The Worry Switch
Even for those who, by nature, tend to be a little paranoid — even for those who typically get lost in “what ifs” — the near-insane level of worry triggered by parenthood can be a shock.
It starts during pregnancy and is fueled by how-to books and (ahem) magazine articles and doctors and experts and neighbors and folklore.
Soft cheese and deli meat and sushi and the chemicals in your new carpet. Exercising vigorously versus not exercising at all. Both are, could be, definitely must be, very bad for your baby. But so is exercising moderately. And riding with a seat belt. And riding without a seat belt. Having sex. NOT having sex.
Of your tiny, 3-week-old embryo you might think: What if she falls out of her crib? Falls for a bad guy? Falls into the wrong crowd?
The new you
This worry — so consuming, so painful, so particular to being a parent — can wane and wax in intensity, but it’s always kind of there.
It’s why you might, for the first time ever, develop superstitions … just in case. It’s why you can no longer watch the news or (so help you) CSI.
The worry that you are not enough, that the car seat is not enough, that the organic teething biscuit is not enough, that the world is not enough. The worry over childbirth and breastfeeding and preschool and the perils of the Internet. The drug epidemic and school-bus fumes. BP frickin’ A. Screen time. Tummy time. Airplane crashes and red food dye. Co-sleeping, not co-sleeping. Antibiotics and vaccines. The fact that you can find 1,000 opinions on any of these things by simply succumbing to Google. The fact that YOUR CHILD can find 1,000 opinions that you don’t want him to have, someday, on Google, which will be implanted via injection just behind his eyeballs, in the messed-up dystopian world you worry he’ll grow up in.
Oh, the worry switch.
It flicks on. And then that’s that. You’re a parent. It’s wonderful. It’s torture. You will love so much and you will worry so much. And this — despite good friends, great food, a loving relationship, satisfaction at work — will become your “thing.” It’s your MO, your defining characteristic, your nagging voice that keeps you up at night.
My own mother, in recent years, called me after my plane had landed back home after a trip and said, “Oh, good. I can put my arms down now.”
The idea was that she was flying right alongside the plane, keeping me safely up in the air.
It wasn’t, “Oh, my sweet Mama,” as much as, “Crap. I’m 40 and she’s still worrying. This will never end for me.”
A life sentence of bone-shaking, soul-scorching worry. Not a darn thing you can do about it.
Things to try
OK, maybe you can do a little something about it. You can try not to fuel the fire. You can set rules for yourself. You can try to follow them. These rules might include:
- No “Google MD”-type research after dinner. The potential perils — of rare disease and the toxic world we live in — seem much worse after dark, when you’re tired.
- No to fear mongers. The lady at the post office who starts talking about your child’s flat head and “what can happen” if you are a “bad mom” and lay your child too often on her back? Tell her to buzz off.
- Yes to deep breaths, many and often.
- Yes to using your eyes. Look at your child. See that she is well; know that you’re doing your best. Feel grounded in that perspective.
- Yes to calling exactly the right friend at exactly the right moment of panic. Deep inside, you know the one. Choose the right resource at the right time.
- Yes to fresh air and exercise. These are medicine — a reset button, an outlet, a way to turn the switch off (or at least down a bit).
In the meantime, enjoy your not-so-worry-free existence. I mean that. You are a parent. You are ALIVE. Take it all in.
Jen Wittes is a certified postpartum doula and writer who now works in marketing and communications. She lives in St. Paul with her two kids, two cats and husband. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.