Hi, I’m Kay and I’m a perpetual worrier.
I’m the kind of person who stays awake at night overthinking conversations and whether I said something wrong, who imagines my husband was in an accident if he’s fifteen minutes late coming home, and who tries to avoid cooking with raw meat in fear of bacteria and food poisoning. So it’s no surprise that after Baby A was born, my anxiety went into overdrive. It also didn’t help that I experienced hormonal mood swings, which is common following birth, and I generally felt like I was a waste of space and my poor daughter didn’t ask to be born to such a worthless person.
I know, I know. It’s harsh and I winced even when I wrote that last bit. But it’s true. Thankfully, I don’t feel that way now. I look back now and think, “I survived! She survived! It’s a miracle!”. Not that I would have harmed her or myself (although these thoughts do occur sometimes in new moms).
Back in July and August of last year, I was a complete wreck, wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into. Before the baby was born, I had read various pregnancy and parenting books, looked at information online, and felt as ready as I could be to take on motherhood. But once my husband and I were home with the baby and it was just the two of us, everything we thought we knew went out the window. Even my husband, who is the calm and collected one, was overwhelmed. When people tell you the newborn stage is hard, they aren’t kidding, especially when you don’t have family or friends nearby to help. (And with COVID-19, even if you have that support available you may be hesitant to take it.)
I started writing this article back in February but I was scared to post it. I didn’t like remembering who I was during that time and I was ashamed, but after connecting with other new moms over this past year, I’ve realized that these feelings are common and that it’s okay to talk about it because it’s likely someone else has been there, too. And even if you haven’t been there, it’s best not to judge others and instead try to be understanding, especially if they’re reaching out for help.
So to help others who may be experiencing (or have experienced) similar thoughts feel less alone, and also commemorate almost 16 months of not only my daughter’s life but my own birth and growth as a parent, I have decided to open up and share 10 (possibly completely irrational) things that consumed me with worry as a new mom.
1. Constant crying
“Why is she crying? Why won’t she stop crying? DOES MY BABY HATE ME?!”
Babies cry, that’s not news to anyone. But as a new mom, sometimes the crying felt endless, especially since I was sleep-deprived and still recovering from the delivery. My baby seemed to cry more than other babies (comparison — the thief of joy), sometimes for hours on end with no napping either, and at times I felt like nothing I was doing was working and I was a terrible mother whose baby hated me. (I admit that I did search for “Does my baby hate me?” on Google. The good news was that no, my baby did not hate me.)
I wondered why I had a “difficult” baby while others had “easy” babies. After meeting with a few doctors, I was reassured that I was doing nothing wrong, that was just who my baby was, and if she continually cried after she turned one, then they would consider doing some tests to see if there was any problem. (She still cries a lot now at 15 months but we’re fairly certain that’s just a reflection of her big personality because otherwise, she’s very healthy and active.) I also learned that colic isn’t something Japanese doctors are familiar with, so it was hard to know whether or not my daughter had that.
As she grew older, my husband and I learned more about her and how to calm her down before things got bad. The crying lessened considerably for a period of time and we finally had a happy baby — except once she became a toddler, that all went out the window, and in came the tantrums. (Today, after failing to put her bib on herself, she brought the bib to me and gestured for me to put it on her, which I did… and she had a meltdown. Down is up and up is down in Toddlerland.)
You never know what kind of baby you’re going to get. Some moms I’ve spoken to said that their first child never cried while the second one cried non-stop (as was the case with my brother and I). So remember, as long as you’re attending to your baby’s needs (feeding them, changing them, comforting them), none of the crying is your fault. And if you’ve done everything you can and the crying just won’t stop, it’s okay to put the baby in a safe place like their crib and step out of the room for a five-minute break. Sometimes your baby will calm down on their own, and even if they don’t, the break will help you immensely.
2. Safe sleeping
“Is she still breathing? She’s breathing, right?”
SIDS is something that terrified me when I was reading up on infant care while pregnant and even more so after the baby was born. Different cultures also approach safe sleeping differently and everything related to baby bedding I saw in Japanese stores screamed “dangerous” according to North American standards.
If you go to any baby store in Japan, you’ll see baby futons with blankets, pillows and drop-side cribs for sale. At first I didn’t find a problem with it until I began to do some reading about setting up the baby’s crib. In North America, drop-side cribs are banned and babies should be swaddled with nothing else in their crib. When I shared this with my Japanese husband, he thought I was nuts and overreacting. He wasn’t willing to argue with his pregnant wife though so we went to Ikea and bought a crib with no drop-sides. I also decided I would swaddle the baby, and other than a mattress protector and fitted sheet, the crib was completely bare for the first few months of my daughter’s life. (Now she has a small decorative pillow and a lovey at the foot of her bed but that’s it.)
