My name is Erin Stewart, and I'm a cyberchondriac.
Now you may be thinking, "That's not a real thing." But I'm here to tell you that it is, and that it's very much like being a hypochondriac, only equipped with the miracle of WebMD and Google.
Admitting there's a problem is the first step to fixing it, so here's my confession: I spend a good chunk of most days looking up various skin rashes, symptoms and diseases that I'm convinced my 18-month-old daughter, Nicole, has contracted at the city park.
A good "Grey's Anatomy" episode will also send me to the Internet on a quest to determine whether Nicole has a rare form of typhoid fever found only in swamp water in African coastal climates. Has she been playing in stagnant ponds in Third World countries? No. But thanks to WebMD, I can still obsess about it from the safety of my Salt Lake home.
I first realized I had a problem when my husband read out loud my most recent Google searches. I hate to admit this, but here's what we found: rash, torso rash, fever and rash, infant fever, roseola, infant flu, splotchy rash, bumpy rash, raised rash, teething.
I am not proud of this.
But I can't help it. I'm a bit of a natural worrier anyway, but since Nicole came into my life I have become completely paranoid about diseases.
A friend gave me a card at my baby shower that said having a child is "to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body." I thought this was very cute at the time, but now I realize this is not an adorable, fuzzy-feeling statement.
This, my friends, is terrifying.
I am in a constant state of worry that this little piece of myself that stumbles around in front of me will become ill or hurt herself. And to make matters worse, babies can't tell us what hurts, so we are left trying to self-diagnose with unhelpful threads on Yahoo chats and horrifying pictures on the Internet.
And it doesn't help that the symptoms for the common cold are almost identical to the symptoms for leukemia.
No wonder I have my pediatrician on speed dial and am now closer with his nurse than many of my extended relatives. No wonder I've even been reduced to breaking elevator etiquette by asking a maternal looking stranger if this particular diaper rash looks infected, yeasty or abnormal in any way.
It also doesn't help that other moms seem intent on passing on this worry. Oh, they pretend like they're calm and collected by saying things like, "It's probably just a cold." But this is inevitably followed by something like, "But you should probably call your doctor just in case." Just in case what?
To date, I've diagnosed Nicole with seven serious diseases and rushed her to the doctor "just in case." Six turned out to be a common virus, and one was extremely dry skin.
So what's a mom to do?
My husband urges me to stay calm and doesn't understand why I'll stay up until 2 a.m. debating whether that rash on her leg was a heat rash, an allergic reaction or the harbinger of some freak disease that hits only 1 out of 145,000 infants.
He was particularly disappointed in me this week when I sneak-attacked Nicole in her sleep, taking a rear-end temperature in the middle of the night. I just couldn't sleep until I knew that fever had come down.
In those late-night moments, I turn to my husband and say, "Leave me alone. I'm a mom. It's what I do."
And it's what all moms do.
Even my mom, who is now a grandmother and lives 2,000 miles away from me, still does it. When I was diagnosed with heart disease last year, she had faxed, e-mailed and overnight expressed a small novel to me about the condition by the next day.
She probably didn't sleep that night.
So I guess WebMD and I can look forward to many more late nights together. Even though Nicole will grow up, I'll still have a little piece of me that hurts when she hurts and cries when she cries.
Erin Stewart's blog, Just 4 Mom, can be found Tuesdays and Thursdays at our Web site. E-mail: [email protected]