That first-baby anxiety never really goes away 

Written by: Julia Pelly

This winter, my oldest child will turn nine. It seems impossible that it’s been nearly a decade since he first started growing in my belly but, alas, here we are. And here he is with feet that are almost as big as mine and hands that don’t fit neatly into mine anymore and that silly sense of humor that surprises me every day. Despite the distance, I feel from his newborn days, I vividly remember the flood of emotions that came with caring for him during my first months as a mother. 

In the days after he was born, I worried over what it meant when his chest rose and fell faster one moment than the next and how to make sure he got exactly enough milk each time he nursed. I noted every time he ate (and on which side), kept meticulous track of how much he weighed, and anxiously awaited every micro-milestone the weekly email about his development said he would be reaching next. 

As soon as we blinked, the newborn days passed, and I found new things to worry about; did he have the proper toys to help his brain grow? Did he crawl around the same age that other babies crawled? How many words did he have? Would he feel left out at preschool if I didn’t get him the tin lunch box so many other kids had? How could I protect him from older children playing too roughly on the playground?

I’ve had three other babies since I had my oldest, and, with each, I felt my worries about all things newborn and baby and toddler and preschooler melt away. 

My fourth baby is five months old and I have no idea how much he weighs or how often he is nursed today or whether other babies his age are doing things he’s not. I don’t get emails about his development and I don’t spend time worrying over all the things that could become a problem at some point in the future. Instead, I see his smiles and his chunky wrists, and the way he grabs my chin a little differently than he did last week and I feel very sure that he’s doing just fine. 

And I don’t worry about my two-year-old or my five-year-old either. Things that filled me with angst when I first experienced them, like the first day of preschool, the first day of kindergarten, or the first time another child was rough or rude to mine simply don’t induce the same level of stress. Of course, I have big feelings when each of my children reaches a new milestone, and obviously don’t enjoy them feeling hurt or upset, but I have the gift of perspective now and have seen firsthand (with my first) that things mostly turn out okay. 

I know that toddler tantrums pass and preschool jitters fade and that, even when it hurts in the moment, the unavoidable small pains of childhood won’t ruin a child.  

None of the things that happen before age nine give me any sort of worry these days. But you know what keeps me up? Wondering whether third-grade testing will crush my son’s soul. Or what will happen if the girls he’s friends with suddenly decide they don’t want to be friends with a boy? Or if he will be ready for fourth grade. And then fifth grade. And then middle school?!

As it turns out, that first-baby anxiety never really goes away. It just grows up with that first baby. 

I can’t imagine feeling calm and collected as he gets behind the wheel solo for the first time, or when he puts on the uniform he’ll wear to his first job. I’m sure that I’ll be filled with worry about prom when that happens and then stress like crazy about what he’ll do after high school as he starts to tick into the upper teens. I imagine a lot of this worry will come from the fact that I’ve simply never shepherded a child through these milestones before, just like I’d never nursed a child before him, sent them to school, or watched them make friends.  

I do have enough life lived now to be able to breathe through the worry (most of the time), and, as much as the small hurts and trials of childhood seize my heart, I know that things really will, for the most part, be okay. 

The good news? By this time next year, I’ll have released all my worries about everything that happens before age ten.

Read more by Julia Pelly

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