The both of us were dressed to
the nines: Me in a striped maternity dress you could no longer tell was a
maternity dress that hugged my curves perfectly and showed off my legs. Emily
in a spaghetti-strapped paisley sundress from Baby Gap that hugged her curves
perfectly and showed off her ... extreme cuteness. We were hot. We were single
(well, we were sans Dad). And we were ready to mingle.
Em was about 2 months old at this
point and, as I made my way through the crowd at Montclair Baby's Mix 'n Mingle
event for new moms and mothers-to-be — Em snuggled in close to my chest, her
legs dangling from her Infantino carrier — she gazed around in fascination,
enjoying the steady, rushing sound of people chatting about babywearing,
breastfeeding and sleep training.
I, on the other hand, made a
beeline for the food at the back of the room. If there had been an open bar,
I'd have tossed back a glass of wine in under a minute. As it was, I could only
pick at grapes and granola and fiddle with the cap on a bottle of water,
pretending to be inordinately absorbed with the cheese platter.
I stood there, trying not to be
obvious about how awkward I felt. I berated myself for not packing a flask of
something harder in the diaper bag. I felt my skin heating up, my hands growing
clammy. I snuck a peek at my cell phone and wondered how long I had to wait
before I could say I had officially given mingling my all.
Within 20 minutes, I was out the
door after struggling my way through small talk with several different people (How
old is she? How is she sleeping?). I hot-footed it to my car, guilt settling in
my stomach. I had been miserable, but Em had enjoyed being around so many other
people. Was I a terrible mother to deny her the experience because of my own
introversion and social anxiety?
It's amazing how the more things
change, the more they stay the same.
Having a child has created the
most drastic shift in my life, more extreme than job-hopping, more extreme than
buying a house, more extreme than getting married. Yet here I am, still hiding
in corners at social events, still burying my face in my beverage, still feeling
that I have to be out and about,
pushing myself to meet new people, pushing myself to expose Emily to other
babies, yet completely incapable of fully engaging with anyone.
An even larger part of me is painfully aware of how much I've struggled with social anxiety over the course of my life. That part of me doesn't want Em growing up with those same limitations.
And it's not for lack of trying. Since
becoming a new mom, I've gone to weekly and monthly new mom groups. I've gone
to two mix 'n mingle events and have felt the need to flee from both. I've gone
to one Babies and Blankets Meetup in the park, where I and the event
organizer were the only ones to show up. We gamely forced ourselves to stick it
out and socialize with each other for the next hour and a half. I still take Em
to Mommy & Me Yoga every week, and to a weekly Mommies' Moods group for
those with postpartum depression. Am I overcompensating? Maybe.
I'm now just three and a half
months into new motherhood and I feel as if I've been to more social /
networking events in those three months than I've been to over the course of my
entire career. But part of me is reaching out, trying to find a connection with
those who are going through the same things I'm going through. And an even
larger part of me is painfully aware of how much I've struggled with social
anxiety over the course of my life. That part of me doesn't want Em growing up
with those same limitations.
Still, it blows my mind how
motherhood only seems to provide more opportunities for social anxiety to rear
its ugly head — more opportunities for panic attacks that have me retreating at
the expense of my baby's chances at socialization. And while some events are
less painful than others (the introvert in me prefers structured events to
those with more free-form mingling), it all still seems like a helluva lot of
pressure for someone who already feels as if she's drowning in new
As I drop some of these events
from my calendar in an attempt to place less pressure on myself, I can only
pray I'm not holding her back. I can only hope she'll end up braver than me.
As I watch her interact with the
other people in her life — smiling flirtatiously as she gurgles, coos and blows
raspberries at every single person she's passed around to — I feel that, in
some ways, she already is.