There are a lot of adjustments that come with having a baby, but I considered myself better-prepared than many. I knew labor would be painful, but figured it couldn’t be that bad if women everywhere did it every day. I didn’t sweat the sleep deprivation thing, as being pregnant certainly prepares one for lack of sleep (re: trying to find a sleep position that accommodates the protruding stomach, aching ribs, and sciatica-ridden legs). I knew there would be less time for myself, and so I read everything I could in preparation of a long hibernation from the library, which I formerly frequented as often as a pre-teen patronizes a mall. And I was certainly looking forward to worrying less about my baby, certain that once I could see him in the flesh, I wouldn’t be as apprehensive about his development and every move.
Fast-forward three months to a wiser, more tired and more experienced me.
After I gave birth, one of the first things I said to any woman who had children – including my mother – was the following question: “Why didn’t you TELL me?” This was in reference to the immense pain of labor; when they protested that they did tell me, I replied that a throwaway comment was in no shape or form verbal preparation enough for the pain of giving birth. A half-hour conversation, with all the nitty-gritty details, might have sufficed. That goes for the epidural as well, which had been held up as a panacea to any pain of contractions. And it did – but for some women, the epidurals wear off before getting close to giving birth. I was one of those women. After my son Joshua was born, I was so utterly in awe of the enduring strength of women that I took to practically saluting each mother I saw the week after I gave birth.
With the sleep deprivation, I was right about one thing: I was so used to being up at all hours of the night that it wasn’t like there was much of a decrease in actual hours slept. Yet it’s one thing to zone out in front of the TV when you’re up at 3 a.m. and quite another to be feeding, burping, changing, and putting to bed a newborn baby, sometimes up to three times a night.
As for the lack of time to myself, my voracious reading was, in fact, affected, but so were things like eating regular meals and the time to change from my pajamas to an actual outfit I could wear in public. Time becomes such a precious commodity when you are a new mother that the journey to the shower becomes a veritable landmine, filled with obstacles like getting a burp out of the baby, fielding constant phone calls from well-wishers and inquiring minds, and doing all the chores that make a household run. It is quite humbling for many an intelligent and capable career woman to have the goal for the day be in the form of a hot shower, and disquieting to realize that you must choose between said shower and a much-needed nap.
And now, a word or two about the worrying.
I have always been a worrier. No two ways about it – if a disaster might happen or potential perils lurk, I am thinking about it and anticipating it. I’m not sure where this incessant worrying stems from – I suppose I could blame my mother, who’s a truly wonderful, selfless and tireless woman but rather high-strung (the entire family flees the house before Passover lest we incur my mother’s wrath by cleaning something the wrong way). Maybe I scare myself silly by religiously following the news (which is largely composed of both natural and man-made disasters – no one really wants to read a story with the headline “Happy family goes to the movies” or “Boy, 6, Gets Stellar Report Card”), and by one of my favorite pastimes, watching horror movies.
When I met my husband, David, I was rather befuddled by his complete and utter lack of worrying. Chalk it up to two things: his inherently laid-back nature and his sincere religious outlook, which accounts for his absolute trust in G-d and the belief that He will take care of us no matter what.
It’s not that I don’t believe in G-d – I do. But I see bad things happen to good people all the time. And so, I worry. When I was pregnant, I worried constantly about my baby: Is he OK in there? Is he healthy and thriving? Is he moving around? People told me to relax, because pregnancy is the only time you really know where your baby is every second of the day. Still, while that may be true, I knew I would just calm down when I was able to see him in the flesh.
I chuckle now at that, because of course, as every parent knows, there is no complete relaxing when you have a child, and after Joshua was born my worry only increased, which few people thought was possible. I kept watch over him like a hawk, feeling guilty if I began to drift off to sleep after being awake some 20-plus hours. I eyed every visitor with suspicion as they neared my son, not knowing if they were harboring flu germs or dirty hands. I have strained my back bending over Joshua’s crib so many times to see his little chest rise up with each breath.
Every commonplace thing became a potentially dire situation. Unplugged outlets, detergent and common medicine cabinet products loomed before me as red-alert items. The friendly golden retriever on the leash coming up the block suddenly transformed into a four-legged beast that could turn rabid at any moment (okay, that one actually is from Stephen King’s Cujo). I double-check the stove each time to ensure it is turned off properly. I glance around for any spiders or roaches that could crawl near him, even swatting away fruit flies with a tennis racket until my husband assures me they are far more interested in the banana than our son. I insisted upon window guards despite the fact despite the fact that my son has yet to crawl, lest someone trip out the open window with the baby in his or her arms.
I am truly at a loss about how best to protect my son – do I continue going overboard in the name of choosing to be safe rather than sorry? Or do I embrace my husband’s line of thinking and raise him in a genuinely relaxed environment, letting him explore his new world which comes with the risk of getting hurt, so he can learn how to fend for himself?
Since I’ve been back at work, I obviously realize that I can’t be with Joshua all the time. At some point, I am going to have to make a leap of faith and trust a babysitter; trust that she will protect my son and care for his every need, if not quite love him like a mother. And if I persist in worrying with the intensity which with I started, I will, in due time, drive myself absolutely crazy. And while nobody will worry about every little thing concerning my baby like I do – perhaps the best way I can love him is to take that leap of faith, ease up on the worrying and trust in G-d that he will be OK.
Tova Ross is an Institutional Advancement Communications Specialist at Yeshiva University.