When I was a little girl, I worried incessantly, over just about everything. I did this as a way to protect myself from shock and disappointment if something bad happened. I would worry about upcoming tests at school, so that I would be prepared if I received a bad grade. I would worry about recess at school, so that if my classmates didn’t want to play with me, I could face it without crying. And as I got older, this worrying took on more of a “preventative” role in my mind. If, for example, I worried about my parents getting into a car accident, this somehow prevented it from actually happening. And I used the fact that my parents never did get into a car accident as proof that this preventative worrying was actually working. And then as I got older still, I faced a variety of challenges, and for awhile, part of me blamed the fact that I hadn’t worried about these challenges in advance as justification for the situation I found myself in. The reality, obviously, is just that everyone has challenges in life, everyone makes bad decisions from time to time, and no amount of “preventative worrying” can change that. So I indulged in the preventative worrying less and less over the years, and pretty much gave it up altogether after my mom died- something I had in fact spent a lot of time worrying about, and all that worrying didn’t do a damn thing to stop it from happening.
And then Penelope was born. Things weren’t exactly going smoothly, but I still didn’t bother with any of my preventative worrying. In fact, as I planned her two-month check-up with our family doctor, I was kind of looking forward to it- I thought, maybe I can get some help in dealing with her rash, her congestion, and her constant need to nurse. It was a warm fall day, and I thought about how nice it was to be out of the house with my sweet baby. So I was not prepared to hear the doctor say that there was a serious problem with her head size. It was shocking, and the shocks kept coming over the next few months. For awhile, I really only ever expected to hear good news from the doctors who were trying to figure out why Penelope’s head was so small. For awhile, I convinced myself that she was just going to have a small head. So I was not prepared when the MRI results were abnormal. I was not prepared when the genetic results showed a chromosomal deletion. I was not prepared when she was diagnosed with a swallowing problem and needed an NG tube. And deep inside, I blamed myself for giving up the preventative worrying.
If only I hadn’t stayed so positive, and I had worried more about these tests and these appointments, then my baby wouldn’t have to deal with this. You FOOL!! I wanted to scream at my past self. Why didn’t you worry more??
Of course, this is not a rational thought. If a friend or a patient confided that thought to me, I would tell them that this is not their fault, and that all the worrying in the world wouldn’t change things. It is not so easy to follow my own advice.
And so here I am again- today, Penelope has an appointment with a developmental pediatrician to assess her developmental delay. And I am torn- do I brush off my worry and stay positive, or do I give in to this superstition, to somehow ensure that it will go well? As a mom, I would do anything to make sure she is okay, and what’s the big deal about a bit of worrying to make me feel like I’m doing something for her? And yet I know that this is not a particularly healthy habit to get into again- it’s a slippery slope from some “preventative worrying” about doctor’s appointments to checking to make sure I’ve locked the door five times to keep my family safe.
I know, rationally and logically, that the worrying isn’t going to change anything. But there is nothing rational or logical about parenthood.