond? I felt the worrying would somehow mentally prepare me or possibly even prevent disasters from happening. Call it magical thinking, I guess.
Then the tsunamis hit Southeast Asia. Again I imagined myself in that horrible situation. Would I be able to grab the kids and run from the waves? Then I saw the interview with Jillian Searle of Perth, Australia on ABC's nightly news. A mother of two children close in age to mine, she grabbed them and ran, only to be caught up by the rushing water. She felt if she didn't let go of one of the children, she'd drown. "I knew I had to let go of one of them and I just thought I'd better let go of the one that's the oldest," she told Sky News. Thankfully, her older son was found safe two hours later, having survived by clinging to a door.
When I related this story over the phone to my mother, she started crying. I then realized the biggest fear we mothers face is being unable to save our children from death. We enter motherhood giving life, but ready for its loss as well.