For New Moms Who Fear the Worst: Proof You're Not Alone
Visions of my baby dying flash in front of my eyes.
I wonder if this is normal. I have asked around, and I keep asking around, and it seems like yes, everyone feels this way. I’m completely normal. I’m just a regular mom.
But sometimes I wonder. This constant worry that something awful is going to happen to my baby… It paralyzes me at times. I feel like I can’t do anything. I can’t think of anything. Anything else but her safety. I obsess over it.
This morning I woke up, and as I’ve done the moment I wake up every morning for the past three weeks, I check the baby monitor. Lea Luna has been sleeping through the night for almost an entire month now and although it’s clear she sleeps much, much better in her own room, I’m not so sure I do.
She sleeps for 12 or 13 hours straight which is beautiful; she is so rested, so happy, so calm throughout the day. She’s a little beam of sunshine.
We used to co-sleep, but after 6 months it became evident: she needs her own space. So we put her in her own crib at the foot of the bed. Immediately her sleep improved. However, it increased tension between me and my husband in the bedroom – every time he turned in bed, the bed would creak and she would wake up. Many a times he woke up from my nails digging into his skin – me trying to tell him to BE QUIET FOR FORKS SAKE BECAUSE THE BABY IS WAKING UP AGAIN. Sharing a bedroom became a battle field.
So we decided to put her in her own room. We painted it pink and put her crib in there, and it’s the coziest room anyone has ever seen. She immediately fell in love and within a week she started sleeping through the night. Like magic.
You’d think I would be more excited about this. I am – I am excited. She sleeps. It’s awesome.
But I wake up every morning envisioning in my mind’s eye all the ways in which she might have suddenly died throughout the night.
I check the monitor – no sound. Not a peep. It’s 7.30 am. She went to bed at 7pm. Has she really slept for over 12 hours straight without a single sound? Is it actually normal? I lie there, my heart pounding, trying to pretend everything is fine. I’m not going to go in there – she is sleeping. Waking a sleeping baby is stupid. If I just lay here for another five minutes, she is going to wake up on her own and I’ll exhale with relief, and then I can go in there and say good morning like a normal person.
I look at the monitor. Turn the volume up, again. It’s at 100%. Still silent. What if she just stopped breathing? And she’s been in there all night. Dead. While I was here in the next bedroom sleeping peacefully.
I read an article a few months ago about a woman who walked in to greet her 8-month-old in the morning and found him strangled by his baby blanket. The story haunts me. Luna doesn’t sleep with blankets. I triple check her crib every day to ensure everything is safe. I follow all the rules. No blankets, no pillows.
But what if she did just stop breathing? It happens. I know it happens. Maybe I will open the door to her room and find her there, stiff and blue.
No. That’s crazy. I try to think of something else. I look at Dennis sleeping next to me. He looks so peaceful.
Suddenly I remember: there is a cord hanging from a new lamp a few feet from her bed. Dennis has been meaning to nail it to the wall but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. What if she was able to reach it somehow? It’s pretty far. Really far. But still. I envision her, strangled in her crib, electrical cord wrapped around her neck.
Or what if she was able to reach one of her stuffed toys through the railings of the crib? She’d have to have really, really long arms. And I did check last night that everything was safe. *But what if. *
What if she swallowed one of her pacifiers? Is that possible? I pick up my phone and google “asphyxiation from paci…” but I change my mind. Put the phone back on the nightstand. No. Not the internet. When has Google ever helped calm my anxious mind?
I check the monitor again. Still silent. I look at the time. It’s been 5 minutes. WHY ISN’T SHE MAKING ANY NOISE?
“I’m just going to go check on the baby”, I tell Dennis. He’s sleeping but I tell him because I want to sound normal. Just going to check on the baby! No big deal! I’m not at all convinced that she has died in her crib in one of the many scenarios that just ran through my mind. Not at all. Just checking on the baby!
I get up. I do everything slowly because if she could just wake up now I’d hear it through the monitor and I could go in there to pick her up because she’s awake and not to check if she is dead.
Checking if your baby is dead seems like an inhumane thing to have to do. I do it every morning.
The monitor is still silent.
I put pants on. Put my hair up. Take my time. Every fiber of my being is screaming at me. Why am I not running in there, kicking the door in and pulling her out of the crib to make sure she is in fact alive? BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO ACT NORMAL.
There is an objective, reasonable part of me that knows that my baby isn’t dead. She’s just sleeping. Also, the law of averages. I’ve gone through this agony every morning for the past three weeks but every morning she’s fine. Just sleeping.
I’ve even woken her up a few times, I’m embarrassed to admit. What kind of mother wakes her baby up from a peaceful sleep to make sure she is alive? That sounds like an insane thing to do. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be that mom. That part of me that thinks something has happened to her is small, but in fragile moments it’s overwhelming. The fearful voice telling me all the horrors that could have happened to her throughout the night is deafening.
