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The Secret Fears Of New Parents

Lynn Kiefer had always loved fast boats and stomach-churning carnival rides  -- the scarier the better. But a few months after she gave birth to her son, Gage, she realized that something was different: Suddenly, the thrill was gone. "It was during a vacation by the lake with my husband and some friends," recalls the Goshen, NY, mom. "I was out on the water, riding around on a Jet Ski like I'd done a thousand times, when it suddenly dawned on me: If something happens to me, who'll breastfeed Gage two hours from now?" She immediately headed for shore and watched everyone else have fun as she wondered what had just come over her.

According to experts, being stricken by the sudden awareness of possible accidents and catastrophes is no more unusual for first-time parents to experience than worrying about whether the baby's eating or has a temperature. But contemplating doom scenarios can be surprising, especially when you find yourself thinking and doing things that are out of character.

These scary thoughts are more difficult to talk about with friends, family, or a doctor than, say, how to handle diaper rash or soothe colic, says Rita Casey, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Wayne State University.

Nancy Cambridge, a kindergarten teacher in Hampden, ME, lost interest in skiing and sailing  -- which had been her favorite sports  -- soon after she had her first child. She remembers not wanting to tell anyone about her haunting concern with getting hurt or dying at what was supposed to be one of the happiest times in her life. "I wasn't sure how normal it was," she says.