Posted in Amelia, Amelia on parenting angst, Blog, Caring for your baby, Featured, Health and safety, Travel with a baby

Confessions of a (somewhat) reformed germaphobe

If you are already prone to germaphobic tendencies like me, having a newborn exacerbates them. However, having a crawler and then a toddler makes you get over them pretty quickly. Especially one with a propensity towards putting everything in her mouth.

I’d been a germaphobe for a good solid 8 years or so before E was born. (Though let’s face it, it probably started way before that; apparently, I would refuse to go to sleep in my crib if there were “ahckies” [hairs] in it.) I studied public health. I am pretty “exacting” about my space (as a friend politely once put it), both in terms of organization and cleanliness. So when E came along, everything I thought she might even glance at was sanitized. I made everyone who came over and wanted to touch her wash their hands first. I even had a little bottle of hand sanitizer as a permanent fixture in our living room. If her pacifier *might* have touched the couch cushion, it was to the sink for a wash with it. (We actually developed a system that if the nubbin was touching the table, that pacifier was “out,” but if the nubbin was up, it was still in play.) The dog was not allowed anywhere near her.

I will say that while I was v. militant vigilant about cleanliness, I don’t know that this was totally a bad thing. She didn’t get sick the whole first year of her life (and no, we were not shut-ins). The forced hand-washing thing lasted for awhile and all relatives who came into contact with her over Thanksgiving most graciously agreed to get a flu shot (herd immunity!) because she was too little. And for the air travel, I had been given several good tips about illness prevention that seemed to work for us: 1) wipe down the seat arms and tray tables before sitting down, as they are not cleaned between uses; 2) know that air, though recirculated, is run through a filter so it’s cleaned (though it does seem that proximity to illness matters [see link]); and 3) be vigilant about the cleanliness of your own hands (though this for me is a given).

All that said, once E started crawling, the game changed. I try to keep the floors pretty clean, but combine a fluffy poodle mix, who (despite being advertised as a breed that doesn’t shed) sheds, with a neighborhood rife with pine trees and plant matter, and it’s basically a losing battle. Pacifiers that I once would sprint to the sink to clean now get inspected for dog hair and then stuck back in my child’s mouth. Moreover, E has always put stuff in her mouth (and continues to do so, even at her age, which is why the pacifier persists–the devil you know and all that), and there’s only so many times you can ask your child to stop putting that extremely grubby toy at the playroom in her mouth.

Admittedly, I’m still a bit squeamish about people germs and you know, e coli, (e.g., if said pacifier had fallen on the floor of the grocery store, it’d be another matter), but at a certain point, you have to cede the majority of control over the issue. Because 1) it’s a lot of work to maintain, 2) it’s not good for your child to be micromanaged every second of her life, and 3) it turns out that a little dirt is good for you and actually helps to build up the immune system. “In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with ‘dirt’ spur the development of a healthy immune system.”

I don’t know about the worm bit [shudder], but I can definitely say my once rampant germaphobia has relaxed, out of necessity. To the degree possible.

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  1. Oh Amelia, I think we could be sisters. 🙂 Your last couple of posts (this one and the Breast Feeding Woes) have struck huge chords with me. Add also that my son was a premie and you are looking at breast feeding obsessions and germaphobia spiked to the n’th power! I drive my husband nuts sometimes. My son is just starting to crawl and with that, so is my skin. Sigh. I know I will have to let go somewhat but I also know I will be the mom with hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes out and at the ready at all times. Here’s to slightly manic mommies and healthy and safe kids! 🙂

  2. Neurotic high-five! Or, um, elbow bump! Thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad that my posts are, if nothing else, helping you to know that you’re not alone. And I swear, you will get to a point where you will just shrug your shoulders and not freak out when your son puts something in his mouth that has been in at least twelve kids’ mouths (today that is). But maybe when you get to the car to go home you *might* bathe him in sanitizer. Just sayin’. 😉

  3. Concerned Grandpop says:

    A different wrinkle on this topic. My wife and I have been thrown into dealing with a germophobe in a deep and personal way. You see, our daughter in law insists on being the one to wash our grandsons hands, claiming ours are not clean enough to do so. We are so hurt and frustrated, and things are not improving with time. So, how on earth do we, and others, cope with this debilitating condition! It is horrible.

    • Alsogermaphobe says:

      Just let her do what she needs to do and do not take it personally. Trust me, if you fight her on this she will pull away before she sees it your way. (Coming from a germaphobe.)

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