Dear Moms: We Are All Fine

In the beginning, I was convinced I was doing everything wrong. It all felt so dire. I was always on the precipice of panic, like one stray cry from my newborn could be my personal tipping point. I was certain it was coming, the moment I would fall over (or maybe jump). I just didn’t know which cry would do it.

At her pediatrician visits (they happen often those first few weeks) we would raise our concerns, peppering the nurses with questions. Our favorite doctor just kept shaking her head and smiling, kindly dismissing our worries. “She’s perfect,” she kept telling us. “Just go home and enjoy her.”

The thing is, I didn’t know what that meant. The idea was actually preposterous to me. How could I enjoy my newborn when I was so wrapped up in my anxieties about her? Was she breathing? Was she eating enough? Why was she crying? Was I irreparably harming her? Was I going to be the worst mother ever?

How was any parent anywhere ever supposed to enjoy anything?

*

In my mom’s high school yearbook, she wrote “Ambition: To be a mom.” And, oh, is she. She is a mom to four, a mother-in-law to two, a “beach mom” to many. She is a mom who recently lost her own mom. So this Mother’s Day is hard for her. For all of us, but especially for her.

*

My mom, holding my newborn.

My mom would stay with us off and on in the beginning, after the baby came. When she was around my anxieties eased just enough for me to think, maybe I can do this. She made it look easy. She didn’t care about routines; she hadn’t read the books we’d read, the incessant mom blogs. She knew exactly what she was supposed to do, and that was simple: love her new granddaughter. That was all. She held her close and cooed at her and wiped her bum and let me nap, and somehow managed to fit this new creature into and around our time together. She cooked us meals and mopped our floors and did I mention she let me nap?

It’s all okay, she would tell me. You’re doing fine. And mostly: don’t worry so much.

I took the implication to be: it’s just a baby. People do this every moment of every day. It doesn’t need to be made so difficult.

I believed her. So why couldn’t I let it be easier?

*

My mom as a teenager.

My mom’s specialty is worrying. She has four grown children who are still required to call (or at least text) her when we land somewhere after a flight. I have a vivid memory us sitting in a bar in San Francisco, watching a parade of Santas pass by (it was a December weekend and, we later learned, Santacon was happening) while we dissected the root cause of the constant hum of anxiety that plagued her. (Everyone’s a psychiatrist after a few margaritas.) I just can’t help but worry, she said. I, relatively carefree at the time, couldn’t access that level of anxiety.

I get it now.

Funny that now, here we are, years later, with these all tables that have turned.

*

By the third month of my girl’s life I finally learned to take my mom’s (gentle) advice — that is, to relax. So what, I hear her voice say when I stress about how the baby will handle our trip away next weekend; so what if she cries. She’s a baby. So what if she misses a nap? She’s a baby. So what so what so what! She is fine and you are fine and we are all fine.

Logically, I know we are all fine. My brain understands that. And my gut does too, when I allow myself to check in, to feel around myself.

But this mama anxiety is sticky. I am always pulling pieces of it off my hands, like leftover saltwater taffy.

I slip up, of course. I still cry sometimes when, say, it’s 4am and the baby is screaming for no discernible reason and I have to be at work soon and I’m worried we’re waking the neighbors. I still check her breathing — like, all the time — and I feel her forehead more than I need to. But the enjoyment happens more often now, and for longer stretches. It’s mostly all pleasure, now. We know each other, this girl and I. We are intimately connected.

Now, when I see women with brand new babies, I seek them out to tell them it gets so much better. They are always relieved.

*

When I hold my baby close, this six-month-old person I still can’t believe I built, I can’t help but think of my mom. How she must have done all this with me; how she still does now, just in different ways.

Instead of checking my breathing, she checks her phone; waits for my calls.

*

I wonder, if my daughter chooses to have children, will she become the worrier and I’ll become the zen grandma?

There we’ll be in the future, sitting in our flying pods (my vision of the future is very Jetsons-like, apparently). I will be holding her baby, or she will, and the dear will be crying or hungry or wet or tired or just scared from the unfamiliar world around us, and my daughter will be a map of anxiety. She will be not herself; she won’t yet have realized that “herself” is not even a real thing she can go back to, now. And I will recognize that feeling in her; I will remember it. And I’ll press some button that’s embedded in my Apple Skin(TM) and my enhanced robot voice will say Relax, my daughter. Just enjoy your baby.

We will all be fine.