How Trauma Shaped How I Process Fear
Updated: Jun 7
When my son, Kai, was about six months old, my husband was out of town for three months at a training course. The course was pivotal for his career and had been on hold for a long time because of our dire life circumstances. I was making plans to travel to the East Coast to attend Steve's graduation and visit family. For most of Kai's first year of life, his breathing was labored and squeaky. In retrospect, we now know it’s because he had hydrocephalus (a serious brain issue), but at the time we thought it was laryngomalacia (a potentially serious throat issue). A specialist, I think it was the ENT, advised me not to travel. She told me Kai could stop breathing on the plane and, even if she herself was on the plane, she wouldn’t be able to save him because of the limited resources on the plane and delay in help arriving. (Being a huge Grey's Anatomy fan and someone who appreciates humor's ability to lighten a crisis, I thought to say to her, "Meredith Grey or Nathan Riggs could!" but I didn't think she would appreciate it so I refrained. Hehe.)
I took the trip anyway. I took the advice of my pediatrician who said that it would be good for us to go. I took a calculated risk. I discussed it with my husband before I took the trip. He deferred to me because he hadn’t seen Kai for months, but we weighed the decision together.
The specialist's advice was valid and it was possible that Kai could have stopped breathing on the plane. The reason I chose to go anyway was that Kai could stop breathing at any moment all the time, no matter where I was. It was a constant risk. My reasoning was: even if I drove through the desert to visit family in Palm Springs, I could still get caught with a hypoxic baby and help could take too long to get to us. If Kai stopped breathing at the wrong place and wrong time, even in my own neighborhood or own home, it's possible help could be too far away.
As it turned out, Kai didn’t stop breathing on the plane or during the trip. Though, I did get horribly sick from being so anxious and worn down. The trip was worthwhile to me because it was on the trip that Kai first really laughed--like throw his head back BELLY laughed. And thanks to my amazing cousin who drove me from her house in Maryland to my destination in Rhode Island when I was too sick to fly, Kai and I got to see my husband graduate. I'm glad I chose to give Kai invaluable family time instead of more sheltered time at home.
Something else I discussed with my husband in making the decision to travel was the fact that our first son, Maverick, died completely unexpectedly where we thought there would be very little risk. I had researched pregnancy and childbirth and was under medical care in a good hospital when things went unpredictably, horribly, fatally wrong during my labor. My son died shortly after his birth from trauma that injured him while he was supposed to be safe in the womb and the hospital. As far as we know, Mav was healthy and my pregnancy with him was normal.
All this to say: life is unpredictable. Safety and security in the physical world are never guaranteed and making them our god is like chasing the wind. Control over our circumstances is an illusion. On the other hand, living recklessly doesn't always turn out so well, either. I know many stories of people who "did everything right," but still were dealt a terrible hand, and just as many who were irresponsible and seem blessed for it. I don't want to be a slave to fear, living like death is around every corner, but I also don't want to ignorantly live as if my life is invincible. Because of my life experiences, when someone tells me how likely something is to happen, it doesn't carry much weight because I am living several scenarios that are less than 1% likely.
What I’ve learned is to trust my gut and lean into the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Doing so doesn't mean the result will be painless or easy. Sometimes God asks us to do things that are heart-wrenching, or our gut leads us astray. But, I find peace and strength in knowing He is in control and knows and sees things we don’t always get to know or understand. I prefer to live my life under the shadow of His wing.
Here are some perspectives on fear that I've leaned on the last few years:
The story of Shadrak, Meshak, and Abednego gave me courage as Maverick was dying. Months later, I read Tim Keller's book and he explained it really well:
Ann Voskamp's books have been lights for me in very dark times. Specifically this analogy of Kevlar inspired me when Kai was undergoing one of his neurosurgeries as a baby:
Living through some of my worst-fears-come-true has given me a unique perspective. Lately, having been through hell and still standing, David's response to the threat of Goliath and Malcolm Gladwell's description in the namesake book, remind me of how I process fear now: