I welcomed a second daughter a few months ago, and as I cuddle this newborn close I can so keenly remember doing the same with my first. Now 3-years-old, my older child is a force to be reckoned with. So strong, naughty, and kind, and fiercely protective of her baby sister. Fiercer still is her mother.
When I was a brand-new mommy I looked at the world with wonder and worry. I was tsk-tsk’ed by friends and strangers alike as I questioned things like vaccine schedules, swaddling, and long car rides. I remember racing her to the emergency room upon discovering a rash I didn’t like the looks of. Three hours and some blood work later, she was given a clean bill of health and I left with a diagnosis of First Time Mom Syndrome.
But I wore that badge proudly. I was okay with being an eyes-wide-open, please-tell-me-WTF-I’m-doing new mom. I wanted to soak it all in, to find my confidence and my stride. I knew I wanted more children, and my hope was to go sliding into life with two kids with a lot less anxiety. And yet, here we are.
Since becoming a mother, I certainly have found confidence and gained knowledge. But while everyone told me I would worry less about Kid #2, I’ve found that the opposite is true. Because as I’ve grown more comfortable in my role as a mom and built up my tribe around me, I’ve seen more things. I know more things. And the truth is I’m terrified.
When I brought my first daughter home from the hospital, none of my friends had babies. Now, I’m in mom groups both real and virtual. I’ve morphed from a career journalist focusing on fashion and current events to a mommy blogger with an emphasis on breastfeeding and baby-and-me yoga. I live in the suburbs. My daughter has friends. And thus, I have friends. Real-life moms around me. I’m in the club. And I love it, but it scares me to death.
As a first-time mom, I knew about SIDS ostensibly. I knew it in statistics and impersonal anecdotes, the stuff of pamphlets stocked at the pediatrician’s office. This past summer, my friend buried her 7-month-old. A healthy, bright, beautiful baby boy who died one night in his crib. I wept for her as I clung to my pregnant belly, an aching despair and all-encompassing fear growing. Suddenly, SIDS was no longer just a concept. It was an earth-shattering reality.
And it’s not just SIDS that terrifies me. Since becoming a mom, I’ve read about the baby who died after a kiss from a relative with a cold sore. Heard a friend describe an accident that left her baby brother with a life-altering brain injury. Watched my own 3-year-old fall from playground equipment. Stood in my kitchen weeping as another friend’s 20-week pregnancy ended painfully and disastrously.
Then there are the germs. Before I had my first, I was aware that parents are supposed to be careful about visitors. I bought hand sanitizer and asked them politely to stay away if they were sick. But it wasn’t until my 4-month-old developed a terrifying stomach bug and started to dangerously lose weight, that I realized how scary germs can be. She later contracted Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease that wiped out our entire household for two weeks.
How stupid I’d been, trying to act all nonchalant about germs. Telling myself it was okay not to vigorously scrub their hands every time they walked in the house, because they needed to build up immunity. As a first-time mom, I was more lax about germs. As a second-time mom, I’ve turned into a professional germ fighter. (And yes, I realize this is a little ridiculous, but it’s true).
About a month ago, with my newborn strapped on my body and my 3-year-old by my side, I laid out my purchases on the belt at Target and watched the cashier’s pleasant smile creep toward a mild smirk. Hand sanitizing wipes, pacifier wipes, Clorox wipes, two different kids of dish soap (regular for us, bottle-specific for the baby). “I was over all of this by my second,” she said, teasing me. “I wish I could be, too,” I retorted, forking over my credit card for a total that would definitely irk my husband.
Special pacifier wipes, really, Jenny? I thought to myself. I didn’t even use these stupid things as an infamous First Time Mom. But here I was, spending a premium just so that I could do my part to keep this baby healthy.
I can’t avoid it. The danger, the fear of being a mom. Of loving these beings so much that your entire purpose is to keep them well, and whole, and here. I know how insane it must sound to some, and yes, I am on medication for the anxiety. But my worry permeates still.
Sometimes, I would love nothing more than to go back to those blissful days as a brand-new mom, when scary things happened only in pamphlets and on the evening news. Everyone said I’d worry less this time, but it seems to only worsen. The more I settle into this role of motherhood, the more it grows. Worry right alongside devotion, the beauty and agony of the greatest love I’ve ever known.