I assumed that after having children, I would be filled with a sense of well-being. My mind would be as calm as a chest filled with soft, white baby clothes and monogrammed bedding. This, after all, was what it was all about.
When I was pregnant, I started to suspect I'd got that wrong. By the time we were driving home from the hospital, I was sure of it. Our newborn looked like a hamster bound for space in that massive car seat. The world seemed huge and terrifying. Slow down! What is this, The Italian Job? Watch it...watch it...WATCH IT!
On walks I worried about the sun, I adjusted the parasol, it wasn't right, so I moved it again. I tweaked it every four feet. Why were the squirrels looking at me like that? And what about those old ladies? Could they stop touching my baby with their germy hands? There was a bear spotted not far from here. There it is! A huge, black, brown...striped bear...with a pink collar!
Ok, it's a cat. Let's go home anyway.
It's normal to feel like this as a new mum. No, really it is! Hormones are crashing around your body like raccoons in a skip full of Chinese takeaway, and you are overpowered by love so powerful it could fuel a rocket to the moon.
So what's a crazy mother to do?
Well, I didn't tell my husband, he was already looking at me funny. What if he called a shrink and they took my baby away?
I turned to Google instead. I searched "new mother anxiety" and I got advice that went like this: eat properly, get plenty of rest and exercise. Try yoga for breathing and relaxation techniques.
Wait...what was I supposed to do with the baby during this eating resting and yoga time? Eating with a newborn means holding her in one arm while you tip cereal into your mouth with the other. Sleep is reduced to 43 minutes a day (broken up into 14.33-minute cat-naps). And how would a downward facing dog save me and my child if we were being pursued by an angry black bear?
I tried another search: "How to survive a bear attack." The result was much more satisfying.
Who knew you could get Bear Spray? Bear Spray makes a sort of stingy barrier between you and the bear, and I was pretty sure that it would work on squirrels and old ladies. (I'm joking about the last bit; don't use bear spray on old people).
Great, now I could relax, just as soon as I had Googled my 3,000 other Top Fears.
Five years after having my first child, I'm more laid back. I only spend about 20% of my time wondering what will happen if we run out of water/ war breaks out/ they eat a tube of toothpaste/ a strange disease takes hold of the universe/ school shootings/ strangers/salmonella/lead...
My worst of all fears is that the car will skid off the road into water. How will I get the kids out of their car seats? It takes ten minutes under normal circumstances. How long does it take a car to sink? About three.
I stumbled upon a Top Gear video where one of the presenters demonstrates getting out of a sinking car, except that he doesn't. He can't open the doors, or wind the windows down. He is saved by a stunt diver.
At a bit of a loss, I told another mum about my fear, expecting her to laugh. She didn't. She told me that she owned an EMI Lifesaver Hammer with a combination seat-belt cutter and window shattering tool.
It's a lot cheaper than a stunt diver, but the best thing about the conversation was learning that I was not alone. Practically every parent out there is panicking about something that is unlikely to happen.
While writing this piece I did a quick survey of my friends' fears. The most startling thing was that they all had them. Even the sophisticated and adventurous ones who take their kids to far-flung places and always seem relaxed.
It's because we love our children so much we want to protect them from everything, and ultimately, we know that we can't.
So, what's a crazy mother to do?
Not much. I don't own bear spray, or a lifesaver hammer. I don't watch disaster movies, or television "news". As someone who has been paralysed by fear, I would suggest that you don't let it rule you. If it's babysitters that scare you, force yourself to get one--double check their references, but go out for dinner, and try not to spend the whole time thinking about pesticides, BPA, more dangerous BPA alternatives, escaped zoo animals, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, fire...