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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Neurotics Anonymous

Nicole and son

By Nicole Caccavo Kear

I'm a worrier. I cross my fingers and knock wood and attach 'God Forbid' to any utterance that could possibly result in harm. It's not cool or hip or au courant but my obsession with outsmarting misfortune is in my blood. My Italian family raised me to live in terror not just of black cats and broken mirrors, but placing shoes on a table and crossing my knife and fork. I'm saddled with a worst-case-scenario mind which anticipates Armageddon-like endings to accepting a Fresh Direct package.

So it should come as no surprise that I took four pregnancy tests before sharing the good news with my husband.

My first trimester was a minefield of neuroses. Although I haven't seen my natural hair color since I was fifteen, I forfeited the joys of highlighting. Clouds of cigarette smoke on the street sent shudders down my spine and I nearly went apoplectic when my father offered me a
celebratory sip of champagne.

It was my ob-gyn who shouldered the true brunt of my worries. She became accustomed to the numbered list of questions I unfolded at each check-up, and was kind enough to read the ingredient list on such items as my facial toner and goat cheese packaging to rule out any
danger to my fetus.

It was a long nine months.

Despite my certainty that I'd go into premature labor, I found myself at thirty nine weeks still chock full of baby. Then I began to worry I'd go past my due date and have to be induced. I abruptly switched from a labor-preventing campaign to a labor-inducing campaign. This included marathon walks across Manhattan, binge-eating spicy foods and honeymoon amounts of sex. My hard work paid off and just three days before my due date, on Thanksgiving morning, I started labor.

For the first time in nine months, my mind was not overrun with visions of disaster or stubborn "what ifs." I didn't have the luxury of neuroses: it took every last ounce of concentration just to get through each contraction. My mind, prone to stray like an unruly toddler, was snapped sharply back in place by the great disciplinarian, pain. It was the supreme example of living moment to moment.

And the moment which brought my son sliding out of my womb was the most vast, consuming moment of my life. It made the Grand Canyon and the Pyramids and the rings of Saturn seem pedestrian. I didn't ask the nurse to count his toes. The instant they placed his tiny body on my chest, I knew he was everything he needed to be.

My neuroses still rage. Every time my newborn coughed, I had the CPR manual at the ready, and my pediatrician probably uses speed-dial to return calls like "Is cradle cap contagious?" and "Is it normal for baby poop to smell so foul?" But though the road to recovery is long, at least now my son is old enough to give me a hand knocking wood. It's a family legacy, after all.

Nicole's a native New Yorker who lives in Brooklyn with her darling children, aka Thing 1 and Thing 2, and dear husband, who got her into this mess of motherhood. She writes a column called "Dispatches from Babyville" for the Park Slope Reader and contributes regularly to Time Out NY Kids, Pregnancy, New Parent, Parenting and American Baby. You can read her work at