Babies + germs + my neurosis.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I never really knew I was a germophobe until I had a baby.  I do the normal handwashing, always have.  Before lunch or dinner, after the bathroom.  I've skipped both a time or two though.  Drinking out of other people's cups?  Never really into that.  I think that's my Mom in me - she was never one to share a cup or a chapstick - cold sores and colds and such.

But, it really reared its head (its squeaky clean antibacterialized head!) when I had a baby.

He was so fresh!  So small!  New and fragile!

I talked to Steve (ad nauseum!) before even bringing him home from the hospital.  "So, we're going to make the kids wash their hands before touching him.  Right?"

Bless his heart, he always agreed with me with a resounding "of course" even though this was baby number five for him and, if he ever did have any baby-induced-cleanliness-obsessions, surely they'd have rubbed off by now.

Even when making dinner, writing a grocery list, on the phone with a friend, I was always (honestly, still am, but to a much lesser degree) aware of who had Parker, whether they'd washed their hands, how close they were to his face.  I can hear a cough or an oncoming cold from a mile away.  It's become my mantra when William and Lindsey come in the door from school: wash your hands, guys!  They always oblige.  (And, for the record, I have made a point of thanking them time and time again for doing their part in keeping Parker free of sickness.)  I have felt his forehead more times than I care to admit (nearly every other day since he's been born--there!  I said it!).  "Steve, does he feel warm to you?"  No was the likely answer so--check!--Parker was healthy another day.  I told myself all serious illnesses start with a warm forehead.  Cause they do, right?

It's both a blessing and a curse.  This incredible awareness all the time.  It made it hard to sleep in and just let Steve bring Parker downstairs even when sleep was exactly what I needed.  It made it hard to run off and do some laundry while Parker was occupied with somebody else.  At times, mostly in the hormonal and hazy beginnings of my new baby-mama role, it was debilitating.  I had multiple natural hand sanitizers (who am I kidding?  They're still here.) nearby: two in the diaper bag, one in the stroller cup holder, another in the car door.  They're my safety net.  They're there so that I can rest at night knowing that, at the very least, I managed to rid myself of most of the grocery cart germs.  It's like, in case something happens to him, I know I did my best to avoid it (I don't even like writing that.).

I'm not sure where the foundations for this fear are.  When Parker was about 4 weeks old, he spit up the tiniest bit of blood.  A tiny reddish-brownish spot amongst lots of newborn drool on the neck of his white onesie.  He had a lot of spit-up.  He had some reflux--not significant enough to treat him for it--but nevertheless, I got spit up straight down my newfound cleavage more times than I care to admit as he faced inward in the baby carrier.  Multiple outfit changes were expected in a day.

Anyway, this tiny spot of blood had me racked with fear.  My Mom-brain went to the worst.  He had a horrible disease, or congenital heart failure.  Cause, a tiny amount of blood in spit up equals those!  We took him to our local hospital at 2 am when he was crying inconsolably.  I was very serious, very matter-of-fact.  I had a job to do it and it was to make sure my baby was ok.  At our local hospital, there was no doctor on call who specialized in infants--so they suggested we head to Children's in Boston.  We spent the night there as they ruled out everything in Parker.  An X-ray, multiple attempts at drawing blood in his tiny little arm, heel pricks (He still has a few little heel prick scars that break my heart a little.).  It was the worst.  At one point when they were trying to draw blood again (and failing again), I had to excuse myself making Steve say with him.  I went to the public restroom and wept.  I mean wept.  I begged God to keep my baby safe, to keep him here with me.  I nearly got on my knees (but, you know, the germs!).  It was the worst night.  We left with a diagnosis: reflux.  You'd think I'd breathe a big 'ol sigh of relief but I questioned it.  "What if they didn't catch the real cause?"  "How do they KNOW?"  Cause Children's Hospital in Boston isn't known for being, like, the premiere place to bring your kid or anything.

I can't pin that situation as the one that made me a nutcase.  Because, in all honesty, I was one before that happened.  But, it certainly did not help matters.  It was the universe's way of poking fun at me: na, na, na, na, na!  You're crazy already?!  We're gonna make you even crazier!"

