I can tell you what I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect to be having my first panic attack ever, and to be wandering around and around the circular driveway in front of my house, at 4 in the morning four days after having given birth to my daughter. Did you know that 4 am is when most people run their sprinklers? It didn’t occur to me, but now I know.
Why the panic attack? It came out of the blue on certain levels. I had my baby last Wednesday morning and she is beautiful and perfect (I may be biased). The delivery…well, let’s just say all’s well that ends well (my obstetrician showed up at 11:02. Baby delivered 11:13. Can you say “cutting it close”?), and take up a collection to send the anesthesiologist back to school for some refresher courses in Epidural 101.
But after having this baby, a few things happened that were new and wonderful. Like looking at my husband just after we heard her cry for the first time, and watching each other cry as well out of sheer joy. So this is what it feels like, I thought (ignoring the goings-on of my placenta at the other end of the table), to be totally and completely overjoyed. Another wonder: by the end of the day, I was walking around, footloose and cramp-free and feeling amazingly happy, as though I should be followed around by the Katrina and the Waves classic tune “Walking on Sunshine.” And a third: less than 48 hours after I delivered, my sister gave birth to her own little girl right down the hall from me. We took pictures of the two new cousins in their plastic bassinets. Pretty awesome.
In short, it’s been an amazing week and I could not be more grateful.
So I was floored when I took my gorgeous, 9-on-the-Apgar (bragging about test scores already! Go Tiger Mom!) baby home, fed her, said good night to our baby nurse, went to sleep, and started having a series of insane, off-the-chart nightmares that made me think that maybe I would be better off awake.
Nightmare One: I fall asleep quickly. I wake up because it is time to nurse the baby. In the soft light of my bedroom, I watch her and marvel at her tiny fingers, her quick breaths. I then fall asleep. I wake up in a panic, realizing I have fallen asleep with the baby at my breast, but she’s no longer there. I throw pillows on the floor, my breath getting quicker and quicker as I plunge into the duvet with my hands, hoping against hope that I find her alive.
Then I wake up.
Nice, right? That’s a winner in the Baby Anxiety Nightmare Hall of Fame. It’s a classic. I actually remember having had it with the other two kids. I mean, look, I get it – what makes it so terrifying is the idea that even when you are trying to take care of your child, you could unwittingly, sleepily screw up with horrible, unspeakable results. Let’s give it a 10 for realism, a 10 for heart-quickening drama and a 3 for likelihood of it actually happening.
Nightmare Two: I am in the house. I know my baby is somewhere in the house, but I don’t know where. I listen for her, but only hear the thumping of my heart in my throat as I search and search, more and more frantically. Then I wake up.
Another classic self-flagellator of a dream. Highly realistic and dramatic, very unlikely to actually occur.
Nightmare Three: I have had my daughter, but not with my husband. No, I have somehow vaulted back in time to my marriage with my ex-husband, and he seems to think that I am his wife and this is his baby. I protest along the lines of the Talking Heads (“This is not my beautiful house! I am not your beautiful wife!”) but to no avail. We live in the house in which I live with my actual husband, my baby’s actual father, but he is nowhere to be found. Instead, the toilets are overflowing, my older children are behaving like animals and playing catch with the baby (as in baby = ball), and I am crying in a corner. That last part feels oddly familiar, actually.
That one, if not the scariest, is at least the least likely to actually occur.
In between these cinematic nightmare scenarios, by the way, I’m waking up to feed the baby. Which I totally wouldn’t mind, were it not for the fact that I spend the feeding time staring at her, Clockwork-Orange-style, telling myself I’m not going to blink, lest she gets lost in the blankets/the house/my old marriage.
So all this sort of explains why the next night, I opt to panic rather than sleep.
But only sort of, at the end of the day. As I roam the house post driveway-pacing, consumed by anxiety that causes epic-level knots in my neck that make it difficult to turn my head to the left (who needs the left, anyway?), I find the membership renewal forms for our synagogue. I make the mental note that I have to order High Holiday tickets. I think of last year at Rosh Hashana services, when I saw people with new babies and wondered when and if I would be one of them.
And I think about the Unetaneh Tokef, a prayer said on Rosh Hashana which never fails to move me to tears. “Let us tell how utterly holy this day is,” the prayer says. And all my anxiety, I realize, stems from the fear of losing something that is the most transcendentally holy and amazing thing a person can ever have in life. And it makes sense.
But I can, if I try, let my anxiety go. After all, what is anxiety but a passing cloud, or a dream that vanishes?