I don’t think there’s been a single day since my daughter was born that I haven’t felt anxious about something. I had heard friends talk about postpartum anxiety before I had my daughter, but always sort of thought I’d be exempt. I’m a researcher by nature – a hoarder of knowledge if you will – so I spent most of my pregnancy researching birth and parenting. I somehow assumed that the more information that I had the less anxious I would feel. Boy was I wrong. It seemed the more that I read or watched, the more anxious I felt about making the “right” decisions for my child. We’re mamas; we’re intentionally created with instincts designed to protect and care for our young –
But what happens when there’s too many choices and opinions and our inner voice gets lost in the shuffle?
I think that’s where I am now – caught in a crossfire between what I know in my gut makes me a good mama and what I think the world expects of me. It’s a daily struggle. Before she was born, I was so careful of what I ate. I deprived myself of my beloved coffee everyday for the first trimester, doubled our protein intake, and drank water out of a cup the size of a trough. The anxiety was alive and well each and every time I went through a drive thru or forgot to take my vitamin before work. When it came to birth, I chose a midwife and planned to use little to no interventions. That choice was intentional and was made for lots of reasons, but if we’re really being honest, a part of that decision came from the guilt I felt when I read about the risks associated with Pitocin, c-sections, and epidurals. Once she was born, the anxiety of breastfeeding and sleep schedules became a constant part of our day. I have no idea where it came from, but I became obsessed with the idea that I was not going to give her formula. I suppose I thought I would feel like a better mom if I exclusively breastfed, but what it became was a constant source of anxiety about supply, pumping, and timing. At 18 months, I still breastfeed her twice a day. Part of that is because it’s an easy way to maintain the bond we’ve shared since her first hours of life, but part of it is the anxiety and worry that she will start getting sick regularly or that I’ll begin to feel like I gave it up for my own selfish reasons and not with her best intentions in mind.
Now that she’s a toddler, much of the anxiety centers around daily nutrition and activities. There’s so much pressure on parents today to only buy organic, sanitize everything, protect your children from the dangers of screen time, and fill your children’s schedules with story times, music classes, and foreign language. It’s exhausting. Did she eat enough full fat dairy today? What’s the sugar content of that breakfast bar? She already watched half an hour of T.V. this morning; I can’t let her watch more while I make dinner. She only knows how to say about five words, while her friends who are the same age are using two word phrases. Should I be worried? These are the thoughts that fill my mind each and every day.
When I take a step back or really think about it, I know and can recognize that many of these daily worries and anxieties are surface level. There are parents in our community and world who face much larger challenges than “is my child eating enough vegetables?” or “Is two episodes of Winnie the Pooh too much?” But what I feel daily is real. Most days I recognize it’s presence, but it doesn’t get the best of me; other days, it feels much more overwhelming and comes out in ugly ways such as getting onto my husband for letting her have ice cream when she didn’t eat her dinner or ripping the phone out of my screaming toddler’s hands.
I’m beginning to recognize that the anxiety is always going to be there if I don’t do something about it now. It won’t look the same, but it will continue to grow and change as our lives and roles as parents continue to evolve. I want to be the kind of parent who encourages her children to go on adventure with friends without feeling anxious and looking out the window all day. It sounds silly, but I want my children to have broken hearts, and skinned knees, and a healthy love for Oreo cookies. I don’t want them to have bubble wrapped childhoods. I want to teach my children how to trust in themselves and in others, take chances, and discover who they are, but I can’t do that if I’m always modeling worry and caution.
I can tell you that I’m working on it and I’m beginning to find strategies that seem to be helping. First, I’m learning to recognize that there’s no one “right” way to parent. Our daughter doesn’t need “the best” parents, she needs her parents. I’m also beginning to recognize that part of teaching our children to be good humans is to be real, to allow them to see our flaws, and to teach them self forgiveness. I’m working on stepping back when I can in an attempt to see the bigger picture. Some days are going to be ideal. She’s going to eat her meals, take awesome naps, and not have a single accident in her pants. Other days, she’s going to watch way too much T.V., eat nothing but yogurt and take cat naps in the car while we run errands. And that’s okay.
I’m also learning that I’m not alone in this inner battle. Many of my mama friends have disclosed that they also struggle with anxiety and the daily pressure to be the “perfect” mom. It helps to know you’re not alone and that you can process your feelings with others who get it. I know who I want to be and I know I’m not going to get there if I continue to allow anxiety to rule my life.
I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.