It seems that lately I've changed from the "Every Stranger is a Friend You Haven't Met Yet" kind of person into a "Get Away from Me and My Baby; I Have Pepper Spray" kinda gal. My husband recently remarked, "It seems like overnight you became scared of everything."
Why yes, I did, and I'm pretty sure it was the night our daughter was born.
In the last six months, I have definitely felt vulnerable. But am I really -- as he suggested -- scared of everything? I decided to keep a running list of every single fear I had last week. Maybe some of these will sound familiar to you, too. Maybe you have your own list.
Things That Scare Me:
- Driving in snow
- Driving in rain
- Driving in a wintry mix
- Driving on the highway
- Driving at night
- The baby rolling off the couch
- The baby rolling off the changing table
- Tripping on the stairs while carrying the baby
- Tripping over the cat while carrying the baby
- Direct sunlight on the baby and/or sunburn
- Crossing the street with the stroller
- The stroller taking off on its own like in "Ghostbusters II"
- Drunk Drivers
- The baby choking on her bottle
- The baby choking on the fist she has jammed down her throat most of the day
- Arsenic poisoning
- High fructose corn syrup in her formula
- Nuts (I ate peanut butter and then kissed her -- and then hated myself for a day)
- Cancer (The baby, me, my husband, everybody we love)
- Swear words on TV seeping into the baby's brain
- Swear words out of the mouth of her mother seeping into the baby's brain
- Forgetting to lock the doors at night
- The man buying candy all by himself behind me at Fannie May
- Clipping her nails too short
- Leaving her nails too long and letting her Freddy Kruger her face
- Drive-by shootings
- Regular shootings
- Second-hand smoke on the street
- Third-hand smoke in my own house
- Releasing toxins by steaming baby bottles in the microwave
- Breaking her arm while getting her dressed
- My jewelry piercing her soft spot
- Overheating her during the day
- Freezing her at night
- The baby rolling over on her tummy at night and suffocating
- Leaving the gas stove burner on overnight (like I did when I was pregnant)
- Forgetting the baby in the backseat
- Worrying I will do something rash in a tense moment
- The baby ingesting some weird bacteria strain from all the things she sticks in her mouth
- Swaddling her too tight and breaking her ribs
- Burping her too hard and displacing her spleen
- Squirting her out of my arms after she's had a bath
- Carcinogens in her bubble bath
- Feeding her solids too soon and risking allergies
- Waiting too long to feed her solids
- Someone breaking in at night
I almost felt too embarrassed to share this list after I saw it in black and white. But then I realized there was no way I could be the only one feeling this way, so I sought out some professional perspective. Leah Bloom, a staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago, spoke with me earlier this week.
"There is this constant tension between what we can control as parents and what we cannot control. It's being okay with the latter -- what we can't control -- that's very hard for some parents," Bloom explained. "You can get really overwhelmed and caught up with all of those What-Ifs."
What's Going On?
In Bloom's own practice, she finds that "a lot of parents really want to 'get it right.' They've taken the same approach that found them success in their career into being a parent, and that's a part of the learning curve. Just because you buy the right organic baby food and the right car seat and the right stroller, and you're in the perfect school system, things happen. Things go wrong, and there's a lot of opportunity for great unexpected things to happen, too."
Bingo. I'd been attempting to use my former-life television producing skills to create a 24-hour-a-day live "Mommy Show," where there are no commercial breaks, everything's on the teleprompter, and nothing ever goes wrong. Definitely not reality TV.
So how do we slow down the constant mommy-worry?
3 Ways to Ease Your Anxiety
When your child is sleeping, sleep. Don't use that time to cook, clean, or check out your old boss's Mexico pictures on Facebook. Bloom stresses, "When you don't sleep, the irrational thoughts start to become amplified and the stress tends to increase." So let things get messy. Let some things get out of control. Just put on your ocean waves sound machine right now and drift off to a more rational place.
Find one physical activity that you enjoy, and stick to it. Doing jigsaw puzzles doesn't count. "It should be something physical," Bloom says, "because you mainly want to decrease stress, and to do that you need to breathe. With walking, running, or taking a yoga class, you have to focus on the breath. Anything that feels stressful or insurmountable -- if you you just breathe through it -- you can start to problem solve in a more rational way and break down the reality." So exhale out that nagging guilt that your child will never be on "Jeopardy!" Teen Week because you're not breastfeeding... and breathe in the fact that your baby is gaining weight, happy, and healthy.
Bloom suggests you stretch physically and mentally every day. "When we become new parents, we become ravenous for information, and too much information about parenting can feel overwhelming. Keep stepping back into that adult world. There are things that adults normally do that you enjoyed doing before." For me, writing and blogging have not only helped me stretch my creative muscles, but have also allowed me to connect with other parents. I've found that the more I reach out to others during a time that can be very isolating, the more happy and fulfilled I feel.
When to Seek Help
When facing day to day activities and new situations, "if the first word that flashes in your mind at any turn is no," Bloom recommends you start talking about your anxiety. Constant worry may be more than new parent jitters, so please open up to someone, whether it be a therapist or a trusted person in your life.