“I think I threw my baby out with the trash,” and other nonsensical worries

It was just a dream, but I remember it vividly… it was set in the sleep-deprived newborn days of my fictional second child, a ruddy infant with a thick crop of dark hair. She was so tiny she barely fit in one arm.

The time came to change her diaper, and I proceeded to the changing table but was so distracted by its messiness that I totally forgot about the baby. By the time I turned back to the table, she was gone! I rummaged in the rubbish bag, thinking I had thrown her out with the trash.

Following the direction of the screams, I saw she had rolled out of the house into a drain. I saw her tiny skull smash the gutter and her body plop into the murky water. “Mom is coming!” I dashed towards the baby….

Yup, my dreams are a tad dramatic, but it’s not just my subconscious mind that plays up the worst fears. Ever since becoming a parent, I’ve found myself more inclined to be paranoid in some ways. Here are some things that I was worried about:

  • The time RJ was having a cold and we were worried she was not responding to sound. (Googled: How to know if baby is deaf…)
  • The day I was driving with her alone in the back seat and I had a sudden worry that I would forget to bring her out when I reached my destination. (Read an article about parents accidentally leaving their child in the car seat and they died 😦
  • The time we found five red dots on her skin and we were worried it was chicken pox. (To be fair, she had just met her cousins that week and they had recently recovered from it.)
  • The time we freaked out over the bleeding from her umbilical cord stump. (Turns out, someone at home accidentally poured “yu yi” oil on the belly button.)
  • In her first month she jerked a lot and I almost worried that she was having fits or restless leg syndrome. (It was just normal developmental stages + an active baby.)
  • During the first checkup I asked the paediatrician whether she had nystagmus because her eye seemed to jump when she looked to the side. (Infants’ pupils take time to fix into position.)

Does access to more information make parents overly worried?

Thanks to Dr. Google, every symptom seems to have a diagnosis with a fancy medical name and a long list of scary details. Those facebook links and whatsapp articles also contribute to this culture of assuming the worst.

It’s easy to scare ourselves even if we’re not a hypochondriac. Especially first time parents whose lack of experience keeps us vigilant and often drives us to imagine the worst.

These days, I’m learning to let go of my fears (which are intangible, and have no factual basis) and focus on what is happening at the moment ( Take a deep breath and ask yourself questions to determine the facts. What do we know so far? Why are we worried?) This is definitely a more productive and helpful approach that keeps the fears at bay.

Focusing on the facts is kind of like holding on to the “totem” in the movie Inception, where you rely on something to ground yourself and separate fantasy from reality. If I had applied this approach to all the situations above, I would have found that I was making a fear-driven assumption based on an incomplete set of facts.

Five tips for letting go of your fears

So, Mummy, whether you’re worried about baby’s development, weight, or habits, remember:

  1. Trust your instincts, but also make allowances for misses. Sure, there is a remote possibility that it IS something to be worried about, but don’t overdo the guessing game and googling. To borrow a saying from Grey’s Anatomy, “if you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras”.
  2. Clear the air. Sometimes, just by saying the fears aloud will make us realise how ridiculous and off the mark we are. It usually sounds less scary when you say it, than when it’s in your head…
  3. Consult & Confide. Talking to someone with more experience helps put things into perspective and allays your fears. Like when I told a friend about the “suspected chicken pox” and she told me it was just mosquito bites. She was right.
  4. Give it time. There’s no need to rush to the emergency ward before giving yourself enough time to observe and figure out what’s happening. Without adequate information, your paediatrician would not be able to give an accurate diagnosis either. Of course, use common sense when applying this maxim.
  5. Above all else, be guided by baby‘s behavior. Trust baby that he will express himself or show signs of being unwell if it was really something to be anxious about. If he’s playing and eating like normal, just continue monitoring and wait til it passes. It’s probably something that will correct itself.

I told myself, the next time a scary thought passes through my head, I should not hold on to it. I want to spend my precious time enjoying the moments with my family and child, not obsession and worrying over every small thing. The easiest way to kill one’s joy is to be immersed in anxiety.

Let’s not live in our fears. Our children are only young once, it should be a time of joy and discovery for both parent and child.

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