I wonder – am I really normal to feel this way?
It’s not just these past three weeks, although since putting her in her own room these feelings have intensified. Since she was born, I have been paralyzed by the fear of something happening to her.
I remember the first time I walked down the stairs holding her. She was the most fragile little thing, just a day old, and the vision of me slipping and falling and her little head smashing against the floor flashed in front of my eyes. I froze in terror. It seemed so real, so tangible. So possible. Me falling. Her dying. For a second I remained frozen in the middle of the staircase. The thought of something happening to her hadn’t crossed my mind before and once it did, it etched its way into my brain.
The thought of something happening to her triggers a fear so deep, so painful, just writing these words makes me cry. With agonizing pain from a worry of something that isn’t real. If something happened to her… I wouldn’t be able to go on. That I know. Life would be over. All of life.
I couldn’t even finish the thought. That first time, standing in the staircase holding her, I decided: “No. Let’s not go there” and I shifted my mind to my breath.
Then mindfully, slowly, I just put one foot in front of the other. Of course, I didn’t fall. I’ve walked the steps down from our bedroom a million times holding her and not once have I fallen. But I still envision how one day, I might.
Every time we get into a car I wonder. Every time we’re in the shower. Every time we cross the street. We just got a pool – the possibilities of what could happen to her are endless. I envision it – it sounds crazy (maybe it is? Maybe this isn’t normal at all?) – but I envision all of it: How she dies, how there is a funeral with a tiny casket, and how I then walk into the ocean to die. A tiny storyline of terror plays out in my head, from beginning to end, in a split second.
I don’t say anything, of course. If I spoke these thoughts out loud in the moment someone would call a doctor for me within a day. I say nothing – I just think the thought, let it play out, and then shift my awareness back to my breath.
One foot in front of the other.
It’s been 9 months and we are still fine. She is still here. We are here. But so is the fear.
And now she crawls, walks and puts absolutely everything in her mouth. I fished a giant rock out of her mouth the other day – she put it in there so fast I didn’t even see it happening.
Yesterday, while I was watching her from the couch and she was crawling around our (baby-proofed!) living room, I suddenly see something white in the corner of her mouth. I run over and pry her mouth open. A flower. A giant, white flower. Where did it come from????? I had no idea. It took what felt like an eternity to get it out of her mouth – she almost, almost choked on it. When the whole ordeal was over I realize we have an orchid on a table on the other side of the baby gate. A flower had dropped from a stalk just then, while I was on the couch, and it had fallen to our side of the living room. It was in her mouth before I’d even noticed it had dropped.
I couldn’t keep track of all the things that could happen to her each day if I tried. She could fall, drown, choke… It’s too much.
I had a moment today when I wondered yet again; is this really normal? I feel like it’s not. It shouldn’t be.
I’ve experienced a lot of death. Enough to think about it more than “normal” people do (whatever normal is). I had a year or two where absolutely every single time I said goodbye to anyone, I would envision their death in my mind’s eye. I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The feeling faded, the fear faded, but with Lea Luna it’s so overwhelming I don’t know if I’ll ever learn to live with it.
I talk to my husband but he doesn’t feel the same. And in this moment, now, he is still sleeping. And the monitor is still silent.
I can’t take it any longer. I walk out into the hallway. Press my ear against her door. Nothing. I pull the handle down and slowly open the door. The room is dark, her little, red, heart-shaped lamp casts the only glow across the floor. I peek over at the crib. For a split second I don’t see her. Did she climb out?? WHERE IS SHE? The fear peaks and becomes a knot in the back of my throat so tight I can’t breathe. I rush over and – of course – there she is. Curled up in a corner holding her lovey. Asleep. I can see her chest rising and falling.
I exhale loudly. My eyes tear up with gratitude and pain and a love that’s so big it’s almost, almost unbearable. The relief that spreads across my chest is tangible – I want to laugh and cry. I was being stupid this whole time. Again. Of course nothing has happened to her! She is fine. Just fine.
I tiptoe out of her room and make myself a cup of tea. Within a minute she starts waking up. I can hear her cooing in her bedroom. I walk back in. She is standing by the foot of her bed, holding onto the railing with a smile so wide across her face I can’t help but laugh out loud. In the 9 months since she was born I have done more laughing out loud than I have in my 29 years on this earth combined.
The joy. The love. The fear.
I pick her up and hold her close. She rests her head on my chest. Her heart beats against mine. We are safe.
One more day together.
If you battle similar fears with your own baby or loved ones, you aren't crazy and you aren't alone. Remember: Inhale. Exhale. One step in front of the other. All. Is. Well.