Motherhood Anxiety Part 1: Irrational Fears
****Trigger Warning**** graphic visualizations described. I couldn’t fall asleep last night. You see, I could not shake an image from my head. It almost sent me into a panic. I envisioned my 14-month-old wandering into the street and being hit by a car in front of our house, all while I sprinted towards him just in time to not get him out of the way. It is a graphic vision, one that turns my stomach and seems to revisit me often. This was not a nightmare in the sense of it happening during sleep. This, my fellow mother, is the untold truth of motherhood. This, along with the multiple other scenarios that pass through my head each day, are all a part of an undiscussed part of motherhood, and I am not alone.
I have recently learned that irrational fears playing out in my mind are beyond common – actually one of the most common traits that mothers share. These irrational fears are known as ‘Postpartum Anxiety.’ For decades, postpartum anxiety was not a known term, nor was it acknowledged by doctors (or other mothers). But in recent years, medical professionals and researchers have realized that anxiety is not the same as depression, and that there is a fine line between normal postpartum anxiety and true ‘Postpartum Anxiety Disorder.’ The latter being when a mother cannot move past her irrational fears; she becomes so transfixed that she may act out against them, possibly harming herself or her children. While Postpartum Anxiety Disorder is real, today I want to focus on (and open the discussion for) the irrational fears of motherhood. It’s time we start talking about these images. The more we talk, the more we will realize that we are not alone, and that we are normal. I allowed social media to open the flood gates of mothers across the country, who all poured their fears out, at first timidly, and then unapologetically, full force, and therapeutically to me – to one another. And in the end? It was as if weights had been lifted and a sky had been cleared. In honor of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Awareness month, I want to shed light on this topic. To those of you out there who are not suffering from the disorder, you know that you won’t hurt yourself or your children; you know that you can move on with your day – even when it’s hard; you know that it’s not real – even though it feels as though it is. You are not alone.
I want to share with you what was shared with me. All mothers gave permission to share their fears, in hopes that other women will see that they are not alone. The following are all fears that cause mothers to panic, keep them from sleep, stop them in their tracks, and make them breathe deep until the vision and moment passes. (Remember that you can and should talk to a professional if your fears are not able to be moved passed.) Your fears may match these, or may be completely different, but you are normal. This is the part of motherhood that no one tells you about. The worry. The panic. The fears…
"My child floating, face down in a pool or body of water. Myself trying to get to him, failing to revive him, and crying over his limp body." - Elizabeth M. "Running off the road with my children in the car. The car plummeting from a bridge or rolling, crushing us all." - Brandy V. "Crossing the median into oncoming traffic and hitting another vehicle head on." - Purusha R. "I picture them climbing out of the crib and toppling onto the terrazzo floor and their heads split in half and their brains oozing out like pink egg yolks." - Hollienoel H.
"When I'm driving with one in the car, I picture us dying in a wreck and the other one's narrative for the rest of their life is 'My mom died in a wreck when I was in kindergarten. I never knew her. My baby brother was only 4.'" -Hollienoel H. "A gunman coming into their classrooms." -Hollienoel H. "A tornado hitting the school while I watch my entire world be ripped from me just 300 feet away." - Hollienoel H. "When I back out of the driveway, I fear one of my kids is behind the van and I can't see them. I see them getting run over by my car and their tiny bodies being crushed." - Alethea L. "Being kidnapped and finding their slaughtered bodies." - Jennifer D. "I am petrified that someone is going to break into my house, tie me up, and take my child, and I won't be able to do anything to stop it from happening. And the older she gets the worse my fear is getting." - Joya V. "Waking up in the morning and my child not breathing, or her rolling over during her sleep and suffocating, only for me to find her blue in the morning." - Brittany B.
"I cannot let anyone else drive my children for fear of car accidents and someone else being at fault for killing my child. The accidents play out vividly." - Elizabeth M. "My worst accident fears usually come on our long roads trips when I have the kids alone, I fear widowing my spouse and taking his kids away. Going off the side of the mountain usually plays out in grim details as well as our car landing in water; that one haunts me for days whenever it pops into my head." - Stephanie P. "I am terrified of dropping my kids off with others in fear of them being molested.... because it's almost always someone you know." - Allison C.
"Biggest fear and nightmare is a fire. My kids are trapped, and I can't save them. I hear their screams and cries for help and I'm helpless." - Jenna F. "My child dies of some rare disease where there is no cure and nothing I can do but watch. The entire process plays out over time in my mind." - Janelle S. "My fear is someone touching her and I can't protect her. Like they do it to her to essentially kill me." - Jessica D.
"When my husband and I fly together, I assume that we will die and orphan our children." - Elizabeth M. "My child didn't talk to where I could really understand him until he was 4, so taking him to speech therapy was hard. What if something happened to him while there and he couldn't tell me. A babysitter, a neighbor a friend? He couldn’t tell me if something happened." - Sarah F. "My child being taken and envisioning her being used for sex trafficking." - Sarah B. "The ceiling fan detaching from the ceiling and falling on top of my baby, crushing her." - Christine T. "Rape. My child being slowly and torturously raped while I am going about my daily errands… and she is screaming for me."- Elizabeth M. "I have diagnosed myself with every cancer and illness thinking that I will die and leave my children motherless."-Lisa L. "I see my child disappearing in a large crowd and never finding them again." - Janise E.
This is not something that only effects new mothers…. “Mine are grown! 23,21 and 19 and we are expecting a grandchild, and all of those mentioned are thought by me almost daily… I don't think after you are a mother that these things ever fully go away.” - Kathy H.