After the baby was born, I was taken aback when she was brought to me in the hospital the next day with a towel loosely wrapped around her. She had an oxygen monitor though so I didn’t worry too much. However, when I brought her home, that’s when my anxiety kicked in. I was quite anxious when it came to swaddling because I wasn’t sure I was doing it right and thought it would somehow it would come undone and suffocate the baby or that the baby would overheat. (I decided not to get velcro swaddles as another mom friend recommended against it.) When I asked my mother-in-law, she said I was probably doing a good job but that it was a little sad to wrap up a baby like that (granted, she had her babies in the 80s when SIDS wasn’t such an issue).
I ended up just turning on the little light on my daughter’s mobile and watching her sleep at night like a hawk. Sometimes I would reach over and put my finger under her little nose to make sure she was breathing or touch her head to see if she was too hot.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that first month and even now, if she sleeps past her usual wake-up time of 5:30 AM, I rush into her room in fear that something happened. I guess I’ll never stop worrying!
3. Neck stability
“Am I supporting her head enough? Is her neck okay? I’m going to break her neck, aren’t I?”
Newborns are so fragile and one of the scariest things (for both me and my husband) was supporting our daughter’s neck. We were terrified we would hold her the wrong way and accidentally hurt her. This made burping, feeding, and bathing her in the beginning incredibly stressful. Parents can also get “mother’s thumb” (De Quervain’s tenosynovitis), which is an intense pain on the thumb side of the wrist due to inflammed tendons from having to support a baby’s neck. My left hand became almost immobile due to the pain so I eventually went to the doctor who gave me some pain-relieving sheets to wrap around my wrist, a small brace, as well as some painkillers. He said if the pain didn’t go away I would need to get an injection and possibly surgery. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.
4. Germs, germs everywhere!
“What if she gets sick and dies? And it’s all my fault? I’m a horrible mother, I can’t even protect my daughter… “
Newborns have an undeveloped immune system so one of my biggest concerns was my daughter getting sick. I was very particular about my husband washing his hands and would lose my mind on him if he didn’t clean her bottles properly or if he hung in the baby’s laundered clothes in a way that made them touch the window. I was wiping down everything with alcohol-free disinfecting wipes (and this was pre-COVID so when the pandemic happened, my routine in this sense didn’t change much) and making my husband change his clothes immediately after coming home from the office because who knew what kind of germs he was carrying on him from the train?
My obsession with cleanliness was reflective of the innate need for new moms to protect their infant from harm, but from my husband’s point of view, I had lost my marbles.
5. Public transportation
“I can’t stand too close to the tracks, it’s dangerous. What if I can’t carry the stroller onto the train? What if it gets stuck and the doors close and the train starts moving?”
I haven’t taken public transport with my daughter since January of this year because of the pandemic, but back when she was a newborn, I really wanted to get out of the house. However, the Tokyo train system wasn’t that stroller-friendly, which made train trips very stressful for me. I get overwhelmed in crowds (I know, why am I living here) so adding a baby into the mix was not ideal. I tried to plan my trips so that I would avoid rush hour but with a newborn, I was constantly leaving the house late and the trains were pretty packed by the time I would head home, which tended to be around 4 PM (keep in mind that these were the good ol’ pre-COVID days).
The gaps between the train and platform were also a cause for worry with a stroller (what if it got stuck?) and I stood in the middle of the platform in case someone crazy decided to push me and my daughter off. I also didn’t want anyone standing near me because who knew what germs they carried. (I feel for you new mothers during this time, I probably would have completely lost my mind if I had a newborn right now. I already tell people off for not wearing masks if they’re near my kid.)
One nice thing, though, was that if my daughter cried, there was always some kind obaachan on the train who would tell me it’s okay and sympathize with me. I really appreciated that.
6. Developmental milestones
“Why does she hate tummy time so much? Why isn’t she rolling over? What am I doing wrong? Is there something wrong with her?”
Earlier I wrote that comparison is the thief of joy, and this is especially true when you obsess over whether your baby is meeting certain developmental milestones in comparison to other babies. I stopped checking my July 2019 bumper group on Reddit exactly because of this. Baby A hated tummy time and while all the other babies were rolling over with ease by 3-4 months, Baby A was nowhere near meeting that milestone. In fact, she would just spit up milk whenever we put her on her tummy. Gradually, though, she started getting used to it and was rolling from her back onto her tummy and then back again by # months (I’m not indicating the months because I don’t want any comparing happening here!). It took her a bit of time but she got there.
Of course, if babies don’t reach their developmental milestones by a certain age it can be an indicator of a deeper problem but you can always talk to your child’s doctor if you’re concerned.
7. Not pooping for days
“Is this normal? Should I take her to the doctor? Is she in pain? She seems fine to me but… “
Alongside undeveloped immune systems, newborns can also have difficulty with pooping. My daughter would go days without pooping, which tends to be common for formula-fed babies, and my husband and I wouldn’t stop obsessing over it. How was it possible for her tiny little body to store that much poop? Was this an indicator of another problem?
