Last month I faced a huge fear of mine–speaking to a roomful of people–and upped the ante by reading very personal passages from my book. What I read aloud was once so shameful to me that even my husband was hearing some of it for the first time. (He told me later that it helped explain a lot he hadn’t fully understood before.)
Afterward friends, family, and people I’d never met lined up to hug me, wish me well, or introduce themselves. One young woman wanted to know what medication I was on, and we discussed that for a few minutes–side effects, doses, how long we’d been on our respective medications. Then, with visible desperation, she asked how she can ever hold a baby when she’s so afraid she’ll drop it.
“You just have to do it,” I told her. “That’s the only way you will get over this. You just have to hold the baby.”
“But if I dropped it, it would be so terrible,” she protested.
There was nothing about this young woman that made her more likely to drop a baby. Her hands weren’t made of butter. She was clearly a caring person who absolutely, definitely did not want a baby to be hurt. But she knew the consequences could be dire, and that was enough to make her believe she was somehow destined to carry out her fear. Being afraid of something doesn’t make it more real–it just makes us less sure of ourselves. Doubt breeds doubt. It can be a vicious cycle.
I turned to an older woman standing near us and said, “Don’t you think that’s true?” I asked. “That the only way for her to get over this fear of dropping a baby is to hold a baby.”
“Oh, absolutely,” she said, nodding and brushing cookie crumbs from her hands.
“You can start how little kids start–by sitting down and having someone carefully hand you the baby,” I suggested. “You’ll gain confidence. And babies are resilient!”
I was afraid to be alone with my oldest nephew when he was born, and some of those fears resurfaced a few years later when his brother was born. But I faced those fears, knocking them down one by one. I changed their diapers. I gave them baths. I strapped them into their car seats and drove them to swimming lessons and my parents’ house and to the mall. Each time I realized how capable I was, and I had to remind myself I wasn’t experimenting with being courageous, somehow using my own nephews for my gain: I was simply living my life. I was being an aunt. A helpful sister. A “villager” in the “it takes a village” movement. I may fear for my nephews’ safety now and then, but I don’t fear that I will hurt them. I love them and want to protect them, and I am an active part of that. Instead of protecting them from myself, I am nurturing them and building my own strength.