I used to laugh, before I had a baby, at women who happily watched psychological thrillers before becoming a mum only to ditch them for romcoms afterwards, who said they could no longer watch the news because all the bad things went from sad to unbearable, or who, like a member of my bookgroup, didn't want to read The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (by Kate Summerscale) because it's all about the murder of a very young boy.
In fact when my baby was born I started joking about this kind of woman. People would ask me "What's it like being a mum?" and I'd say "Well, not much has changed except as a mother I now really hate peadophiles!" as if I didn't before.
But joke as I may, becoming a parent does change you. Not because non parents don't appreciate how horrible bad things are, but because it's only when you've known the all encompassing deep rooted obsessional feelings that you have for your own child that you can envisage what it might be like to lose them.
I don't hold with the idea that your child has no sense of self for the first couple of years. My baby has very obviously known from the very beginning that although we are clearly, profoundly, connected, she is her own person. I smooth her path in life and provide her with absolute and unconditional love, but without me she would still survive and flourish. It is me who now has no sense of self. My fate is inextricably caught up in hers. I do not think I could be happy if she was not. I realise she is my daemon, like those in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and without her I would be a shadow, a soulless entity.
Which is interesting because it means having a child hasn't 'completed' me, it has (literally and metaphorically) shattered me. I have been ripped into pieces, of which she is one, and though her piece operates as a whole, my piece doesn't. Which is why I think I now understand why the bad things are more unbearable when you are a parent, why the story of the McCanns whose daughter Madeleine is lost, why the lament of Tariq Jahan whose son Haroon died in the riots earlier this week, why all the stories that make the news of parents losing their children of any age, why films in which baddies seek to harm the families of goodies, why books detailing the murders of young boys, are all worse once you have a baby. Not because it wasn't bad before but because it's no longer unimaginable, and because you realise just how horrendous the consequences would be should it happen to you.