Before becoming a mother, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what anxiety was and what it felt like. It was that panicked feeling you got right before you took a huge final exam in college. It was a stomach full of butterflies right before you opened the front door to greet your blind date. It was the heart-pounding, nauseous feeling that came over you right before an important job interview. It was that take-your-breath-away nervous, heart-in-your-throat feeling you had right before getting medical test results.
I thought I knew all about anxiety — why it came, what it did, and how it felt when it left. You see, before I became a mother, I had felt anxiety actually leave.
And then I had a baby, and I learned what real anxiety felt like. I also learned that when you become a mother, anxiety never leaves. Like the seasons of the year, the type, scope, and depth of anxiety changes, but it never truly leaves a mother.
Motherhood anxiety and perpetual worry come in fits and spurts, sometimes very harsh and extreme, like a winter blizzard or Category 5 hurricane. It also comes in gently, and hangs around behind the scenes, like that first cool autumn day we barely notice, but one that sparks the tree’s leaves to begin changing color. But once we feel that first kick of our unborn baby, anxiety takes a firm and permanent seat in our entire being and never really lets go.
Yet somehow, like getting through the threat of that looming hurricane or hunkering down for that blizzard, we manage to survive the seasons of motherhood anxiety. And it is in believing that we will, in fact, survive the seasons of motherhood anxiety (and then recognizing that we can and did make it through to the other side) that gets us through the next unpredictable season.
I thought I would never make it through an anxiety filled pregnancy full of what-ifs, of sorrowful stories of stillborn, premature, or sick babies. But I did. And when I got pregnant again and I recognized that anxious season? I was able to manage it better because I had seen that season before.
I thought the seemingly never-ending season of panicked anxiety I had with a newborn baby would never go away. But it did. And with my second, third, and fourth baby? I was able to manage it better and get help sooner because I had seen that season before.
I thought those early years of toddlerhood would defeat me because of the overwhelming amount of developmental worries all mothers entertain. But then I came out on the other side, and that season didn’t scare me when I saw it again and again.
I thought the middle years would do me in — what with the day-to-day monotony combined with all the “Am I doing this right?” thoughts that hung above my head like a dark cloud and which never provided me with any feedback that I was a good mother. But then those anxious years ended, and I was left with adolescent kids who were pretty darn amazing and less fear when I had to endure them again.
I thought the teen years would totally break me, as the worry and anxiety hit an all-time high. The things you fear with teenagers are on an entirely different level than at any other stage of childhood, and there were days I begged to go back to having toddlers.
But then I saw my son head off to college, and all the worry and fears I had let take over my brain for most of his teen years I was able to finally kick to the curb — the curb where I left him at his college dorm. And right then and there, I vowed to not let anxiety consume me for another set of teen years with my other kids, like I had done with the first.
As mothers, we will spend almost two decades in various states of anxiety about our children (and then some, as we will still worry about them as grown adults). But if we’re able to recognize them as just seasons, as temporary tough times everyone goes through while childrearing, we can be confident in the fact that they do end.
In other words, “This too shall pass” has become the mantra that has meant the difference between me having a total mental breakdown, and instead staying above water with the hope another season is around the corner. In a sense, I have learned to stop fearing motherhood, and with the help and support of mentor moms (I’m talking about the been-there, done-that crowd), I have been able to experience the seasons — even the scariest ones — with more confidence and faith than ever before.
Sometimes, just knowing that the worries and anxieties you’re feeling are all part of a “normal motherhood,” and can and will end, can give you some sense of relief.** Now if only all of us would be more willing to share our vulnerabilities and these anxieties with others, think of the relief we could be providing other moms as well. Relief and an understanding that they’re not alone, and we’ve been through it too.
**If you’re experiencing a level of anxiety that you’re finding difficult to control on even the smallest level, please talk to your doctor or seek help from a mental health organization. This post is not medical advice.