When I was in third grade I was diagnosed lactose intolerant because I was having almost daily stomach aches and constantly begged my mom to stay home from school. Looking back, those stomach aches had more to do with the anxiety I didn’t realize I had. For as long as I can remember, I have been anxious. I was known as a worrier, over-thinking things until I was in a tizzy. As I got older and I started recognizing it for what it was, I was in college, and studying for my nursing exams, feeling a tightening in my stomach as I thought of hospital clinicals the next morning.
My anxiety only worsened from there and became debilitating as I worked as a nurse in the field for five years. I refused anxiety medications because my husband and I were trying to get pregnant and I didn’t want medications to affect that. I thought I could get by without them, which was probably incredibly dumb of me, but hindsight and all.
I finally left my job as a nurse after five years to stay at home and focus on our fertility treatments. Being out of the hospital and nursing environment, my anxiety lessened, only to come back raging once I became pregnant and had something else to freak out about.
It didn’t get easier when my daughter came into the world. In fact, that anxiety I had all my life turned into raging postpartum anxiety — only I confused it with being a new mom. Everyone worried that their baby would stop breathing in the middle of the night, so I was normal. But what little sleep I was getting already with a breastfeeding newborn, became almost nil because I was constantly checking on her in the darkness, heart pounding and breath hitching as I prayed to feel her breath on my hand. One time, it was all I could do to lay in bed with her in the bassinet beside me, frozen in place because I knew, I just knew she was dead.
Then after her first birthday, she had six stomach bugs in a span of eight months. So now my expanding list of things that caused me intense anxiety now included a puking child.
I started therapy when my daughter was almost 2. But it wasn’t because I recognized I needed some serious help. It was because my anxiety was causing my heart to whisper, “You should never have been a mother.”
I was starting to believe it.
After a few sessions with my therapist I could feel some of the tension releasing. I was thinking more clearly and I was open to anti-anxiety medication. I started seeing myself for who I was: A mom who needed help.
My daughter knows, at 3, that her mom sees a therapist. It’s no big deal.
I love my daughter more than anything in the world, as moms do. I knew I needed to break this cycle that was over 30 years old. I needed to get better for myself, obviously. But I needed to do it for her, too. I needed to fix this mental health condition just like I would if I was going through a physical disease — one that others could clearly see from the outside. I wanted to be an example to her and show her that as women we need to take care of ourselves, even when it’s hard.
The morning I lay there in the operating room, hearing her cry for the first time, was the moment it wasn’t only about me anymore. Every panic attack, every worst-case-scenario situation that played out in my head — it wasn’t good for our relationship. It wasn’t helping me become a better mom to her.
Motherhood meant I needed to address my anxiety at last. I couldn’t just keep surviving day-to-day, making it through and checking off a list of events I made it through.
Starting on anti-anxiety medications and seeing a therapist a few times a month did wonders for me. My daughter knows, at 3, that her mom sees a therapist. It’s no big deal. It’s not shameful. It’s so important to me to be open and honest with her in other aspects of life. We discuss body parts and talk about feelings, so why should something like this be any different?
There’s still days I struggle and the anxiety still overwhelms me at times. But I know I can work through this. I can be better for her and that starts with focusing on myself. It’s part of that whole self care thing I’ve written articles on, but always seem to struggle with in my own life.
As parents, we’re so focused on our kids, but I think this is one area that affects the whole family if allowed to spiral out of control. And moms, we deserve so much better than that.
After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.