There'd even be times when he'd start banging his chubby little hands on a restaurant table before I had the chance to give it a Bridget-approved wipe down.  I'd tell myself, "Surely, he's going to get sick from this.  It's bound to happen."  A few days later--you know, 48 to 72 hours which is the normal incubation period!--he'd be healthy.  It's a miracle!  A Christmas miracle!

Now that Parker is almost a year old, I can attest to babies being more resilient than I give them credit for.  I can attest to my craziness (Will I do it all over again with a potential number two?  Quite possibly.).  I can understand some of the eye-rolls I got from a few friends when I asked them to wash their hands before holding Parker (but do I still wish they'd just do it because I'm the new Mom who's gonna do one of two things: worry about the germs you will or will not give my baby and/or be up with a sick baby because of the germs you do give my baby?  YES.).  I can breathe a sigh of relief because we made it to one year!  Nearly sickness free.  In fact, here's a fun tidbit for you: when I began writing this post--weeks ago--Parker hadn't had his first cold, sniffle, ear infection, cough, nothing.  I walked away from the post for a week or so because it was just taking me awhile to find the time to write it.  In that time, he got croup.  He got croup!  And we lived through it!  So, there.  I can't finish this post with a perfect A-plus for health, but... close enough.

Why am I saying all of this?  I don't know.  Maybe there's another Mom, new or not, who is in this situation, was in it, will soon be in it.  You're not alone.  These babies make one vulnerable on a level that gets so deep you can feel it in your belly.  We can't control everything, of course not.  But, it seemed, for me anyway, keeping him germ-free was in my control so I owned it.  Oh yeah I did.

(Oh!  And I know that germs are good.  Really, I have chilled out a lot.  I tell myself to let Parker crawl around on the floor, let him put his hands in his mouth... all of those things.  In the long-run, they help his immune system.  A sanitized world is no help to his health in the long run.  And so, bring it, germs!)

{picture by Sara}


  1. Bridget, that photo is simply stunning! You are practically glowing and Parker is so teeny. How much he’s grown. X

  2. I was pretty vigilant the first month or so. Then...I don't know, it didn't bother me as much. I've never really been much of a germaphobe though. Sure, I wash my hands A LOT and I wipe down tables and whatnot, but I don't think I own a bottle of antibacterial stuff. I probably should have a bottle...but I hate the alcohol smell!

    I can honestly say we've never had to make any ER trips (thankfully!). He's had croup (around 3 month) and a bit of a cold, but he's super tough and illness has never (so far!) bothered him much. He goes about life the same way, runny noses and all!

  3. Oh my goodness - I can totally relate! I worried incessantly about my son's head when he was a baby (now 19 mos). Would other people support it well enough? Would they be careful to not push on the soft spots? Ohhhh the soft spots! I was a mad woman. I have pretty thin, bony fingers and there were times that I worried about my fingers being so bony they would hurt the soft spot. Even when he was in the NICU (preemie 35 wks), I had anxiety about the nurses holding him. Nurses!!!

    Thankfully the crazy has mostly worn off now! But I think it's totally normal for us (1st time mommas) to be a bit crazy with worry. Crazy love.

  4. I think it makes perfect, wonderful sense that you worry about Parker's health and well-being on a regular basis. :) There's a difference between crazy and careful. You should careful to me.

  5. Haha! Well the hand washing is always good. I was really laid back with my 1st, maybe a little too laid back. Cane to the same conclusion though: kids are adaptive and resilient :)

  6. That picture is adorable! I think I may be like this. Myself and my husband talk about it so often. "I don't care if she is your mother, she is washing her hands as many times as I tell her; it's my baby!"

    Side note, not even pregnant yet, so yeah, I feel ya.

    If you are ever in Children's (now renamed Boston Children's, I can't get used to saying it at work!) again for some reason and need an IV for a babe, request the IV team! They are specialized at finding veins from what I hear.

    My other fear is always being in the hospital. I work at BCH, so I may be bringing the little one in too often and become the frantic mommy at my own work! We shall see. But thanks for sharing and keeping it real.

