Thursday, August 18, 2011

Moms Aren't Superhuman

This week, I read this article on TODAYMoms, about moms confessing their deepest, darkest secrets. As I read, I had to wonder, "Why are these secrets?" Most of the secrets just did not strike me as bad enough to keep secret. What's the big deal about admitting that you cry in your car on the way to work, that you sometimes shut yourself in the bathroom to eat lunch, or that you feel like you're about to have a nervous breakdown? Why is it a bad thing to admit that you're not superhuman?

When I was a new mom I cared a lot about trying to be, or at least appear, perfect. I wanted to do everything right. I was terrified of screwing up this precious little person that I'd brought into the world. Not only that, I was terrified of people thinking that I was screwing her up, or that I was even struggling or having any trouble at all.

All the other moms at daycare seemed to have things so much more together than I did. So many of them dropped their kids off and seemed happy about it. They wore power suits to their important-sounding jobs. I wore jeans and a T-shirt to my unimportant job at a software company. Once I got to work, I often cried in my cubicle for the first half hour of the day. I missed my baby. I was worried about her getting sick yet again, and how I'd have to take off work yet again, and my husband's job was more demanding so I'd be staying home with her yet again and what if I got fired, then I'd lose my spot at daycare, if I could even find another job, and how would I find another job without daycare to take care of my baby while I interviewed, and then we wouldn't have enough money to live on and our credit would get ruined and we'd never get a house and oh my God, I feel like I'm going to have a nervous breakdown, but I can't have a nervous breakdown, I have to work, and my baby needs me, I can't lose it, we can't afford for me to take any time off of work and... and... and...

That's how many mornings went: Me worrying and freaking out in my cubicle, trying to figure out how to make it all work and keep it all together. I didn't talk to anyone or tell anyone how I was feeling, because I wanted everyone to think that (despite my attire) I was one of the Power Suit Moms, that I had a handle on everything and knew what I was doing, that I could juggle a full-time job and a baby, and enjoy it, and not be stressed at all.

Meanwhile, the stress was tearing me apart. I was a wreck. I wasn't getting any sleep, because my daughter hadn't yet started sleeping through the night, and I lived in fear of not only all of the above, but of falling asleep at the wheel as I drove her and I to daycare every morning, then worked 8 hours, then had to drive us both safely back home. This was in notoriously bad Seattle traffic, where I had to have my wits completely about me and my eyes and mind not only on what I was doing but on the swirling rush hour madness around me. I worried about getting in a car accident. I worried about whether my daughter's car seat was installed perfectly and whether it was the safest model. I worried so much about so many things that I didn't want to go anywhere. I developed agoraphobia, and it got to the point where I could only go to daycare and work, and I made my husband drive us everywhere else. I couldn't go to the grocery store, too much potential peril there. I couldn't take my daughter to the park, there was possible danger there as well.

Then it started getting to the point where I was having trouble even going to daycare and work. At that point, I knew I needed help. Also, the sheer misery of that level of anxiety was wearing me down to a nub, and at a routine physical, my doctor had said my blood pressure was so high, she was considering putting me on blood pressure medication. I was 32 at the time.

So finally, I decided to talk. I looked up a cognitive-behavioral therapist on our insurance's website, and I started going to therapy on my lunch hour, once a week at first. I would get there and unload, cry, and talk about all my worries and fears. My therapist helped me figure out where they were all coming from and why they were there. I told her about feeling inferior to the Power Suit Moms, and she pointed out that they were possibly as miserable as I was. I told her about my fear of screwing my daughter up. She gently shook her head and said, "If we're 'on' 80% of the time, that's what they remember." Those were the most comforting words I'd ever heard.

She helped me dissolve the worry and the fear by learning mindfulness techniques, where you pay attention to what's really happening right now, not what might happen, could happen, what if. She helped me to learn to pay attention to the present moment as it is, not as my mind says it is. No labeling, no judging, just as it is.

Eventually, the anxiety dissolved and I became retrained to pay attention to the present moment. I'd start to feel a panic attack coming on in bad traffic, and then I'd remember to pay attention to what was really happening... my daughter and I were both warm and safe in the car, we were listening to music, and everything was actually fine.

Now that I'm a work-at-home mom, juggling working part-time from home when my kids are asleep with being a mom, cleaning, cooking and all the other stuff I do, I'm grateful that I went through that awful time, because I wouldn't be able to handle staying home with my two kids full-time without what I learned. Every time I have a rough, stressful day, I remember how badly things used to suck, and that it's so much easier now. I use the skills I learned in therapy to remain in the present moment when something truly hard to handle happens, or when both kids declare that it's a Mess With Mommy Relentlessly Day.

I still have bad days and bad weeks. I still sometimes forget to be mindful and get anxious. I still have to be reminded sometimes of what I learned. But most of the time, I'm happy and I've got two delightful, happy kids and a happy husband. I haven't seen my therapist in nearly two years, but I have friends to talk to about the rough days and the stressful stuff.

I don't think moms should feel like they have to appear perfect or superhuman. I don't think we should have to live in fear of being judged. We are all in the same boat, we all have given birth, we've all experienced sleep-deprivation and Mess With Mommy Relentlessly days, we have all gotten lots of poop on our hands. Having given birth should qualify us as superhuman, but it doesn't. I think the TODAYMoms article about moms' confessions is a step in the right direction, toward moms allowing themselves to both be and appear human.
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