Anxiety and Motherhood – Can you separate the two?

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger and arts educator Jess Levey.  This series appears almost every Monday on

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.


If You Knew Suzy – Could You Be Objective About Your Mom?

What will your children say about you when you die?  What would you want them to know?  These are a couple of the questions swirling around my brain since I recently finished reading If You Knew Suzy, A Mother, A Daughter, A Reporter’s Notebook, a memoir by Katherine Rosman, a journalist at the Wall Street Journal.  (Aside from being a kick ass culture reporter I should add in the interest of full disclosure that Ms. Rosman (Katie) is both a friend and by way of the mystical forces of Jewish Geography she is tangential family.)  If You Knew Suzy is not your typical memoir, and I don’t just mean that there is no abuse, addiction and giant AHA moment ala Oprah (there isn’t).  What’s unique about If You Knew Suzy is that it has none of those melodramatic cliché elements that seem to permeate every memoir yet is completely compelling and moving.  It reads with the kind of clarity and insight you’d expect from a Wall Street Journal reporter and the kind of humor and exasperation you’d expect from a smart, savvy, sassy daughter.

After Katie’s mother Suzy died from a long and grizzly battle with lung cancer Katie decided to deal with her grief by doing what she knew how to do best – go out and research her mother’s story.  Her mom was a very private person and Katie set out as a reporter, not just a grieving daughter, to find out what her mom was all about underneath the oft repeated family folklore and her perfectly fit, coiffed and couture ready appearance.  I’m not going to get into the details here about the beautiful and poignant moments Katie uncovers; the people her mother touched, nurtured and in some cases saved and the incredibly funny moments that only a daughter can fully revel in.   The book is full of these wonderful and sometimes painful stories, but even more than that it is about a daughter discovering her mother as a person.

It’s a funny thing reading a memoir about a mom written by a friend who was her daughter.  Our moms are from the same generation of 1970s moms and Katie and I are exactly the same age.   It would be easy to read from the daughter’s point of view, yet I am also a mother and so many of the issues of identity and worth still come into play today just as starkly as they did in the 70s.

After reading If You Knew Suzy I was left with the nagging questions I posed at the beginning of this post.  What do I want my daughters to think about the life I’ve led, the choices I’ve made and how much of myself do I want to reveal to my children?  As a Stay-At-Home Mom, and now a Stay-At-Home Writer (or Stay-At-Starbucks writer?) I can see my daughters try to make sense out of what I do and I welcome their questions.  Yet I think there needs to be a sense of mystery about your parents.  That day when you realize that your parents are also people is a disappointing, scary and sad day.  I actually shredded all of my old journals – the box of 20 or so of them chronicling my entire pre-adolescence through college life that survived move after move.  I decided that I didn’t want my children to some day find them and “discover” their mom as a kid.  No, that was my life and mine it will remain.  On the other hand, I hope my daughters never stop asking questions and looking for answers.  And if those questions are aimed at me I guess I should be flattered that they’re hoping there are answers worth finding.

In an ideal world if they ever decided to look more closely into my life and the kind of woman I was I hope they do it with the joy, tenacity and wit that Katie Rosman pulls off in If You Knew Suzy.  And I have to hope for myself that I create a life that is worth finding out about.  It doesn’t have to be fabulous or flashy but at the very least a life that had some passion and meaning.  After all, Joan Crawford had one of the most fabulous lives ever – and look how her daughter’s book turned out.

By the way, don’t just take my word about why you should read If You Knew Suzy: here’s what the true critics have to say:

The New York Observer

Elle Magazine

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