MAMAS WHO THINK: Primal Worry | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS


I started worrying seven years ago. Constant worry—about my health, my diet, my energy, my exercise, my toothpaste, my hair color, everything. I was pregnant, and therefore worried. Pregnancy snuck up on me, appeared in my life on its own, so I was in no way prepared for this change. This massive change in my body, my appetite, my life. Suddenly, everything I did seemed to matter more, since it affected this creature being built inside me.

My usual response to anything new is to read. I grab books off the shelves unconditionally, any book on pregnancy would do. And so, within days, I was filled with chapters of advice, from well-meaning authors: what to eat, when to eat it, what was best for my child. Worry seems to be a part of every pregnancy, for every woman. Advice from books, doctors, family, friends and total strangers on what to eat and to do all contribute to this notion that one small slip-up will ruin your baby's genetic code, her fetal brain development, her motor skills, her beauty, her placement in kindergarten, the college she goes to.

I remember being in my sixth month of pregnancy when it hit me. I had been thinking of pregnancy as this finite thing (which it is, thankfully). And when it was over, I would not be so worried. Except I had finally gotten to the chapters in the books that dealt with actual childbirth, and I realized that while my pregnancy would be over, the worry would not be. If I feared for my child's safety while it was still inside me, as protected as Mother Nature could make it, how much would I worry once it was on the outside?

By becoming pregnant, I had unknowingly signed up to be worried for the rest of my life. Forever. My mother's brain can spot life-or-death risk in the most mundane activities.
My husband, who has participated fully in the raising of our daughters, does not worry. He thinks about our children, he cares for them, he teaches them, he loves them. But he does not worry. Not the way I do. When he wrestles with them, they wrestle hard. He throws them onto the bed from across the room. He flips them upside down. He tosses them toward the ceiling. I cannot watch. As they fly through the air to land joyfully in the middle our soft, pillow-laden king-sized bed, in my mind's eye I picture them landing at the precise angle that will snap their delicate, beautiful necks. Or he will miscalculate, and they will bounce off the bed onto the floor, breaking noses or cheekbones or arms or legs. It is an absurd montage that my mind produces, but I can't help it. I've tried. The best I can do is leave the room, and declare wrestling a "Daddy Game."

If we are both awakened by the sound of one of our daughters coughing, my husband can miraculously fall right back to sleep again. I, on the other hand, lie in bed, listening to and evaluating each cough. Is she awake? Does the cough hurt? Is it just a cough, or does she have the flu? Should I give her more cough medicine now? Or will that be too much? I lie, and I listen, knowing that there is really nothing to be done for my child who is coughing in her sleep, undisturbed by her own hacking.

And so I worry, every day, every hour. My 4-year-old was playing in the back yard while I made dinner. I was listening to the news on PRM, enjoying the process of cooking, when the thought popped into my head: "Maybe she got stung by a wasp, and she was running in to cry in my arms, when she tripped and fell on the back stairs, and is lying unconscious with mosquitos biting her little body." So, I went and looked out the window at her, and she was happily working on her project (some thing that involves digging and rocks and flowers and leaves), alive and well. I had to check.
Worry. To pull or tear at something as if with the teeth. That's what it feels like. A gnawing in my brain. Picking at the threads of my children's vulnerability, their mortality.

The worry is really just the tip of the iceberg. It floats on the inarticulated fear that lies just below the surface—fear that my children will be hurt, will die, will be somehow lost to me. It's a primal, passionate fear, the flip side, the outgrowth of the primal, passionate love we feel for our children.
It's a gift, in many ways, this visceral flow of emotion that children bring with them. It is a deep well of love and joy and growth and exploration. It is the source of a mother's power, the Mama Lion defending her cubs. But, since there's not much call for the heroic rescue on a day-to-day basis, that fierce love and its cohort, fear, swim just beneath the surface. And only the worry bubbles up to the surface.

And so my time with my children is spent trying to find a way to raise them to be fearless and strong, in a world filled with danger, and not all of it of my own imagining. There are dangers out there, some predictable and some not. But so much also to enjoy, to marvel at, to inspire. I want to find a way to raise my daughters to be joyful yet always be aware of their surroundings and on the alert for suspicious behavior. I want them to see god in other people and the world around them yet never be duped by unscrupulous individuals. I want them to be loving and generous with their hearts yet only give their love to those who are worthy. And who will not hurt them. In any way. Ever.
That can never be. They will be hurt. I will hurt them, inevitably. Even if I could be the perfect mother, one day I will die and leave them, and that will hurt, no matter the platitudes we surround it with.

So I keep my mouth shut about all the things that could happen, that could go wrong. As their dad tosses them through the air, I smile and leave the room.

Previous Comments


Amen, sister. I can't even go on vacation with my kids without worrying. If we're at the beach, I worry they will be knocked over by a wave, pulled into the ocean by a freak undertow, and drown. If we're in a city, I worry that if I let go of their hands, they will slip into the crowd and I will never see them again. Etc. I know one reason my worry-o-meter is in overdrive--if you want to ID some media hysteria, Donna, it's in coverage of crimes committed against children. There have been large swatches of time when I couldn't even turn on the news for fear of seeing the latest gruesome details--and my nerves just cannot take it. Why do we do see this in the media, y'all? If you're creating awareness of a health/safety hazard, that is one thing. But revisting over and over what happened to Elizabeth Smart or yet more emotion-laden stories on children dying from just plain old accidents and mischances--what is the use in that?


I am so with you, girlfriend. I've spent a lot of time researching over-coverage of crimes committed both by and against kids. It's sensationalism, pure and simple. You'll be hearing more about it from me, as time goes on.


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