This sudden sense of vulnerability takes many first-timers by surprise because, during pregnancy, they're thinking more about practical details than about how parenthood might change their worldview. "My preparation for motherhood focused on things like getting the right equipment and choosing a daycare center," says Cambridge. But when she got home with her newborn, she suddenly realized that the baby was totally helpless and dependent on her, and "it hit me like a ton of bricks. Nothing," she says, "prepared me for that overwhelming feeling of responsibility."
While new-parent fears are not new, a number of factors make today's moms and dads more likely to experience this heightened sense of danger than their parents. One of the biggest, say experts, is the speed with which news of relatively rare tragedies, such as stranger abductions and children falling into wells, reaches us. "These news stories feed on our ordinary instincts and magnify them," says Casey. When we become parents, adds Mogel, we hear such stories and worry that we have no control over something hurting us or our family.
New parents nowadays might also feel anxious because they're more likely to live farther away from their extended families. Without this support, they have to deal with the challenge of becoming a parent largely by themselves.
And the fact that more people are becoming first-time parents later in life -- when they have more education and work experience under their belt -- may make them more, not less, afraid of life's unpredictabilities. "People who've been in the workplace are used to tackling a project and being in control," says Carol Kuykendall, director of communications at Mothers of Preschoolers International, a Denver-based mothers' outreach program. "Then they bring the baby home and can't stop his cries, and realize they don't have the answers anymore."
In fact, taking control may be the key to feeling less vulnerable, say experts. One way for new parents to achieve that is to do whatever they can to make themselves feel more secure. After his son was born, Dean Lorey, a screenwriter and producer in Los Angeles, realized that he no longer wanted to go river rafting -- a hobby he used to enjoy. "When your responsibility is not just to yourself anymore, you have to be more careful about what you do," he says. He stopped rafting, and says that as hard as it was to give it up, he felt better doing so.