Yesterday we received an email from my mother in law in Israel who relayed an emotional story about my sister-in-law’s race from the playground to the bomb shelters while she struggled to carry both her children with sirens blaring above. I think one of the reasons that this image was so terrifying aside from the obvious, is that my sister-in-law is not exactly someone who you would call anxious or fearful. My husband’s siblings, like him, have an incredible way to brush away worry, knowing deep down that everything will always be just fine. While traveling back from our honeymoon in Costa Rica in a tiny commuter plane while in a storm, I was sure we were done for, but my husband just assured me of our safety by merely telling me, “don’t worry, I’m not dying in a plane crash, I am sure that’s not the way I am going to go.” Somehow this made me feel better. And, when he went to Israel a few years ago during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza, I decided not to join him, and instead sat at home worried (until I managed to get my ass to an ashram in the Bahamas to chill out). He assured me, once again, that nothing will happen to him, that he is not going to go that way either. Now, all this confidence about his own mortality is one thing, but when you have a child, how do you find the tools to truly believe that they will always be as safe from harm as you. When my mother in law met my sister in law at the bomb shelter and asked her how she was, she replied that she had been scared. My mother in law explained to her that when they were constantly running for shelter during the first Gulf War when she was only 12 years old she was never scared, and she replied, “that was before I was a mom.”
That got me thinking (and crying!) about the relationship between motherhood and anxiety. For the past two weeks, as our baby grows extremely close to full term (it is now beginning it’s 33rd week), I have begun to experience a feeling that is all too familiar to me, fear. I have always been a worrier, the kind of child that never slept before the first day of school. But, through the years, I have been given tools to help ease this innate emotion, and now I have methods to detach myself from any irrational or convoluted nightmares that I imagine in my mind. Over the last three weeks, however, beginning with Hurricane Sandy, new anxieties have risen up, all having to do with the health of our growing baby. There was the sore throat and chest cold after volunteering in the hard hit Rockaways that I was convinced was caused from post hurricane toxic air that would in turn affect the baby, then there was the hot bath that I took in order to allow for a relaxing, sleep filled night that only left me completely wound up and anxious that the water was too hot and I had cooked the baby, and then this past weekend I suffered an asthma attack during a child-birth class because I had forgotten to ask the teacher if she owned any cats (super allergic!) before settling down on a mat on the floor. Was I ever scared for my own well being during these physically trying experiences? Of course not, the only thought I had was, “I just hurt the baby, and now it will be damaged forever.” Of course, this is all a bit insane, especially considering how healthy baby and me have been throughout the pregnancy. I am sure all this new anxiety has been exacerbated by my restless sleep, but, from what I have heard, I won’t be sleeping much for the next 18 years or so anyway (wait, then he/she gets a driver’s license!, so make that the next 30 years?), so I better just get used to it. If being anxious plays a big role in motherhood, I guess I will be a super mom! Especially, if we ever move to Israel (oh no, I better not say that here, my mom may be reading this!).
I always envisioned myself as a mom who watches with ease as her child climbs alone to the top of the monkey bars, or who can introduce led feeding at 6 months, or who is fine with my kid licking the city streets (germs are good immune boosters after all!). It is not these actions that actually scare me, it is the fear itself. I know that being a fearful mom will in turn affect my child. Just like being fearful during labor restricts oxygen to the uterus and tightens muscles causing more pain, being an anxious parent can be very hurtful to a child since they are so sensitive to their mother’s emotions. I am sure I will try my best not to show my anxiety, and when all else fails, well, at least there’s dad.