  7. I don't have any babies of my own yet, but I work at a Montessori school with children as young as two and I see the pros and cons of both sides pretty well... The kids who come to us all sterilized get sick HARD at first. So hard it's sad to watch and it makes you feel like you're doing something wrong when in fact your school has lower rates of illness than pretty much any other preschool in the area. But then you've got kids who have plenty of older siblings and less-"neurotic" mamas ;) and sometimes that's too much laid-back-ness. I imagine when I have a baby I'm gonna be super crazy about other people's germs. We live on a small farm, so things like chickens, sheep, poop (to a certain extent), flies, raw milk, and soil don't really bother me anymore. And that should say something since I grew up with a mom who has OCD (the germ kind, in particular) and it's been mentally drilled into me. Now that I've seen the benefits on my immune system of being exposed to LOCAL germs, good germs, powerful germs (rather than social germs like the kind that are creeping around because of incessant traveling to new countries and such) I think I'll be okay with my child being exposed to OUR farm's germs early on. Probably not too early, but early. But who knows, I may say that now and become neurotic too. I can totally see that being my "control" as you put it. And as a last note to this long comment, good job keeping Parker healthy. I've followed your blog quietly since he was in your belly and he's grown into such a sweet boy. :)

  8. *also, can you tell I don't really get to travel much by saying "new" countries? Silly me. They're not really new, are they?

  9. I don't have kids, obviously, but I still loved this post. Bridget, your writing is always so sincere and candid. It's honestly one of my favorite things about this blog!

  10. I swear. I feel like I wrote this post. I am THE SAME WAY! You're a good momma bridge! Don't let anyone tell you any different. Easton is 2 now, and he knows right where the sanitizer and wipes are in his diaper bag. He'll get it out and ask for a 'squirt'. Bless. Raising a freak of my own! HA!

  11. my mum always made me washing my hands before i was allow to touch and hold the twins. at the hospital (they were born at week 27 and had to stay for 2 1/2 month) i had to disinfect my hands and sometimes i had to wear gloves...
    and because she always told me that i had to wash my hands i still do it. everytime i come home, befor i eat or after the bathroom i wash my hands. and because of my few internships as midwife and as child physiotherapist i learned to wash my hands as often as i can...
    i really wash my hands about 6 times a day.

  12. I think you sound just as crazy as the rest of us! I'm not a germaphobe with our baby gemma, but i have always been very aware (and terrified!) of something happening to her in water.

    well the other day we went to the pool and she threw an absolute fit over no floaties! long story short, i handed her off to a friend, it didn't go well, she never went under but i did and was keeping her afloat from underneath in too deep of water, i came up, she was fine, i sobbed. and cried some more around people i barely knew. and cried some more that night going to sleep. she was fine the whole time but that mom feeling of even knowing your baby is close to danger kind of wrecks us.

    sometimes all we can do is pray, have faith they will be ok, and use plenty of antibacterial and floaties :)

  13. I love this because we've definitely been through this! When we brought our little home a few months ago my hubby was so mad that people weren't using the sanitizer (Burt's Bees!) enough and everyone that visited was sick. He actually made my mother-in-law wear a mask and she couldn't touch the baby! As a mom it's nice to have the dad take on the crazy, protector role sometimes. Also, A got sick after day 1 at daycare prompting me to pull her out and of course feel terrible.

  14. i think i've told you this before, but i lived with a girl in college who was, by all intents and purposes, very NORMAL. pretty girl, super popular, very stylish, well-liked all around. however...she never. washed. her hands. we shared a bathroom, and the sink was separate from the toilet area. she'd come out of the toilet area and just...not wash her hands. she said she did this to a)boost her immunity and b)keep her hands from drying out.

    you should probably not let her around your baby. i'll let you know if she's ever in the boston area.

  15. I'm so glad you wrote this. I have a feeling I would react the same way you did if my child spit up blood. Babies are so precious and helpless, how could one not?

  16. I always say, want to cure a germaphobe? Get a dog. LOL My son picked up slimy dog toys and got them to his mouth before I could get there. He stuck his fingers in the dogs nose, mouth, ears and then his own. I guess I'm the opposite of the worried mom, but I feel your pain. Fears can be very debilitating. I'm betting with baby number two you'll be more relaxed. Look how well you've done so far!

