Sally MacLeod lives in Brighton with her husband and two sons, and is part of the Mummyshock team. Here she shares some more of her own experiences as a Mum...
I am loving being part of another Mummyshock group full of mothers who are brave enough to be vulnerable and share the tough stuff. It’s been an encouragement to me to check in with myself and see where I’m at with things, especially with the arrival of our second baby boy.
Something that I felt came out of our conversations today touched on something I think a lot of mothers (and fathers I’m sure) experience; anxiety. As I was walking home I remembered the saying that I’ve seen on several cheesy Pinterest style memes, “To be a mother is to live with your heart on the outside of your body.” And I think I’ve recognised how true that is, and how it makes so much sense that I only experienced anxiety after the birth of my first son.
The journey children make from womb to world is moving away from a place where mum Is able to protect to a place of increasing independence – it makes total sense that mother’s especially would feel a heightened sense of anxiety at the start of that journey. And that’s not even taking into account how the birth will impact that.
That isn’t to say that because it is an understandable part of parenting it should be added to the long list of things we’re expected to live with. More that if it is such a normal experience let’s feel freer to talk about it more openly. And that like with most things there is a scale of what is probably a normal experience for most parents and what feels like it is negatively impacting on your day to day.
For me, I think I’ve written about it before, I realised I was maybe struggling with anxiety about 3 months after birth when someone at Mummyshock helped me understand that my ‘hallucinations’ about Milo being somewhere in the bed, under the covers, and hearing him crying – only to discover my husband had taken him out for a walk and he was nowhere near were a sign of anxiety.
I also think my anxiety massively affected how I felt about my ability to be a mum; I really struggled (and still do but less so at the moment) with a feeling that I was going to be ‘discovered’ as a bad mum. Even that I would be reported by my neighbours if Milo cried to much, or they heard me shouting. And it’s only recently that I’ve realised that’s anxiety. And that again for me, a lot of that comes down to how Milo was born – I carried around a massive guilt for a long time which can still creep up on me, that his birth was so traumatic because he had the cord wrapped around his neck 5 times. I always felt like my body did that to him and so how could I be trusted to be a good mother – I know it seems so easy to rationalise that but to me then it was a rational thing to think.
For me having a second baby has been a redemptive experience, in that it has given me back something or restored something in me as a mother. It has made me feel more confident and capable, I think a lot because he is a very chilled out and easy baby.
The last way I think my anxiety has affected me is feeling like something bad is going to happen to myself or more so to my husband or people in my family. I get a sense of panic if I get an out of the blue phonecall or voicemail or worry if Fraser is even slightly late home. But I guess that makes sense to because you feel so vulnerable as a mother especially a new mum that it probably does heighten your sense of risk which thinking about it shows how biologically geared we are to keeping our babies safe.
I’m going to write a bit of a follow up to this about self-care because I’ve been thinking about it and trying to implement more of it in my life recently. But just to say that if you feel like your anxious thoughts are impacting you, I remember feeling like I was powerless to stop them, that you are not the only one and there is help available. I have found counselling has really helped me understand the cause of my anxious thoughts wich in turn has made it feel more manageable. And that if perhaps anxiety is coming from a place of wanting to protect our babies (I should say I have no scientific proof for that!!) then our struggle with anxiety doesn’t make us bad mums but the exact opposite – good mums in overdrive!