We brought this up at her one-month checkup and the doctor said it was normal. When the baby was around two months old and seemed less breakable to us (for lack of a better word), my husband and I started to take turns making her do daily leg exercises like bicycling and massaged her tummy to help with her bowel movements. If she went two days without pooping, we would insert a very thin cotton swab into her bum (as we learned from the midwives at the hospital when Baby A was born) and tried to loosen the poop so it would come out. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it didn’t, and when it didn’t, I would panic and think something was wrong.
“Why won’t she latch? Isn’t this supposed to come naturally? What’s wrong with me? Does she hate me? Maybe my milk tastes horrible…”
Breastfeeding was incredibly disappointing for me and a source of a lot of stress and tears. Before my daughter was born, I was set on breastfeeding, at least until my daughter started teething. I bought the pump, the pillow, the cream, the covers — I was ready. Except it didn’t happen as smoothly as I thought it would. Baby A had issues latching and would throw a fit in almost every position.
When I came home from the hospital, I breastfed with Baby A sitting on my thigh as taught by a midwife but she would soon tire and start screaming. Eventually, she would scream before I even attempted to feed her. I was exhausted.
When I expressed how difficult it was to breastfeed at a checkup, I heard something unexpected from the midwife: “Formula is fine. What’s most important is your well-being. If you’re happy, the baby is happy.” I felt so much relief hearing that, especially from someone in the medical field.
There’s so much pressure put on new mothers by our society to breastfeed. I still get triggered when I see articles or social media posts about how formula is bad and all mothers can (and should) breastfeed. It’s not that simple and unfair to judge others if we don’t know their situation. All that should matter is whether the baby is fed, be it by breastmilk or formula.
Fed is best.
9. Formula temperature
“Please stop crying, honey, it’s almost ready! Why won’t this bottle cool down faster! Is it too hot? Maybe it’s too cold now…?”
As mentioned above, I didn’t breastfeed after the second month, Baby A relied mainly on formula, which seemed easy enough… Except for checking the temperature. I would always test a few droplets from the bottle on my wrist but getting the formula to come out without shaking the bottle and causing the formula to form bubbles (which would subsequently cause the baby to have gas) was downright difficult and frustrating at times. I used a pot from Combi that kept boiled water at a lower temperature but it was still too hot for the baby. This was fine when I was breastfeeding and supplementing with formula because there was time for the formula to cool down, but not so much when I decided to exclusively formula-feed. I have a lot of unhappy memories of waiting for the bottle to cool down in a bowl of ice while my daughter screamed. It was awful.
Thankfully, when Baby A was around three months old, a friend with a daughter around the same age as mine suggested that I mix boiled water with 赤ちゃんの水 when preparing formula (that is, put the powdered formula in a bottle, add half the required amount of boiled water, mix, and then add 赤ちゃんの水). This was some of the best advice I had ever received at the time and we’ve been preparing her formula this way ever since and everyone is happy. You also don’t need to use 赤ちゃんの水, just water that is safe for babies to ingest without boiling or even bottle warmers (one mother who I recently interviewed uses this one).
(I also discovered much, much later that putting a bottle that may be too hot into a wine cooler sleeve will cool it down in seconds, so that’s also an option for those of you who are formula-feeding.)
10. Generally keeping a tiny human alive
It really didn’t sink in until my first day at home with my new baby and my husband and I were solely responsible for taking care of a tiny human being. I had wanted a baby for years and felt so prepared before the baby was born, and yet the enormity of this responsibility suddenly, and a bit unexpectedly, weighed heavily on me from that day onwards.
After birth, many women experience “baby blues” from the rush of hormones and sleep deprivation. Mine involved constantly sobbing, feeling completely helpless and overwhelmed with having to take care of a newborn. My husband took paternity leave but as both of us were new parents with no one close by to help out, we felt like we were drowning. After my husband’s paternity leave ended and he went back to work, I would count the minutes until he came home and try to fight being consumed by fear, loneliness, and inadequacy.
There were admittedly times that I thought I had made a horrible mistake, that I wasn’t a good mother and my baby would be better off without me. But as time went on, I learned more about my baby and how to respond to her needs, and she got to know me as well. Fifteen months later, she still has her days, which my husband and I call “tragedy and sadness”, but compared to the newborn stage, things are better for us now.
Things will get better in most cases. It gets easier in some ways but as your baby moves through different developmental stages, there will be other challenges to face; however, you will know your baby more with each passing day and the hard days become easier to handle (at least compared to when your baby was a newborn… or at least this was the case for me, and my daughter is quite a handful right now!). One thing I wish I had known about when I was a new mom was a book called Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, which is written by an international maternal mental-health expert. I follow the Instagram account of a treatment center that the author founded and identify with so many of the posts.
Please note that the anxious thoughts indicated above, although commonly experienced by new mothers, could be signs of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. If you’ve been feeling overly anxious or down for a while (more than a month after giving birth), please try to reach out for help, whether it’s to your doctor or a friend.
You’re never alone.