When I was pregnant, I had these ideas in my head of what it would be like to be a mother. I had visions of being curled up on the sofa with her on my chest, thinking how lucky I was and how nothing could burst that bubble. When I was pregnant, I made the conscious decision to be a parent who was carefree and just rolled with the punches and never sweat the small stuff. When I was pregnant, I never thought I’d be the kind of mother who would tear themselves to shreds worrying about the most mundane of things, letting them consume me. When I was pregnant, I had no idea the present, yet an unmanageable level of anxiety within me would rise and rear its ugly head, taking complete control and leaving me lying awake until 3am with the darkest of thoughts filling my head.
Sure, some degree of anxiety is normal when you have a baby. You’ve got this tiny person who’s completely and utterly dependent on you, and it’s scarier than you ever could have imagined. But I’m not talking about the kind of anxious worry over the first time you leave them with someone who isn’t you, or if their covers are too loose around them. I’m talking about a level of anxiety which gives you a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, every second of every day.
That’s when the doubt creeps in.
Am I cut out for the motherhood thing? Am I good enough for this person I longed for? Do I deserve her? Is this how people fuck their kids up?
And I am. I am good enough, but that doesn’t mean every day doesn’t feel like some internal struggle.
Two years into my motherhood journey, I still find myself worrying over everyday things. Putting blame on myself for everything, from her having a cough (Is it my fault because I smoked in the four weeks she was inside me but didn’t know? Have I washed her cup properly or is there toxic mold in it?), to convincing myself if I don’t solve every tantrum, she’ll hold on to it and hate me when she’s older. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve stood next to her cot, my hand on her chest and ear to her mouth, checking she was still breathing. I don’t remember a time I didn’t wonder whether saying goodbye when she goes to her dad’s at the weekend, meant goodbye for good.
I remember the first time I had an anxiety attack as a parent like it was yesterday – she was tiny and pink and screaming because she was hungry, but we were queuing for a prescription and there was nowhere to sit down and feed her. Instead of helpful words, all I received was glares and tuts and I felt like I was the most incompetent mother in the world; I felt like I’d failed her and like everyone else knew it too.
Then there was the time we were in a shop and the sales assistant told me, “for her sake,” she hoped I was her sister and not her mother. A stranger I’d known for a total of thirty seconds, told me I wasn’t good enough and, although it shouldn’t have mattered, that morning Poppy had fallen off the bed at the exact moment I’d pulled my jumper over my head. I was already feeling like the worst person in the world.
Being a mother with anxiety feels like a daily battle between what you know makes sense and what your irrational brain is telling you. There is no being able to tell when you are overthinking or talking yourself out of feeling “stupid.” Being a mother with anxiety is canceling plans with friends and plonking your toddler in front of the TV. Because you can’t bear to leave the house that day, for fear of being scrutinized and branded a terrible parent in the playpark when your kid shouts as you take them out of the swing. There is no such thing as being in control of your emotions. Especially not on a bad day, when all you can do is sit there and wait for your pounding heart to slow down enough for you to drink the cup of tea that you made half an hour ago.
It’s not something easy to talk about. How could anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves, understand what it feels like to think your child hates you when they ask you to go away at bedtime, after you’ve finished a bedtime story? How can anyone who hasn’t lived it, begin to appreciate how hard it is to feel like you need to justify every single choice you make when it comes to parenting?
You develop this idea that you can’t possibly ask for help because you don’t want to be perceived as someone who can’t cope with what is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world. So you bottle it up, because it’s easier that way. Because, that way, you are a duck treading water – calm and serene on the surface and paddling furiously underneath to keep afloat, and no one needs to know any different.
Maddy is mama to two year old Poppy and spends most of her time working crazy long hours in a coffee shop. She lives in Hampshire, England, with her Tinder sweetheart Mat. She can be found baking for no good reason (dreams of being a modern Mary Berry) and carting around a camera regularly.