I remember (vaguely!) the days before I had a child. Back then, fear for me came in the form of the things that go bump in the night. I was afraid of the things I couldn't see. I'd bring down the blinds on the windows promptly at nightfall for fear that I'd see beady red eyes looking back in at me (thanks to the movie The Amityville Horror).
But as soon as I held that dear little baby girl in my arms - no, even when she was still inside me - fear took on a new meaning. It's not even that fear doubled - now fear for my own safety as well as hers - but that what I was afraid of changed.
Before I had my daughter, I didn't spend much time being afraid of other people. But I recall clearly the first time I took her to a park to play and seeing a lone man loitering about and having my "mother alert" go into high gear. If I had been by myself - before child - I probably wouldn't have given that guy a second thought.
Germs, pools, electrical outlets, driving in the car. Before a child, none of these things were on my radar as a daily danger. After a child, these common daily things became fuel for daily nightmares of "what ifs" and cautious safeguards.
It wasn't like I was cavalier and reckless with my life before I had a child. I'm not one to skydive, bungee jump and generally throw caution to the wind with massive risk-taking behaviors. But after I had her, the meaning - and importance - of my own life took on a whole new meaning.
And with each passing day of her life, my fear for the loss of my own life grew. What would happen to her if she lost me?
It was in fact out of that question - that nagging fear always present in some part of my brain - that inspired my characters and some plot points for my novel Emily's House. You see I didn't lose my own mother as a child (my mom's still living large at age 72). But I imagined what it would be like for my daughter who loves me so much that sometimes it makes her cry with joy (she's a sensitive emotional little soul, just like her mamma, and not yet a teenager!).
My life took on new meaning for me when my daughter was born. I mattered to her, more than anything. I was important to her, more than anything. And because she mattered to me, more than anything, I began to matter to me more too.
I know as she grows older I will become less the center of her world. She'll always love me big of course. But in time her peers and then boyfriends and perhaps some day her own sweet child will take over that place in her heart where once I lived - big and warm and all of everything.
And someday maybe she'll look into the eyes of her own sweet baby and see in the love there a new meaning to her own life. And she will treasure it all the more.