I should start with the windows.
The first things I noticed.
Stunning. Floor to ceiling spectacles. Throwing natural light across the floors; not shying away from their age.
This would be my son’s first room.
Smiling, I walked over to the closest one. Looked out across Amsterdam. Glanced down…
Tears. And heartbeats. Both, too fast. Both, mine.
I clutched my son on my hip. Walked away quickly. Before the real panic set in. Before my husband caught it on my face. And before I had to explain it to the nice realtor, using the only two Dutch words I knew. Neither appropriate for polite conversation.
Instead, I focused on breathing. Like the yoga folks tell ya.
Too late; the burning behind my eyes was there. The nausea was next. I’m familiar with this game.
All because I was terrified of those windows. Positive that their sole purpose was to lure children to their death. Much like the oversized bikes and canals we had passed on our way here. Much like most items found in nature, like slugs and park benches.
My son was only six months old. Couldn’t walk. Couldn’t even crawl. If he wanted to peer out that window, I would have to lift his little body up and show it to him. I should have found peace in that.
But my fear wasn’t a rational one. They almost never were. Nonetheless, it would keep me up at night. For the next year. Imaging that my wee babe would suddenly stand, climb out of his crib, walk over to the window, unlock it, use all his mighty boy cub strength to open it. And fall.
I would see that fall in my mind a million times before he turned one. That fake memory enough to ruin perfectly good days.
And, as a brand new mother, I assumed this was a valid fear. One that I should be better at hiding from the world — but, panic attacks aren’t easily disguised. Or recommended. In any case, I was sure that my incessant worrying was completely normal. Just my sparkling new mother’s intuition telling me that I needed to be aware of every single thing that could ever possibly go wrong at every second of the day. That’s the way this mom gig worked, right?
I had never heard of Postpartum Anixety.
My sacred mom blog/forum/groups had not prepared me for it. And it was left out of THE book.
So, I sucked it up. I had some gorgeous days. I breastfed, I traveled, I (sometimes) showered, I wrote, I made friends, I kept the boy alive, and I kissed my husband before he left every morning.
And I loved my child with every ounce of my worrisome body.
I did things. I’m sure of it. You can find them all over Instagram with a hashtag I am quite proud of.
But they don’t make filters to cover everything.
And everyone is scared of something.
Tornadoes, snakes, the dark, Ratigan from that Disney mouse movie.
ALL legit fears to have as a child. Or an adult. Because let’s be honest, fuck that rat.
Windows. Stairs. Ducks. The Starbucks barista. Microwaves. A pony tail holder. Mattresses. Candles. Mirrors. Plastic. Christmas decorations. Balloons. The wire in your bra. Old magazines. Cheese. Receipts. The zoo. Sand. Any piece of Ikea furniture. Sleeping too much. Sleeping too little. Never sleeping again.
I began collecting new fears. I’m told I was good at it. I honestly don’t remember. I was just going through the motions. Praying I could keep my child safe and happy. Timing my drinks in between breastfeeding sessions. Surviving.
What kind of person was I before? The kind of person that was so overly optimistic and thirsty for life that you would have rolled your eyes at my always half full (martini) glass.
I didn’t worry. About anything. Not even Ratigan.
And I wasn’t prepared for a baby. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t over the moon excited when I found out. Just in general, I don’t think anyone would have ever described me as overly maternal.
And I wasn’t nervous. Not really. The anxiety wasn’t as present then. It was a sneaky sonofabitch.
The first night I truly felt it, felt the crazy come on, involved a sheet of paper. Wide-ruled. Affectionally nicknamed: Le Papier Devil.
After being awake for an unforgiving amount of hours and finally losing the battle to keep even one eye open and just STARE at my sleeping newborn’s intake of breath, I closed my eyes while facing his tiny rock-n-play.
A couple of minutes later, I was awake. As a writer, I do that thing where you keep a notebook by your bed and if a thought pops in your head, you can hurry and write it down. Well, on this night, I awoke with a sudden, horrific thought: death by paper.
