tripping the life unbalanced

Thursday, April 20, 2006

parenting in the age of worry

I'll admit it: I've always been a bit of a worrier. I had serious bouts of insomnia as a young child, and used to spend that time thinking about all the things that could possibly make me anxious. I managed to quell the anxiety a bit in my teenaged years, but the demons started to rear their ugly heads as my mid 20s approached. And then, upon becoming a parent, I became a true member of the club: I was diagnosed with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder)

The first year off with Alice (living in Canada has the BEST benefit of having a maternity leave of one year) I was actually OK. Sure, I had some moments of insanity, but nothing too intense. Even the fact that Alice was born with fluid on her lungs (due to the c-section) and had to be in an incubator for 5 days didn't make me curl up and cry the days away. I somehow got through that, and the months after that coping at home with a sleepless infant. I learned about being her mom and how to carve out a place for just me in her world. I grew as she did, and when I returned to full-time work I felt ready to enter the world again, anxiety-free. It was when Alice was about a year and a half that I fell. Suddenly, the immense responsibilty of having a child hit me, and hit me hard. I started to have panic attacks in public when with Alice. I started focusing on her vulnerability and total dependence on me. It freaked me out, and in a very bad way. I would have moments of sobbing fits and intense nausea where I would hole myself up in my room, while Matt played with Alice downstairs. Sometimes just looking at her I felt such intense love and protection that it felt like I could handle anything, while other times I couldn't even bear to hear her voice in the house. It was as if her very presence reminded me of all I represented to her. Of all the danger in the world that could befall her. And of the terrible unspeakable life I would have if something happened to her and I had to live without her.

I started seeing a therapist last year and went on medication soon after. I feel so much better now, and have learned to cope and manage my panic. I have learned to enjoy my daughter again, which has been so wonderful.

But what I am left with after this experience is wondering how alone I am in this tyoe of "mother worry". We know a lot about postpartum depression these days (well - at least more than we did 20 years ago) and we also are more educated as a society a little more about depression and anxiety issues. But what about this mother worry I carry around with me? It is hormone-related or something else? My doctor says it is that I am just someone who is more suspectible to anxiety, so therefore I worry more about my child. But I think there must be more to it - I have talked to many other moms who experience the same crippling anxiety when it comes to their children. There's something to be said about the physical and emotional connection we have to our children that makes us shake with worry sometimes when they leave the house. And why do we do this to ourselves? Why can't we just somehow let it go and simply enjoy our children?


  • I had a very similar experience, but after my second was born. My mom had to come take care of the kids because I was so afraid I was going to die and leave them alone that I couldn't get out of bed for a week.

    It's a scary thing, parenting.

    I'm glad the therapy and meds helped you.

    My mother says it gets a little less panic-provoking when they get a little less dependent. She too had a on the verge breakdown when I was a toddler.

    By Blogger chichimama, at 1:43 p.m.  

  • It is a scarier world these days. I mean, just today I was regaling Scarbie with tales of the horrors that could be found in sandboxes (does anyone else remember that story about the racoon poop and the damage it can do?).

    I look around and I see the world as gross and dirty and awful and on the days when I can't turn those thoughts off, we stay in and then I spend days recovering from the frayed nerves THAT generates. So, yes, there are lots of others with worries, and other people who can't stop those thoughts. It's only after reading and now knowing other mothers like you and Jen that I think I should seek help too. I mean, how nice would it be to sleep? Can someone tell me what it's like to sleep more than three or four hours a night?

    By Blogger Marla, at 5:24 p.m.  

  • You know, the thoughts come and I have to work VERY HARD to let them go. Because as the Dog tells me, "Get busy livin' or get busy dying." And for once, he's right.

    I am learning to let go of what I cannot control. To not obsess about what might be and to focuss on what is.

    Some days are tougher than others, but this phase of Nate growing up as an only child is too fleeting. It will never be like this again, so I must savour it. And the worrying actually does nothing. Nothing. I have adapted a "cross that bridge when we get to it" mentality.

    Whatever is meant to be will happen, good or bad, regardless of how much I worry and try to prevent things from happening. It's so Oedipus -- you can try to run from your fate but you can't escape it. So what's the point of stressing about it, you know?

    By Blogger scarbie doll, at 10:06 a.m.  

  • I've struggled with this, too, although not to the extent that it was debilitating. One of the things I most clearly remember about bringing Tristan home from the hospital for the first time was thinking about how perfect he was, and how I could only screw him up from here. Such a confident way to begin.

    I do worry myself nauseous sometimes with thoughts like, "What would happen if I lost one of them? What would happen if Beloved was in the car with them and there was an accident and... and..." or "What if I were on my way home and the bus crashed and... and..." I'm glad I can close the door and lock these thoughts away. I think it's the door that some people need help with, where the meds and therapy come in handy. They help you to close the door.

    So, I think some level of worry is normal, and natural. But worry that makes you afraid to leave the house or live your life, or worry that you push onto your kids - maybe that's too much. At least, that's my own personal litmus test.

    Very interesting post...

    By Blogger DaniGirl, at 8:15 p.m.  

  • I feel the same as you on Zoloft for GAD. I feel as though I've had bouts of anxiety in the past and always been a worrier as well. But nothing prepared me for how earthshatteringly anxiety provoking it would be to be someone's mother. I mean, besides being a full time job and responsibility, there's the wanting to not make the same mistakes, worrying about germs...god you know the list goes on. I think a lot of people identify and a lot of people are also in denial. Like my mother. I'll leave you with that.

    By Blogger Stefanie, at 8:22 p.m.  

  • Well, you know how I feel about this (exactly the same as you do).

    What I want to know is why, at 31, do I not feel old enough to be someone's mother?? Why don't I feel like a grown up yet, and why is this ultimate responsibility of being a parent making me so crazy?

    By Anonymous Camilla, at 12:22 p.m.  

  • Not that I have a kid or know what the hell I'm talking about, but I bet it's a combination of what Marla said - it's WAY scarier now - compounded by the daily speed and additional pressures of our modern lives and of being a mother with a career at home and a career outside the home. All that stress can't make brushing off the fears about everything out there in the big bad world very easy to brush off your shoulders.

    By Blogger The Mincemeat Vixen, at 4:38 p.m.  

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