This is part of a series of blog posts under the title Fatherhood Diaries. Please note that this one is a bit outdated — the surgery took place earlier today and Johnny is well and recovering.
The baby will have a small, routine operation on Wednesday and I am soliciting the considerable deflection strategies I developed over the past many years, whereby I avoided dealing with the most important issues in my life, in order to similarly avoid thinking of the (quite remote) consequences of the surgery or the full anesthesia going wrong.
I wasn’t particularly successful as last night my brain went on overdrive making the most macabre of syllogisms. These dark thoughts were triggered by the Instagram pictures for Mother’s Day. I was thinking of how patronizing it is to say or insinuate, as many people did yesterday, that one’s life does not have a meaning without a child or that one is losing out if they do not experience parenthood. People’s inability to accept that someone may simply decide not to have children is yet another testament of the conservatism of our society. These celebrations counter-productively reinforce a stereotypical interpretation of relationships without children either in medical terms or through unwarranted assumptions on the health of these relationships, and in doing so, deny individual agency.
We discussed this with Sunshine shortly before I went to bed. As usual with these sort of things, we agreed. But something that she later said (quite out of the blue) resonated with me and triggered a spiral of bad thoughts. “There is nothing that could make me give Johnny up.” Obvious as it may sound, this struck a nerve; I started thinking of how I felt before Johnny was born and how I feel now. During our attempts to conceive and subsequently during Sunshine’s pregnancy, I was still not sold on the merits of having a child, (rightly) thinking that it would disturb my well-tuned and enjoyable lifestyle. Indeed my life came upside down and surely things are not rosy, however, as Sunshine said, I wouldn’t give him up for anything. I don’t know if it’s biology or whatever other evolutionary explanation one might cite to explain this bond, but really the little fellow is one of the most important parts of my life, which makes the prospect of something bad happening to him really disturbing, sickening even.
That said, thinking of worst case scenarios is not really helpful. My strategy is quite simple, albeit requires that I employ my mastery in deflection in order to implement it. I put all the thoughts relating to the surgery in a box. The box is then put aside and I don’t dare open it fearing that it may contaminate everything else that is going on in my head. I sometimes open the box and take a glance but for the most part I try to keep it shut, knowing quite well that there is little more I can do to mitigate the risks involved. Processing the situation further will only exacerbate my anxiety (and therefore that of Sunshine’s). Our pre-surgery part is done — we made sure that various specialists made the same diagnosis, and further to an evaluation of the qualifications of the available local experts, we proceeded with the one most qualified to perform the operation.
But I can’t shy away from the fact that the baby is no longer in a state of perpetual helplessness. He is now a little boy, not yet able to formulate full sentences or even articulate words clearly, but communicative enough to express his desires, opinions, preferences and immense affection for those around him. Whatever consequences the surgery will have, hopefully not more than we anticipate, will be understood by him. He will not probably remember this in the long term as his cognitive abilities are not there yet, but he will inevitably experience a level of distress that I wish could be avoided.
And this is as far as I allow myself to process things. A step further and the box opens and I start visualizing a gleam future without him, which overwhelms me with terror. At the same time, I am filled with shame for harboring such feelings and thoughts knowing that other children and their parents have to deal with terrible illnesses that suck any sense of normalcy or happiness from their respective lives, while I am getting unreasonably scared for what is otherwise a routine operation that will be past us in about a week’s time.