Four days after giving birth to my first son, I was visiting with a friend. My son was asleep in his car seat and she walked over, picked up the car seat, and put it next to her on the sofa so she could look at him. I was sore, exhausted, and desperately needed a break. This would have been the perfect time to shut my eyes for a few moments — my friend wouldn’t have minded and my child was asleep — but there was no way I could let my body go and relax.
My son was too far away from me, though it was only a few feet, but it was still too far. And it wasn’t just the distance; there were also my friend’s two dogs who kept going over to him and smelling him, then pacing back and forth, then smelling him again. I knew this is normal behavior for two sweet family dogs, but I couldn’t handle it, so I took my son and I left, almost in tears.
As I was driving down the road, I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. The overwhelming feeling I had bubbling in my throat still rattles me when I think about it because it was the moment I realized being a mother was going to change me in ways I didn’t see coming. I was hyperaware of everything and everyone that came near my child; I felt like we were the only two people in the world and everyone else was an intruder. Because of these new feelings, there were certain things I used to do without a second thought that suddenly scared the living hell out of me from the moment I became a mom. Things like:
1. Being in crowds.
It didn’t matter if I had one child or all three with me. Crowds did me in. If we were in a crowded place walking around, I couldn’t focus on anything other than doing a head count every few seconds to make sure they were all there. I kept thinking someone was going to try to snatch them or one of them would get lost if I didn’t focus on them every single second. My kids would complain I was squeezing their hands too tight and hurting them.
If they were in a stroller, I had to keep checking on them to make sure they were alright. I also had to keep scanning the nearest exits in case we needed to get out quickly. Even sitting in a car with them while my husband pumped gas at a crowded gas station was torture because I felt completely helpless.
2. Driving in unfamiliar places.
If I knew I had a road trip coming up and I would be driving, whether the kids would be with me or not, I could not sleep the night before. Even though I had a GPS to show me the way, I just couldn’t relax. I was so afraid I would get lost or stranded that when I started out on my trip I had trouble swallowing, and my heart would pound. I had no idea what was happening to me. Before kids, I used to drive all over Timbuktu without a care in the world, fueled by caffeine and the thrill of the open road. But that sense of freedom vanished as soon as I became a mother.
3. Being away from them.
Even when I desperately needed a break, I found it hard to let go of control and leave my kids with a sitter or a family member. I was afraid something was going to happen to them if I wasn’t with them all the time. I somehow felt I was the only one capable of keeping them safe and everyone else had poor judgment.
4. Fear of dying.
I never thought much about death or what would happen if I died before I became a mom. And if I did, I was able to realize we are all going to die someday, my time would come, and I had no control over it. I definitely wasn’t afraid of death. But having kids changed that. I became preoccupied with death, and the fear of something happening to me or my family would come into my head every single day. I would look at their precious faces and think, Nothing can even happen to me. It would ruin them. It’s crippling and my mind has taken some pretty dark turns with these morbid thoughts — something I never would have done before.
I know these fears are fairly common. I’ve talked to other mothers who share some or most of them. I know they are fueled by the huge responsibility that comes with caring for our children. Mothers tend to have an overwhelming need to feel in control of keeping ourselves and our kids safe- it’s not just about us anymore. After giving birth, there’s a natural instinct to protect your family.
But the anxiety and fears can sneak up on us. They can kick us in the ass because we don’t see them coming. When you are a mother, it’s not just your body that changes, so do your emotions, so do your heart and your soul. Motherhood affects every aspect of your life, and something that may have felt very easy for you before, like driving in an unfamiliar city, can feel overwhelming now.
And it’s okay — you are not alone. For me, as my kids grew older and I started doing those very things that terrified me, my anxiety lifted. I forced myself to let my kids take risks, to do these scary things, and try to feel more comfortable in uncomfortable situations. It was work, but I began to relax a little more each time. I honestly wish I hadn’t waited so long because I was missing some amazing experiences.
Yes, you change after becoming a mother, but if you feel your anxiety and fears are on the cusp of affecting your physical health, relationships, and you know you are missing out on life, there is help. Please ask for it, —we all need you to be okay.