Cathi: Dealing with the “what ifs” as a new mom

CathiThe first few weeks (and months, and maybe years?) of motherhood are a beautiful and emotional time. You bond with Baby, and learn about each other, and stare dreamily into each others’ eyes.

As a new mom, you are also wracked with hormones, and lack of sleep, and an almost overpowering, choking terror.

I tell you this not to make you cry, but because most people tell you lots about that first part and not a lot about the second. It’s one of those nasty secrets mothers keep, like what the real pain of childbirth is like and how breastfeeding totally sucks, and the fact that almost everyone has a miscarriage, and it’s always awful for everyone, forever, no matter what.

There are beautiful things about motherhood, don’t get me wrong, but the What Ifs were almost overwhelming for me.

I’ve always been a worrier, but, on the whole, pretty optimistic. I know that there are certain things I cannot avoid. I’m left-handed, so I have more odd injuries than the average person. For example, while I may be better with scissors nowadays, I am always going to burn myself when I bake, and I’m usually going to cut myself when I use my really big knife. I’m more cautious about stairs than most, since I fell into a parking lot a few years ago and cracked my head open on a truck bumper (100+ stitches!). But otherwise, I tend to have a ‘what happens, happens’ type of mentality about whatever is around the next corner.

That is, I did until Baby arrived.

Oh, the fear. It starts from the first moment you hear that first wail. Is the baby healthy? Is that normal? Did the doctor really wash his hands, or does he ‘wash’ them the same way I ‘wash’ mine, which is definitely not for the amount of time it takes to sing a verse of ‘Happy Birthday.’ Is the nurse having troubles at home and isn’t focused on what she’s doing? Am I anti-feminist because I just labeled the doctor a man and the nurse a woman, and I’m already screwing up my child?

When you leave the hospital it gets worse. What if there’s a drunk driver on the road and we get side-swiped? What if there’s a big truck ahead of us hauling enormous spiky metal poles, and one slams through the windshield – will I have enough time to throw myself in front of the baby? (Seriously, I thought that, and was wondering what my reflexes were like after a C-section and some pain meds).

You get home, and you realize how many nightmarish incidents can occur there. What if there’s a hot spot in the formula? What if I trip? What if the swing comes unhooked and flies off, carnival-accident-style?

Even the most sensible, rational person can concoct crazy, horrible possibilities.

Ten months later it hasn’t stopped. I constantly torture myself. For example, last night we were getting ready to get in the tub. I set her in first, turned around, and thought, ‘What if I slid on the floor right now and was knocked unconscious?’

My biggest fear is that something happens to me on a Friday night, and no one discovers my cold, hungry, wet, scared, lonely, sobbing, totally pissed-off Baby until Monday morning.

It’s very scary being a mother, and very scary being one on your own. But I think, at least for me, thoughts like this help me be more careful, take fewer chances, and be a lot more attentive than I might normally be. Not that I was all wild and reckless before. But the incredible responsibility of taking care of another being (which includes taking care of myself) has hit me hard. I now make sure to turn all pot and pan handles to the back of the stove, even though she’s nowhere near able to stand on her own, let alone reach them. I put up ridiculously secure baby gates, especially at the top of the stairs using majorly serious butterfly toggles. I take vitamins now and get flu shots. I wear non-slip socks or slippers. I FLOSS.

There will always be situations that are difficult. And I will always worry that I am doing the right thing or making the right decision. But the same is true for married parents and gay parents and older parents. It doesn’t matter what kind of parent you are. It’s just plain nerve-wracking. And somehow we manage to suck it up and do our best and hope that’s enough.

I certainly don’t want Baby to be an anxious, nervous child. And that means overcoming fears to be the person Baby needs you to be — a confident, secure, cheerful (albeit somewhat crazy) mom.

Just don’t look out the windows if you hear a noise late at night, because there are hopped-up, on-the-lam, sharp-shooting burglars waiting to take you out so they can get the kid. I know, because I’ve got my plan to fight them off all worked out in my head.

You can read early-year blogs from Cathi here.


  1 comment for “Cathi: Dealing with the “what ifs” as a new mom

  1. Kristin
    September 22, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    This is a great post! You are a talented writer, Cathi. I’m still in the "trying" phase, but I’ve already started worrying about the pitch of my stairs and the indoor air quality in my future nursery and how to safely change diapers on twins (if that’s what I have) so that neither falls off a changing table. Hope I didn’t just add to your list!

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