I come from a long line of high strung neurotics. (Sorry, Family. I’ve committed to telling the truth here.) If there’s something to worry about, obsess over, or unnecessarily dread, I will find it. It’s genetic.
Before I had my son (and until he was mobile, really), I would watch babies and toddlers cling to public surfaces and crawl around in airplanes and play in shopping mall play areas, and cringe in horror at the thought of all the germs they were then going to rub into their tiny little eyes with their grubby little hands. I once took a two-year-old to the bathroom at a zoo and it remains one of the most stressful experiences of my life.
September: On my 29th birthday, while wearing my eight week old son strapped to my chest, I cracked a cusp off a molar as I ate the birthday burrito I’d struggled hard to make for myself. My husband was away for the week for work, my mom had flown back to California, and I had never seen a dentist who wasn’t my grandfather, let alone one who practiced in the UK. Unable to find anyone to watch my baby on a few hours notice, I took my tiny son, who had until this point in his life only been held by three people related to him and the midwife who delivered him, to a dental clinic, where he refused to sleep through my appointment in his stroller. I got to have a tooth drilled (sans Novocaine) while listening to my son scream in a medical office lobby as he was held by a total stranger.
“You seem a little tense,” said the dentist. No shit, I thought.
At the exact same time, on my birthday, I’d stupidly let my US driver’s license expire, because apparently you can’t renew your California driver’s license by mail indefinitely. (Who knew?) Unable to renew my license from afar, and having just begun the slow crawl towards a UK learner’s permit, I could no longer drive our car. This was unfortunate because it was annoying, and also because: it was becoming winter in England; walking everywhere was a nightmare; my husband works away during the week; my son needed his vaccinations.
October-November: I ended up taking my infant son to his first series of vaccinations in taxis. Some of them smelled of cigarettes and all of them had probably been puked in.
December: We flew from England to California, to show off our baby to my side of the family, and I spent four weeks tamping down my panic about my 4.5 month old bubble boy being passed around at meet-and-greet parties and being fed random food by people who refused to listen to my “no solid foods until six months” rule. The trip was for me both wonderful and exhausting, as I loved being home, but battling pretty crippling anxiety made it difficult to enjoy myself.
Being a new mother, tasked with keeping this tiny child alive and with making all the right choices, is a huge, overwhelming, almost impossible job for anyone, but it felt particularly daunting for me, because I couldn’t ever relax or let down my guard or stop worrying about what terrible illness the world was about to visit upon the baby.
January: Our son had to start going to nursery, because I needed to get back to showing up on campus and working on my PhD. We did two weeks of “settling in” sessions, where I dropped off my wailing child for a few hours and hung around the nursery or walked down to the grocery store and stress-bought (and then stress-ate) gross meals like premade veggie sushi and potato chips. (I WAS NERVOUS, OKAY?) I sat with him for a few minutes
before leaving each time, watching him put communal toys directly into his mouth, having an almost out of body experience. Just like that, the bubble around my precious little bug burst, and there he was, getting sneezed on by stranger babies and sucking on his fingers after running them all over the nursery carpet. His exposure was suddenly completely out of my control.
In the end, I didn’t really have a choice. I could spend my entire life petrified of what was going to happen to him after he put that soft block in his mouth, or I could let it go. Because I have a PhD to attempt to complete while living in a foreign country and holding down the fort while my husband is away, I chose to let go. I gave up literally three decades worth of mania because I just could not keep going forward while being wound so tightly.
Our son is (almost) 12 months old now and regularly eats food that’s touched restaurant tables, plays with things that have fallen on the ground, and chews on toys have just been thrown down in front of him by nursery kids who have just finished gnawing on them. He got sick a lot at first (beginning with his first cold and double pink eye after his first week of nursery) and he didn’t sleep well and it was as bad as I thought it would have been, but it got better. He got better. And so did I.
Becoming a mom shattered me in a lot of ways: the total loss of independence, completely indescribable to those who haven’t experienced it; the physical changes, both the fleeting and the permanent; the responsibility, which I’m trying to shoulder. These are all things that I’m still working on accepting, even now, less than a week before my son celebrates his first birthday. However, becoming a mom has cured me, in a way I couldn’t have anticipated.
After living thirty years fearing door handles and public transportation, I’ve finally learned not to sweat the (microscopic) small stuff.
Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her first PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and old news, check the archives over at Whiny Baby.