When I was pregnant, my fears, like my fetus, grew with each passing trimester. It seemed as if each new day brought something else to worry about. When I finally gave birth, my baby looked so tiny and helpless, I was terrified I’d do something horribly wrong and inadvertently hurt her – or worse. Of course, this didn’t happen. Here are five of the fears that loomed largest when my baby was her smallest.
Fear 1: I would break her.
When the delivery room nurse handed my baby to me, I was petrified I’d break her. I’m clumsy. The day my husband came home from the hospital after his appendectomy, I accidentally elbowed him in his side. Also, I’m the kind of person who breaks things. Glasses slip out of my hand without warning. What if I dropped my newborn, and she shattered? She seemed so delicate and impossibly small, even though she was full term at seven pounds. I’d read with a mixture of fascination and alarm about newborn’s unfused fontanelles, so I was certain I’d press one and cause permanent brain damage. Just saying “fontanelle” sent me into spasms of anxiety.
After a few weeks of feeling like I’d been holding my breath around my daughter, that each time I changed her was like dressing constantly wiggling fine china, I realized I wasn’t hurting her. She wasn’t nearly as breakable as I’d thought. Her arms could actually be manipulated to fit into clothes! Her head didn’t snap off when I stretched a turtleneck to fit through it. I may still be a bumbling mess with most other things, but around my baby, my mom radar magically kicked in. Suddenly I was nimble and lithe. I didn’t start tossing her up in the air with a “Whee!” but I did relax a lot.
Fear 2: I would damage her in the bath
The prospect of washing my daughter offered whole new vistas of concern: accidental scalding and/or drowning. If a baby scared me, a wet, slippery one petrified me.
Somehow I got through that first bath. I’d prepared for it carefully, gathering the items I needed: towels, washcloth, soap, and instruction sheet, which I’d been given by the nurse at the hospital the previous week. During her next few baths, I grew more confident that she wouldn’t drown in the inch or two of water in her plastic tub. I also realized it was highly unlikely I’d scald her since I’d turned down our hot water heater’s thermostat to “lukewarm,” and before I washed her, I tested the water with my finger. And inside my wrist. And inside my elbow. I tested it with so many body parts, it was probably filthy when I lowered my daughter carefully into the tub. Eventually, as my newborn – and I – relaxed during her baths, I felt my tension swirl down the drain.
Fear 3: I’d starve her (or feed her too much)
In my mind, food and my infant were a simple computer algorithm of input and output. What she put in one end would have a direct correlation to what came out the other. So I carefully analyzed the contents of her diapers as if they held the meaning of life, and then, depending on what I saw, I’d worry. Was she eating too much or not enough? Was she even latching on correctly? Sure, the lactation consultant in the hospital had showed me the right way to hold my baby while nursing. But what if I wasn’t doing the “football hold” correctly?
Apparently babies know exactly what they need. My daughter fussed when she was hungry, sucked as much as she needed and wanted, and then did it all over again a little while later. Even better, she thrived and grew, despite my awkward attempts to hold her like a football, soccer ball, or frisbee.
Fear 4: I’d contaminate her
Germs were certainly far tinier than my newborn, but my sudden irrational fear of them was enormous. Although I’d never used antibacterial soap or gel before, I went to the store and bought bottles of liquid antibacterial soap for each sink. When my parents flew in to see their new granddaughter for the first time, I made them wash their hands thoroughly before they held her. If I’d had access to face masks and Hazmat coveralls, I would have dressed them like they were heading out to clean up the BP oil spill.
This one changed gradually. At first, I’d place a freshly cleaned blanket on the spotless rug before I’d plop her down for tummy time. Then I’d place the blanket, slightly dirtier, on the un-vacuumed rug. Later still, my baby put things in her mouth: dirt, leaves, friends’ germ-ridden plastic toys. And if they weren’t a choking hazard, I let her. A little over a year after I’d given birth, I was picking up the goldfish crackers my daughter had dropped in the sandbox, wiping them off, and handing them back to her to pop into her mouth. And I’m certain we were both far happier than in our early, antibacterial, days.
Fear 5: What if I pass on all my worries and neurosis to her?
I’ve talked to a slew of mom friends and almost all of them – even the most rational and sensible ones – confessed they’d felt similar qualms. It seemed that in going from a relatively carefree existence to the massive responsibility of motherhood, it was common to give birth not just to a baby, but to a host of absurd fears, as well.
As many moms do, I found that as my newborn grew, these anxieties shrunk (although others popped up, in a constant game of parental Whack-A-Mole.) These days, I’m not too concerned about passing my worries to her. Not really. Wait, should I be?