My sister gave birth to her first baby last night. Her voice on the phone was both heavy with exhaustion and fluttery with joy. My heart ached to be so far away from her during this blessed beginning.
I was light and cheerful while we spoke. This was a happy occasion, of course. Perhaps the very happiest life has to offer.
Still, something about our conversation unnerved me. It wasn’t until hours later that it struck me. I’m worried about her.
My sister and I are different in many significant ways. She is private and often reserved while I share every joy, every heartache, with the world. She is organized and together, while I am a swirling tornado of thoughts and things. She is firm about her convictions, while I can never seem to settle on one position because there are just so many colors in the world and so many prisms to look at them through.
But, at the core, the very core, we are the same. We were squished and kissed and pinched and bitten by the same set of capable hands, the same laughing mouths, the same strong arms. We were raised in the same chaotic, messy, loving nest where being “normal” was an insult and we knew, KNEW, that no matter how busy our parents were, no matter how involved with their own dramas and struggles and life quests they were, we were the cornerstone that held them up.
“Kapara Aleich.” I’d die for you. We were raised with these words.
I never fully understood their meaning until I had my son. Those first days in the hospital, I held my ear against his tiny chest to make sure his heartbeats were strong, regular. I inspected his face for any tinge of yellow or shiver of blue. I watched his bony chest rise and fall with each breath.
It’s normal, I suspect, to worry about your infant during those first few weeks, especially the first child. Being responsible for such a fragile being is a great responsibility, one you can never really prepare for.
But, what about weeks later? Should you still be checking your baby every few minutes to make sure his heart is beating regularly? Should you still be Googling pandemics every time he sneezes? Should you still be staying awake during those few precious moments when your baby sleeps to check that he’s breathing? Should you be waking him up just to make sure?
How about months later? What about years?
Anxiety gripped my heart during those early years of parenting. Instead of marking the passing time by first smiles and tentative steps, I measured them in “out of the woods for SIDS” time and “past the possibility of Cystic Fibrosis” years.
I always thought of postpartum depression as sadness or a lack of emotion. I never considered that my excessive anxiety could have been more than just an overflow of love. Just as I was my parents’ whole world, this tiny baby was now mine. Wasn’t it normal to worry if your whole world was at stake?
I wonder now if I wasn’t just being a “typical Jewish mother.” If maybe there was someone I could have talked to, something I could have done to quiet the churning voices in my head that drowned out the happy sounds of laughing babies and babbling toddlers. If my failure to acknowledge the severity of my anxiety only contributed to making it worse.
I almost called my sister back this afternoon to warn her about the dark days that could be ahead for her. I started dialing her number, and then, midway through dialing, she sent me a picture of her and her beautiful new baby and I saw the beaming smile on her face and stopped.
My sister is on top of the world right now, floating on a cloud of exuberant new motherhood. The last thing I want to do is bring her down.
So, I told myself that chances are she’ll be just fine. I told myself that as alike as we are, we’re not the same person. I told myself that if I noticed any signs of excessive anxiety in the future, I would talk with her about it then.
I told myself that I’m going to stop worrying about her worrying.
And I am going to stop.
Any minute now.