I see you. It’s hard, I know, I’ve been there. I’ve experienced the fear, the love, the panic. I’ve experienced the confusion and sense of failure. I’ve experienced the disappointment when motherhood wasn’t the blissful, maternal experience that you expected it to be, but instead turned out to feel more akin to a war zone, fraught with emotions that you never expected to be associated with motherhood. Emotions like fear and anger. Emotions like shame.
When my son was born, 4 years ago, it felt like love, terror and panic had braided themselves together inside my heart. I was completely knocked sideways by the depth of the love which sprung forth for this tiny human. A chasm of love, bottomless and all encompassing. At the same time, boiling up from the bottom of my gut was an instinct to protect him from everything. An instinct that was too strong, too intense. I sensed danger all around us, at all times, so that my heart seemed to always be racing, my fingers always tingling with anticipation of the next move I needed to make to keep him safe.
I assumed that this was all natural, and in some ways it was. It is normal to feel an intense love for your children. It is normal to feel the instinctual need to protect them. What isn’t normal, though, is to have that protection instinct, and the fear which drives it, be dialed up to super strength. It isn’t normal to be afraid of walking on concrete, for fear of what might happen if you dropped him. It isn’t normal to be sent into a tail spin of panic at every head cold, at every cough. It isn’t normal to feel the compulsion to use a certain coffee mug, or say a certain sentence to your child every day, or else a cruel little voice in the back of your mind tells you that he will die.
I didn’t know what was normal. I didn’t know where to draw the line. All I knew was a very complicated mix of love, and fear, and panic.
It doesn’t have to be like that for you, Mama, and if it has been anything like that for you up to this point, know that now it can change. I promise it will get better.
When my son was 2 years old, and my body and heart were changed from all the fear, I finally sought help. I was haggard, not just from raising a young child, but from existing in a constant state of fear and stress. When I look back at pictures of myself before I sought treatment, I look so different. Behind my smile, my jaw is clenched. Behind my eyes, I am exhausted and afraid. The differences are small and so nuanced that I think only I can notice them, but they are there all the same.
Sitting in the office of my therapist, whom I found through the Postpartum Progress resources list, it was like the clouds were parting after a devastating storm. I poured my heart out to her. The fears and emotions I had been guarding for 2 years burst forth from the makeshift dam I had cobbled together in my heart. She nodded sympathetically. She understood. I was not alone. I was not crazy. I was swiftly diagnosed with Postpartum Anxiety & OCD and have spent the last 2 years in treatment. I have spent the last two years healing. I have spent the last two years meeting the mother that I really am. A happy mother. A great mother.
Today, when I look at pictures of myself, I see a different woman. I see a survivor. A warrior. I see a woman who works hard every day to understand the mental illness that I continue to battle. I am better, without a doubt, but recovery is not a straight line to the top. These days, I have an armory at my disposal. I have a battle plan. I have allies. I’m not fighting alone and unarmed anymore.
Neither are you, Mama. I am here with you. Healing is possible, and we’ll get there together.
Ready? Let’s go.
The Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit that raises awareness & provides peer support for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. To see some of the ways we provide moms support, visit http://postpartumprogress.org/community/.