I became a mother 12 years ago and since then my motherhood days have consisted of so many emotions, hardships, beautiful memories, and tears (of sadness, frustration, and happiness)!
My mental health during pregnancy
My body has grown during each pregnancy to accommodate the tiny beings inside of me, my hips grew wider, and my stomach stretched beyond what I ever thought it could. I’m not going to lie and say it was all beautiful because it was not to me at that time- It was scary. Very scary.
Suddenly blowing up like a balloon was not fun at all (hello back pain and swollen feet!). How I looked wasn’t the only part of pregnancy that was scary though, what was more terrifying was how I felt. I was constantly throwing up, I couldn’t even keep water or a tiny grape down- it sucked big time. Then there was a time I got a UTI during pregnancy and it felt like there were two knives stabbing me in my back- yeah, I don’t miss those days!
Moreover, my anxiety was overwhelming for me to handle, I kept thinking that either I was going to die during childbirth or my baby wouldn’t survive. I had this anxiety with all of my pregnancies and it continued after my babies were born too. I had this immense fear that my babies would stop breathing, and it left me restless along with the duties of a mother with a newborn baby. As a result, I was on the edge all the time and lived with constant worry, unable to enjoy life until my babies were about a year old. It never once occurred to me that having these thoughts was abnormal, in fact, I thought that having these fears and nightmares was “normal.”
When life REALLY took a turn for the worst
There was a time where I significantly lost a lot of weight due to motherhood. It was a time when I was a mom of three young children, my children at the time were 4 and 2 years old and I also had a newborn baby. It turned out my third child was a high needs baby and his constant need to be attached to me day and night left me exhausted both physically and mentally. I started to lose hours of sleep and my weight was melting off. I became thinner than before I became a mother, dropping to ninety something pounds. Not only that, I felt extremely weak and could not even stand for more than 5 minutes at a time. I felt broken and weak on a physical and emotional level.
Looking back, I can say that I’m not proud of the mother I was back then. I was always yelling at my children, became impatient, and rarely spent quality time with my children. It breaks my heart to even type this all out and be this vulnerable with you all, but this is who I was for many years unfortunately. I eventually became a better mother, but it was a slow and gradual process and certainly didn’t happen overnight.
Why I didn’t get help for my mental health as a mother
For the first ten years of motherhood, I did not put myself first. Okay, woah! That looks mind-blowing in text, it seemed less shocking when I was thinking about it. Now, you may be thinking, “how can someone neglect themselves for an entire decade?!” Trust me, it can happen when you’re a mom, although it’s not intentional or something you consciously think about, but it does happen to many of us. I know I’m not alone, as so many mothers I have talked to, both online and in person, tell me they struggle to prioritize their needs as mothers.
As a mother, my number one need that I neglected was my mental health. I have been solo parenting since my oldest child was born due to my husband’s work schedule, so I’m with my children 7 days a week, all day and night. I have been to every appointment with them and attend their school conferences on my own. I take them to their swimming lessons and on road trips by myself. Is it a pain and a struggle to drag all four children to one child’s doctor appointment- ABSOLUTELY! But, I still do it because I don’t have a choice. The reality is that so many of us don’t have a choice, so we just do it and struggle in silence because there is no other option visible.
In the beginning, I knew I was struggling mentally and emotionally, but I never reached out for help except for once, and that too was because my family doctor referred me to a therapist after seeing the state I was in. I ended up going to one therapy session a few years ago, after I had my second child, and sadly I never sought help after that until this year (8 years later!).
Some women may also be solo parenting, some may be single mothers, or some may have unsupportive spouses, there are so many reasons why a woman may struggle to attend therapy.
How could this have happened?!
When I look back at the time where I was the most physically and emotionally deflated as a mother (just after having my third child), I know why I lived in depression for so long and didn’t seek help.
- I didn’t recognize that there was a big enough issue at that time. Yes, something inside of me knew I needed some kind of help, but I didn’t think my problems were serious enough (even though, looking back, they really were). As women, we have a tendency to downplay our struggles (interestingly, we tend to downplay our strengths as well); we think that there are others that are worse off than we are, so in our minds we choose to believe that we don’t need any kind of assistance.
- Living with symptoms of depression and anxiety has been normalized in our culture. I didn’t see it back then, when I first became a mother, but I sure see it now- 12 years later! Many women I was around had mental health issues, but these issues were never diagnosed and in fact, they were ignored altogether. Even today, I personally know many women who have depression, anxiety, and OCD (OCD is often a symptom of anxiety) and they are completely blind from it. It doesn’t surprise me that these women think their behaviour and habits are “normal,” afterall, in certain parts of the world, this way of life is labelled as acceptable.
- Lack of childcare. Even if I did recognise I needed to go to therapy years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to have gone. For obvious reasons, children are not permitted to be in the same room as you during therapy sessions. Often times women aren’t able to afford childcare for their children, nor do they have family or friends that they can leave their children with. Lack of childcare is one of the biggest reasons why women neglect their mental health and are unable to get the help they desperately need.
Moving forward, we need more awareness and education on mental health and symptoms of mental health disorders, so that we can recognize what is considered “normal” behaviour and what is not. Having split personalities, excessive emotional eating, hoarding, OCD, and anxiety are NOT a normal way of life, and this needs to be emphasized within our community.
Furthermore, women need a support system that allows them to attend therapy, whether it’s a centre that offers low cost babysitting for women seeking mental health assistance (think of childminding that is offered at the gym for low-cost, why isn’t something like this offered at mental health facilities?), or a community that is ready to step up and offer help.
Although, I go to therapy now, as my children are older, it doesn’t give me back the years that I had to suffer on my own. As difficult it was for me to write this and share it with the world, I do so in hopes that it will help create awareness for an issue that affects so many women from around the world. I pray for a brighter future for the next generation of mothers, but the change will not occur unless we take that first step towards it.