If there's one thing that parenthood has taught me for sure, it's that pre-baby me knew pretty much nothing about how becoming a mother was going to change who I was as a person. Like a lot of people who plan to have children one day, I had all kind of opinions and beliefs about what kind of mom I was going to be eventually, and all the things I'd certainly never do, like let my precious angels watch television (haha), or eat food that came from a drive-thru (hahaha). But while I can look back now and realize that I probably needed to ease up a little on my ridiculous expectations about motherhood, there was one big change I never saw coming, and it still doesn't sit well with me. The truth is that becoming a parent has made me afraid of everything, and, honestly, I'm not sure that feeling will ever go away.
In all fairness, there were plenty of things about my pre-pregnancy motherhood dreams that didn't even sort of align with my actual reality. Some things — like my previous dream of being a crunchy, cloth-diapering, attachment-parenting, earth mama who had a midwife-attended home birth — went out the window when I got pregnant with twins, had a terrible, complicated pregnancy, and then realized things like schedules and sleep training worked much better for me as an instant mom of two than slings and co-sleeping ever would. But there were some things I thought I could realistically count on, like the fact that I wanted to avoid becoming the kind of nervous, overprotective mom my own mother had been with me. I wanted desperately to figure out a way to be a person who could raise confident children while leaving her own fears and issues out of it, and damn it, I was determined to make that happen.
The thing about having children though that no one ever told me (or, more likely they did and I just didn't pay attention), is that the process of falling in love with your child can turn you into a person you won't always recognize. You look the same, sure, and you think you're the same person, but you aren't, not really. Falling in love with your child can mean your heart gets cracked open in a way it never has before, and suddenly, the deep, all-encompassing devotion you have towards your little human feels like it has ripped a few layers of skin off your body, exposing you in a new way to all of the virtually-unlimited number of ways something could go terribly wrong.
When you want to live so badly, when you realize you have so much you can't possibly imagine ever losing, suddenly the stakes feel really high. And as a result, I began to worry about everything.
When I was 26 years old — the same year, it turned out, that I would also end up getting pregnant with my twins — I found myself at the very bottom of a deep, dark pit of depression so severe I'd decided to end my life. I didn't end my life, thank goodness, but I wanted to, and it is not lost on me now that somehow my own brain was able to find a way to temporarily turn off one of the most powerful human instincts we all possess: survival. But one year later, when my twins were a couple of months old, it finally occurred to me that not only did I no longer want to die, I really, really wanted to be alive. Not just because I wasn't depressed anymore, but because I knew I needed to exist. I never, ever wanted my children to be without a mother. I never, ever wanted them to experience that kind of pain.
I worry about swallowed button batteries, undiagnosed anaphylactic allergies, about "dry drowning" in the bath. And when we're driving, I wonder, for the first time ever in my life, what the odds are that we are sharing the road with a drunk driver.
That thought should have been a celebration, should have been a joyous realization of how far I'd come, and how much better my life had become — and it was, I guess. But it was also incredibly daunting and terrifying. When you want to live so badly, when you realize you have so much you can't possibly imagine ever losing, suddenly the stakes feel really high. And as a result, I began to worry about everything.
I worry about recalled furniture falling on my kids at night while I'm asleep, or that they could choke on a grape that went unsliced when they're having a snack. I worry that they could get hit by cars, or get a scraped knee and die of a freak blood infection or flesh-eating bacteria. I worry about swallowed button batteries, undiagnosed anaphylactic allergies, about "dry drowning" in the bath. And when we're driving, I wonder, for the first time ever in my life, what the odds are that we are sharing the road with a drunk driver, or some other reckless individual who could hit us at any moment and ruin everything forever.
In my heart, I think this is the dark side of motherhood we either refuse to talk about, or that we've successfully managed to ignore completely. Motherhood is scary. Being a mother means it is really easy to be afraid.
I know that this response is irrational, and since I still really do want to try and keep from passing on this baggage to my children, I've learned reasonably well how to hold it in, to make it seem as though I'm not constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop on my otherwise beautiful life. And given that, so far, both of my children seem to be pretty well-adjusted, reasonably confident kids, I'd like to think they're buying it. I've even tried to explain away my fear as nothing more than the lingering effects of a traumatic birth, from coming close to actually losing my kids once upon a time. But in my heart, I don't think that's really the case. In my heart, I think this is the dark side of motherhood we either refuse to talk about, or that we've successfully managed to ignore completely. Motherhood is scary. Being a mother means it is really easy to be afraid.
The thing about the fear though is that, when I really think about it, I know it's not entirely irrational. I know that it's actually doing exactly what it's supposed to do, to keep me on my toes so that I can protect my children (although, you know, maybe it's a little too good at doing that). The very same fear that leaves me worried about car accidents and flesh-eating bacteria has made me a much more cautious driver, and has also motivated me to talk about my binge-eating disorder, lose 25 pounds, and finally start exercising so that I will be less likely to die of a preventable disease. In a way, the fear and I might very well even be on the same side, if I can at least calm myself enough to see it that way.
But I also know that the person I am now — the more nervous, less carefree mother — is certainly not the person I used to be. Like all the other mothers before me whom I used to judge, my only goal these days is figuring a way to keep my children safe above all else. And it's made me realize that, mothers who worry — the ones who can't seem to just chill the eff out — aren't that way because they are just uptight, or unable to see the value in letting go of their anxiety. It's that they are acutely aware of how much they stand to lose if anything bad were to happen to the people they love the most. I have absolutely become one of those mothers. And I'm still trying to figure out how to handle that.