I’ve never been afraid of an adventure. I’ve lived on four continents. I moved to New York City, Cape Town, and Stockholm without ever having visited these cities. Most recently, I moved to the west coast of Norway for work, where my partner and I decided to start a family. My pregnancy was easy and the birth, although intense and overwhelming, left me feeling empowered.
But then something changed. After bringing my brand new baby girl home from the hospital, I was terrified to go outside.
Leaving the house felt both irresponsible as a parent and unimaginably daunting. And I found many, many reasons why I shouldn’t do it… “The weather is terrible and it’s too cold to take such a fragile little creature out. The stroller seems so unwieldy, the baby carrier doesn’t fit under my coat. What if she’s too cold? What if she’s too hot? What if she starts crying on the street? What if she needs to breastfeed when we’re out in public? What if, what if, what if?”
Three weeks passed. I would plan to go outside, even tell my (amazing and supportive) partner my strategy for a walk or trip to the grocery store. And then it would rain, or she would be sleeping and I didn’t want to wake her, or she would be awake and I wanted to wait until she fell asleep.
My apartment is cozy and sunlit, but it is also very, very small. When I wasn’t staring at the gorgeous new human in my life, I would find myself standing by the window in the kitchen looking out over the rooftops of nearby houses. In a single stroke, my life shrank from traveling the globe to traversing the path from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen. I felt isolated. Getting out of the house was essential, but I kept imagining all of the things that could potentially go wrong and would decide to put it off until tomorrow.
I felt foolish, cowardly and overprotective. This was not the kind of brave, powerful Mama I pictured myself being. I told myself that I just needed time and that I was still recovering. But as the weeks wore on, I became more entrenched, rather than less, and the fears about going outside loomed larger than ever in my imagination. What if she catches the flu while we’re out? What if she ends up in the hospital? What if I slip while I’m holding her?
I finally confessed my fears during one of many (tearful) Skype sessions with my own Mama back home. An emotionally supportive and infinitely practical Midwesterner, she both soothed me with her words, gave me a pep-talk consisting of “just keep peckin’ at it”, and ordered an Ergobaby carrier with an infant insert for me as an early birthday present (with express delivery). Bless her.
Even so, I couldn’t quite do it. A few days later, on yet another Skype call, my mother told me to go outside. I promised her I would. And she said, “No, go outside right now. Just to the front step if that’s all you can do.” So I got dressed, got my baby dressed, put her in the carrier, put on a hat, winter coat, and gloves, and stepped out the front door. I took a big breath of cold, fresh winter air, walked about 7 feet to the mailbox, checked the mail, and went back inside. Victory and relief. I felt as though I had just finished the NYC marathon.
The next day we walked around the block. And the next, to a nearby park. And finally, all the way downtown for her first doctor appointment. And guess what? It rained, she cried, and I had to breastfeed her in public… and the world didn’t end. I realized then that being a good mother doesn’t mean hiding inside and making sure my child never cries. It’s about being there for her when she does – not avoiding the tears that life will inevitably bring, but helping to dry them both now and 20 years down the road. It’s still daunting for me, it may always be, but being a Mama means I’ll step outside of my own comfort zone to be there for my daughter through the teething, skinned knees, and first heartaches. Being a good mother doesn’t mean hiding her from the world, but rather showing her the world while I’m still here to help her navigate it. And so this week we have a coffee date, three art openings to attend next week, and trips to Oslo, Berlin and New York planned in the coming months.
The next problem: How to get somewhere on time?! We’re working on it…
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