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Do You Have Excessive Milestone Anxiety? by Amalah for

Milestone Anxiety

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

My daughter is 8 months old, and she’s the best. Chubby, healthy, happy. I’m obsessed with her (duh). But the older she gets, the more preoccupied I become with milestones she isn’t reaching.

At 8 months and some change, our babe doesn’t crawl yet – she rolls all over the place, would seemingly sit straight up forever, reaches and contorts herself every which way to get at toys out of her reach, etc. She scoots a little but can’t crawl and doesn’t pull up at all. She can support weight on her legs and thinks being stood up with assistance is funny, but doesn’t sustain.

These motor skills are my concern, but really it’s everything – she doesn’t have any teeth yet; is she delayed? She can’t say “mama” yet; is she delayed? She isn’t into a lot of different foods; is she delayed? Over and over again with this catastrophizing on my part. No matter how many cognitive or motor achievements she reaches, I agonize over the ones she hasn’t. She’s in daycare while I work, and the precious little time I get with her starts to feel like baby bootcamp, at the end of which I pore over whether I should have forced more time practicing crawling, standing, sipping, etc.

I think I’m the problem here?

Does it sound like my daughter is behind in the motor skills arena? Should I be concerned she doesn’t show that much interest in becoming mobile yet?

But a bigger question – how do I not let this anxiety consume me? This is so against my personality type, and I feel crushed under the weight of it. I worry she’s not getting what she needs. But I recognize there’s also a fear that if she’s not ahead or within the normal range for reaching every milestone, it somehow reflects poorly on me as a mother. Every day my heart hurts more feeling like I’m somehow failing her.

Should I relax and trust she’ll get there when she’s ready? Or should I be hyper-vigilant about every exercise and activity that promotes growth in these areas? How do I find a balance?

Please help! Thank you!

Oh goodness, your daughter sounds totally, 100% normal!

Your anxiety levels, on the other hand, do not.

I don’t mean that in a “YOU ARE A WEIRD ABNORMAL HUMAN” way at all — I have struggled most of my entire damn life with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and totally understand what it feels like when anxiety (and fear, it’s closely-related partner in crime) decide to run away with your brain.

Postpartum depression often manifests as anxiety.

I’ve written and deleted a few paragraphs here, because I’m dancing around a story that has haunted me for years, and popped back into my head after I read your letter. Which is not really about your daughter’s motor skills.

When her son was 10 months old, Cynthia Wachenheim strapped him to her chest in a carrier and jumped out of the eighth-floor window of her apartment. He miraculously survived; she did not. She left behind a 13-page “confession” of all her failings as a mother, detailing an unshakable, irrational belief that her son was grievously delayed and damaged as a result of those failings. He would never walk, never talk, never have a normal life, and she could no longer live with the crushing guilt of it all.

(Her son bumped his head on the floor, and later rolled off a bed. She grew convinced, despite doctors telling her otherwise and all evidence to the contrary, that her son developed cerebral palsy and autism as a result. A few days after she died, he took his first steps. He is a perfectly healthy, normal child, and this story breaks my heart on just about every level.)

Obviously, this was an extreme case — postpartum depression/anxiety giving way to full-blow psychosis — and I don’t bring it up to suggest that your anxiety is anywhere near that dangerous of a level.

But. Postpartum depression often manifests as anxiety, and unfortunately a lot of cases (like Cynthia’s) go undetected and untreated, because it doesn’t look or feel like “depression.” (We’ also need to get the message out that PPD and other postpartum mood disorders don’t always show up right after giving birth, but can actually develop months later, so we need to stay vigilant about this shit.)

And of course, it’s a perfectly normal thing to worry and fret over your child’s development! And we mothers tend to shoulder an awful lot of extra responsibility and guilt and blame for how our children turn out — just think about all the pressure and judgment about what we eat/didn’t eat during pregnancy, did we breastfeed or not, vaccinate on the schedule or not, co-sleeping or sleep training, go back to work or stay home, etc. etc. GAAHHHHHAAAAHHHH.

But I am worried about you. What you’re describing is intrusive, bordering on obsessive, getting worse with time, out of character for you, and impacting your ability to just enjoy your time with your baby.

You don’t need to live and parent under this crushing cloud of fear and anxiety and heartbreaking self-blame.

(Who is going to crawl, and get teeth, and walk and talk and do all of those things on her own schedule, on her own time Please, just play and snuggle with your baby!)

I want you to say something to someone. Your partner, your doctor, a therapist, all of the above. You don’t need to live and parent under this crushing cloud of fear and anxiety and heartbreaking self-blame.

I also want you to look your worst fear in its big fat face and laugh at it. Out loud. Give it the actual finger. Strip it of its power. A developmental delay? Pffftt. You can handle that, should it come to that. (Which, again, there is NOTHING in your letter suggesting that there’s any evidence to support your fear of delays. This is more of a cognitive exercise for anxiety.) So she does something late. Or needs occupational therapy or early intervention at some point. Lots of kids do, and you know what? Their parents are good parents. You’d probably never think half the mean things you’re thinking about yourself about another mom with a delayed child, so tell those thoughts to GTFO. I mean, my son had all sorts of delays. Speech, motor skills, social, you name it. He has autism! He is, I admit, what many worried new parents might consider something of a worst-case scenario. And he is amazing. He is perfect. I didn’t fail him — I fought like hell for him! I got him all the help and support he needed because I am a badass not to be messed with when it comes to my kids.

And so are you. And you’re going to help her by getting some help and support for yourself, right now.

(From the editor:  If you’re concerned about yourself or someone you know, check out Postpartum Support International’s website or call their helpline (800-944-4773). Your OB or midwife or primary care doctor should also be able to help you — it’s just important to CALL SOMEONE. )

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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