It’s 9:00 pm. Or wait, it’s 8:30. It’s 3:00 in the morning. It’s noon. It’s midnight. It…makes no difference. It doesn’t matter what time the clock shows, it is always a great time to check on my daughter’s breathing. Like a weird tic or a compulsive addiction, my wife and I subconsciously perform frequent rounds on our little girls while they sleep. Is she breathing? Is she breathing? Is she breathing? Oh good, she is. We can relax. Until 4 minutes later, when we need to check their breathing again. And again. And again. This is our confession to the world: we are so paranoid about our daughters’ safety that we constantly interrupt their angelic sleep just to ensure they’re breathing. Perhaps we are worriers, overanxious in our attempt at raising a family, but it is always so comforting to see the soft folds on the back of the pajamas subtly raise and lower with each breath.
If I had to guess, I’d assume that most new parents are guilty of the same practice. When only a few pounds of precious life are miraculously placed into your care, you can’t help but constantly reassure yourself that the little bag of drool and dirty diapers you brought home is still safe and secure. When our oldest daughter Eliza was born, we constantly checked her breathing. We could barely manage to let her nap outside of 18 inches from our grasp. When she reached a few months and we moved her into her own room, the baby monitor just wasn’t enough. We mastered every creak of her wooden floor to where we could seamlessly tiptoe without a sound through the dark, gently place a hand on her back, and wait for the soft rise of a deep breath.
I thought that this would be a phase my wife and I would grow past; Eliza was our first child and everyone tries waaaaaay harder on #1, right? Wrong, it’s 11:30 on a Monday night and my wife just returned from a quick check on the toddler before the 200th check on the baby (still in our room). The number of breathing checks have certainly reduced a smidge from baby #1 to #2, but not nearly enough to protect our sanity. Eliza is now at two and a half years old and we’re still playing night-stalker and creeping into her room once she’s asleep to make sure her breathing sounds normal. Which is has for each of the 23 million times we’ve checked thus far in her life.
I know that SIDS is a thing and a terrifying thought to every parent, new and experienced. I don’t mean to downplay that risk, but I find it interesting how much anxiety we carry for our little ones even when they’re protected and safe asleep. I have no idea what the root cause of our worries is and I can’t imagine a breathing verification check solves any real issue. Yet here we are, constantly anxious and overcompensating on this whole parenting adventure.
I’m tempted to wonder if these breathing checks are nothing more than an indicator that my wife and I are the best parents ever. We’re so obsessed with our children, we stick our fingers under their nose to feel a hot breath every 17 seconds! Alas, I don’t really believe that checking breathing qualifies us for parents of the year. I think the constant need to know our girls are safe manifests from all the insecurity parenting involves. You never know really know if you’re doing a good job. You never know if the decisions you made today are the best for the child in the future. Parenting breeds this nagging sense of self-doubt and I think that may be the question that breathing checks answer; I’m worrying about all the other nonsense, but at least I can ensure her safety for the moment.
It’s now midnight, do you think I should go check on Eliza’s breathing once again? Should I feel more confident and content and ignore the temptation? Is it even an issue that we still can’t break this habit after three years? I can’t answer these questions; all I know is that we do the best with the instincts we have. Does that occasionally result in some ‘over-parenting’ or excessive concern? Who cares? The real question is when is this ever going to stop? Do I feel her breath when she’s a teenager? I feel like it’s going to be real uncomfortable when my daughter is married and I’m still sneaking into her room to check her breathing. Oh well, she can deal with it.