I tried to dismiss the silly fear. Chances of a sheet of paper, slipping out from my notebook, wandering over through some phantom wind, landing directly over my babe’s nose and mouth, suffocating the child while I lay asleep next to it, had to involve a whole lot of dark magic and foresight, right?
Didn’t matter. The thought was in my head. Refusing to leave. Taking off its shoes, becoming rather comfy.
And now I could think of nothing else.
I fought myself for a good 30 minutes. Just close your eyes, woman. Sleep while that baby is sleeping. Nothing will happen. Paper doesn’t magically float and aim with precision. Don’t ever tell anyone about this because you sound like a freak. Lord help you if you ever start a blog…
I got up. Threw the notebook and any random sheet of paper in the bathroom. Jumped back in bed. Slept with one lazy eye open.
And that was only the beginning of my fears. My paranoia. My crippling anxiety.
He was less than a month old.
For the next year, I worked hard on convincing myself that all my fears were legit. The fact that I still couldn’t sleep without checking on my child at least 15 times a night was jusstttt fine. And every kind stranger that engaged my child in a rousing game of peek-a-boo? They were clearly plotting to steal my baby. It was smart to keep my distance. Also, bear attacks in the city, yep — I was right to be wary.
My imagination had no limit.
My fears weren’t just present in my life, they had taken it over. I had three panic attacks that first year. And then I almost had another one just thinking about what would happen if I had had a panic attack while holding my baby, walking down the stairs.
On the outside, and to the vast social media landscape, I was pretty chill about everything. Surely, a chick who travels all over Europe with a baby strapped to her side isn’t worrying about too much?
I barely remember those incredible trips. Paris — terrifying (but I snapped a shot of a cotton candy colored macaroon in front of THE tower). London — horrific (but doesn’t my baby look cute in front of Buckingham?). Portugal. Belgium. Switzerland. Italy. Greece. Once in a lifetime trips. But I was so nervous my son would get sick and I wouldn’t find the right care for him or I would lose him or I couldn’t find f’n Pampers, that I seldom was able to let go and live and just be with my beautiful family in unforgettable places.
And to be clear, there were many wonderful moments and incredibly happy times, also. But those, you all know about. Just look up my highlight reel.
I never wanted to talk about this. I didn’t feel I had a right. Because of all the aforementioned travel and adventures and lack of a true 9 – 5 job. I shouldn’t burden others, likely going through something similar. Or worse. I didn’t want to bore them. I was 1102938298% positive they were all doing the mom thing better than me. All I could hope to receive was pity or a plane ticket back home — neither of which I truly wanted.
And of course, that made me even more anxious. But let’s be honest, at this point, waiting on toast made me anxious.
Being the mom that has to interrupt the potential new mom friend coffee date three times because “Well, my son/daughter has been sleeping in the same position for over 23 minutes now… and I have to check his breathing” is not what I want to be remembered for.
I kept it all in.
It was a pit. I woke up at the bottom. And every day, attempted to climb out.
Because I wanted to be strong. Because I feared rain. Because they still needed me.
And I would climb. Avoiding where the tears fell. I didn’t need any help to slip.
Some days, I saw sunlight, a few trees, happy people. I was almost out.
Others, I was stuck in the mud. Nails in the walls, screaming for help.
And that’s when the spiders would crawl.
And it felt endless. The worrying. The overwhelming dread that followed me. The highs. The lows. I figured, it would always be this way. And he was worth it. I would do anything for him. I will do anything for him. I could survive the pit. I was prepared to do whatever it would take.
Then I met her.
I remember the exact moment things felt different. Less heavy. Clouds lifting. Clarity.
I was holding her for the first time in our house. My daughter. Born in The Netherlands, far away from all our loved ones. Her big brother had turned two the week before.
THIS should have been when the panic crept in. THIS would have warranted all the anxiety, moments of doubt, willingness to bribe the devil.
I was prepared for that. I knew it was coming. What I wasn’t prepared for was the feeling that surrounded me as I looked into her barely opened eyes.
And that’s where part two begins.