  17. On one hand, I think "what a bummer! If Bridget ever brings her family to WA for vacation there is no way she'd ever set foot in my house! I am too germy! I let my one year old (accidentally) chew on the sidewalk chalk at a local restaurant and wasn't upset! And the dog hair on my floor, oy vey!". Because I am pretty opposite on the realm of germaphobia :). On the other hand, I think "Good for you! You are keeping that little Parker healthy and well, and the rest of your sweet family too! Way to own it and unapologetically do what you deem best for them! Because that's a momma's job!". :). I like when we own up to our neurosis. Lord knows we all have them, right?

  18. Hey, I think moms have EVERY right to be protective mama bears with their 1st or their 5th! Someone shook their head at me one time and said "oh you protective first time moms", and I thought WHAT? Why would I feel bad about being a protective first time mom? Heck yes I am! Deal with it, wash your hands, and do what you want with your own baby, not mine! Sigh. And that is all I have to say.

  19. Oh Bridget, this posts cracks me up, because you really were crazy. But crazy in a good, every single mom goes a bit nuts, kinda way. We are all crazy about one thing or another. So glad you stuck to your guns and didn't let the side eye get your down. (Congrats on surviving croup!)

  20. I'm with you girl. And I don't give a crap if the Mom whos kid's nose is running all the time rolls her eyes at me.

    Newborns should be kept from germs and as the months go by we can introduce them to what they can handle. I believe we have the instinct to keep clean and sanitized on purpose. In this time when green and granola is super trendy it seems that letting your baby be germed up is too. It annoys me because I am on the other side of the spectrum. But to each their own. I like having a healthy bub. There is plenty of time as he gets older and stronger and more able to touch everything for him to be subjected to germs. We aren't missing out by staying clean and healthy. This I know for sure.

  21. Also -one time this winter I got this AWFUL stomach flu. I ended up in the ER because I was so dehydrated from getting sick for so long (plus breastfeeding)

    Anyway - we are in the ER I can barely lift my head to speak I am so weak and sick and the doc comes in, I say "I really hope my 9 month old son doesn't get this..."

    and you know what that dude says?

    "Oh he will. It GOOD for him."


    I felt like death. Like literal death was upon me and this dbag matter of fact tells that my little baby son is going to get this?

    I didn't say anything. But I thought to myself, "NO HE ISN't DBAG NOW GET THE F AWAY FROM ME." in my strung out dehydrated head.

    And then I prayed a bunch.

    And he didn't get it.

    Anyway that was a long comment. But I'll just say that if my sweet boy has to get a flu at some point I would MUCH rather he be like 5 ad in sturdy boyhood than 9 friggen' months old.

    End comment rant.

  22. !!! My favorite is when husbands are supportive.

    My least favorite is when mothers in law are like WTF Y U CARE SO MUCH STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO.

    So maybe I'm a little crazy and maybe I DID send out two single spaced pages about the birth, but I had only ONE paragraph about how you shouldn't kiss the baby. Or come to the hospital if you were throwing up. I fail to see how that should offend anyone.

    Also, it's my baby and my job to keep him safe, so people had better be glad I'm doing that and not sitting around smoking pot and drinking beer. And sneezing all over him.

  23. i am super curious why type of mom ill be...since i am SUPER lax about germs..i dont mind sharing cups/food etc. I dont get freaked out by toilet seats..I was my hands after using the toilet obvs..but i dont do it before dinner or anything. I dont get sick often at all..and my brother who is totally germ obsessed seems to get sick constantly (or could be hypochondria..who knows)

    Ive worked in childrens hospitals where obviously sanitizer and being super germ concious is a MUST..but as soon as i left the hospital i was back to my old lax ways.

    i dont know where im going with this..maybe just wondering if having a baby makes you that way or if what you are like pre baby will determine how you are post baby

  24. sorry. there were A LOT of typos in that. yikes.

