When I was 22 weeks pregnant with Viv, I was put on bed rest and warned that I might lose my baby. The next day, I had my first ever panic attack. My heart raced and I hyperventilated, just like in the movies. I asked Dave to find me a paper bag and he returned with plastic, at which point I may have accused him of trying to murder me.
My OB gave me an emergency stash of Xanax and suggested I talk to a therapist. “Why?” I protested. “I’ll be fine as soon as I give birth to a healthy baby.” My doc then said something weird. He told me that once I had the baby, I could expect my anxiety to get “much, much worse.” I had no idea what he was talking about and ignored his advice. Which turned out to be dumb.
Once Viv was born (at 39 ½ weeks, delicious and perfectly fine), the previously safe and friendly world I occupied suddenly appeared dangerous and threatening. My cozy home with its fluffy carpet and plush furniture was now a minefield of sharp objects, scalding faucets and slippery stairs.
My overactive imagination turned on me, pelting me with waking nightmares, gruesome stuff I don’t even want to list here. To de-stress, I finally had to create a mantra – “force field” – which I would think to myself while breathing deeply, imagining my baby safe and protected.
A shrink later told me this was textbook OCD. Intrusive thoughts, leading to compulsive behavior to curb the anxiety. And I’m like, fuck, really? If I have OCD, then why am I such a slob? Why can’t I even have the good kind of OCD? It’s like being a fat anorexic. She told me I might benefit from medication. I figured taking drugs while breastfeeding (which might be ok, but who really knows) was only going to stress me out more. So I’ve been riding it out. And it’s a little better now.
I know that parental anxiety has a purpose. As our babies’ protectors, we’re hard wired to be on high alert. And although visualizing the baby choking on various household objects is unpleasant, it has led to creating a safer environment here for Viv. Every item within her reach is guilty until proven innocent. Paper clips, thumb tacks and loose change are objects non grata. Anxiety is like nature’s babyproofing.
But there’s a limit. Looking left, then right, then left, then right, then left, then right before we cross is time well spent. However, worrying every time we fly that the plane is going to crash has no bearing on whether it will. Technology trumps biology. But how do you turn off the alarm?
I’ve always been anxious. You wouldn’t know it to look at me. I’m usually smiling. And I’ve been excellent at funneling anxiety into fuel for productivity and accomplishment. Make the deadline! Get the job! But this motherhood thing, it’s a whole different world of worry. And what I can’t figure out is, how much crazy is the right amount? I know I don’t want Viv to sense my fears, and I don’t think she does, not yet anyway. There’s too much work and exhaustion and joy in any given day to really dwell. But after I put her to bed, kiss Dave goodnight and am alone with my thoughts, sometimes I have to breath deep and visualize the force field.
Parents out there, what’s your secret? How do you calibrate the worrying?
I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.