  25. really? you too? i love blogging for moments like this, when you realize you are not the only neurotic one out there. you are me 8 years ago. i could have written every word {minus the trip to the hospital}. i was pretty bad when andrew was born {my first}, but it was after a 10 day bout of rotavirus, when he was 2 yrs old, that i became a total nut case. i went on wiping, sanitizing, avoiding playdates if siblings had been sick, calculating potential incubation times, etc for many years. then one day i was watching andrew at a restaurant moving things around with his forearms to avoid touching them with his hands because he didn't want to get germs on them before he ate his meal. that worried me. a lot. was i being a little to diligent about the clean hands? i was pregnant with no 2 at the time and i made a concerted effort to loosen up. i didn't want to pass my neurosis on to my child. it worked, at age 9, he's fine, doesn't mind getting dirty, but remembers to wash his hands before eating {most of the time} and with no 2 i've been more laid back from the start. we still don't touch the toys in doctor offices, i keep sanitizer with me most of the time, but i'm not consumed with worry, i'm no longer compulsive about clean hands. i will say they both use a paper towels to open public restroom doors and push elevator buttons with their knuckles, but they aren't overly worried about germs and getting sick. i believe all this behavior comes from a vey natural place. there is so much in motherhood we can't control, and the thought of a sick child darn near tears us up, so we try, sometimes maybe even too hard. xo

  26. oh man you are too funny bridget. i'm no momma, but i can imagine it being a little nerve-racking for sure!

    and p.s. my ma and i were looking at the jersey shore. she's thinking of growing her dyed hair out into her natural grey now that my younger brother and graduated from high school. her hair is just a wee bit longer than your mommas. let me know if she has any tricks to share, etc.

  27. I was the same way with the hand washing!! We've never had a cold over here, but now we're dealing with food allergies, which has just been the worst. Epipens scare me, nevermind having one for my BABY! What? Is that even fair?

    You try and you try, but still...something you don't expect creeps up on you as if to say "ha! bet you didn't plan for this!"

    Now I'm a freak all over again except it has transitioned from hand washing to food handling. If someone goes near him with a crumb of food, my sanity is out the window.

  28. i've been afraid that i'm too much of a non-germaphobe with my little guy! (i'm not talking unclean here, and we do plenty of handwashing, but i can honestly say i don't even know if i own any hand sanitizer.) but he didn't get sick, sniffly, coughy, ANYTHING until after his first birthday, so i got lucky. but you do your anti-germ thing, girl!

  29. Germaphobe or not, that picture is beautiful.

  30. call i can say is what we already know: lady, we're cut from the same mama cloth. same same samesies.

  31. This job as a mama really can make us crazy! I can TOTALLY relate...although, it didn't happen to me until my second was born. It was strange. I've always been on the germ-a-phobe side of things, and after my son was born, I continued to be very vigilant on hand washing.

    BUT, when my daughter was born, I went overboard. I almost had a panic attack at the mall (we had to visit Sears to buy a freezer for breastmilk storage!) because all I could see were germs. I actually yelled at my son after he touched the elevator buttons "Don't touch your face!!!". Things are getting better now, but it was really tough.

    The irony of the whole thing is that my son (at the age of 4) has hardly had any illnesses, and my daughter (now at 7 months) has already had a few colds. Weird.

    Anyway, babies do make us all a little crazy in our own ways!

  32. I don't have any children yet, but I can COMPLETELY relate. I am a huge germaphobe, and I have an unhealthy relationship with WebMD. My husband always tries to remind me to stay away from the message boards when I attempt to self-diagnose myself and the worst always pops up on the screen. I'm hopeful that if I can practice letting go a little for myself, I will be slightly less neurotic when I finally have a baby (here's hoping).

  33. My mom did an amazing job of washing everything around me, because I just came down with something most people get when they're a kid, and then never get again: hand, foot and mouth disease! I couldn't believe that at age 29, I had a kid's disease. It's mild when you get it as a baby—most parents don't even know their child has it—but not so fun as an adult...when you actually care that there are red marks all over your face. It was a case-in-point reminder to me that some germs are just plain better to meet when you're a kid.

  34. My boys are 4 and 6 and the germophobia is worse! I was so overwhelmed in Disney World. So many people, so much kid touching. But we all made it out healthy! I attribute it to the Juice Plus we had started taking the summer before our November trip (heigh of germ season!) It is whole food nutrition in a capsule or tasty chewable form. It is also a great way for all of us to get fruits and vegetables into our diets. And it is gluten free!
    Here is some info I have gathered that explains the product well.
    What is Juice Plus+®? Juice Plus+® is more than extra vitamins and minerals. It is actually a whole food based supplement. The fruit capsules are made from apples, oranges, pineapples, cranberries, peaches, cherries, papayas. The vegetable capsules are made from carrots, parsley, beets, kale, broccoli, cabbage, oat bran, rice bran, spinach, and tomatoes.

    How is Juice Plus+® made? The fresh fruits and vegetables are juiced, then dehydrated to a powder form. It’s carefully tested to ensure no pesticides or other contaminants are present in the product. It is never exposed to high temperatures that would destroy the nutritional value of the fruits and vegetables. Most of the vitamins, minerals, active plant enzymes, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber are preserved in the final capsules. When re-hydrated with water, the nutrients are absorbed into our bodies as if we had eaten the fruits and vegetables whole.

    Is Juice Plus+® as good as eating fruits and vegetables? There’s no complete substitute for eating the real thing. But how many people actually eat such a wide variety of raw fruits, vegetables and grains every single day? Juice Plus+® is a convenient way to ensure you and your family get all the benefits over time from adding more nutrition from fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet.

    But my child already takes a multi-vitamin. Why does she need Juice Plus+®? Juice Plus+® is not a vitamin supplement which contain, at best, only a small number of pre-selected antioxidants. It is a whole food based supplement containing nutrition from the thousands of antioxidants and other nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Some children may need vitamin supplementation, but every child needs Juice Plus+®.

    The published studies indicate that Juice Plus+® delivers key antioxidants that are absorbed by the body, reduces oxidative stress, promotes cardiovascular wellness in several ways, helps support a healthy immune system, and helps protect DNA. The simple truth is that Juice Plus+® is the best way to get your entire family to reap more of the healthful benefits of a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables.

    If you are interested in learning more, please check out my website or email me:

  35. I love that photo. It looks like it's from a long time ago. Just beautiful.
    You're a good mama girl...that's why you worry. Our Ava spit up blood (prob not as much as I remember) third baby and I just lost it. Like crying in her bedroom, screaming she's gonna die lost it.
    We drove to the hospital at 11pm. It was my own blood from breastfeeding.
    But there you have it.
    So glad you shared this. Sorry about the lonnnnnng comment.

  36. I know this is an old post but I just had to comment because I can so relate! I could have written this post myself! Once my daughter started crawling, I had to let go of some of my control and let her get a little dirty, but before that I was soooo careful about germs. I worried so much about her getting sick... especially from other people. I insisted on people washing their hands or using sanitizer before touching her. My husband and I had several arguments because I was so consumed with things being clean. We also had a HORRIBLE night in the ER when my daughter was 6 weeks old and developed a fever... chest x-ray, multiple attempts to draw blood, hours of waiting.... it was awful! I cried for days afterward about the experience. Anyway, I have relaxed a lot as my daughter has gotten older. Now, I'm pregnant with #2 and wondering how I'll be with this one. I'd like to be really careful about germs at least in the beginning but I think that will be really hard to do with a toddler in the house! We'll see.

  37. I'm also late to this post but I just want to say thank you for writing it. I'm the EXACT same way - I wasn't anything like this before I got pregnant or had my baby (my pregnancy put me in full on germ attack mode). My husband thinks I'm too much with all this stuff but I cannot help myself - I need to keep my baby well and being hyper vigilant makes me feel better. It's just nice to know I'm not alone or completely crazy :)

  38. I loved, loved, loved this post. Giggled my entire way through while nodding my head. Where does this new mom craziness come from?!
    My baby is 16 months old and I am STILL new mom crazy- I check foreheads and dare I say it, stools, more often than I care to admit as well.
    Glad to have someone put it out there so comically.


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