I had a dream last night that I had a newborn again. I had just left the hospital, and I knew I had this tiny little thing to care for. The moment felt big, even in my dream, but what was missing was my anxiety over it all.
It’s taken me a long time to admit that anxiety has been one thing that has characterised every single step of my experience of motherhood this far. From the moment I fell pregnant, I felt anxious. I stressed throughout my pregnancy, about everything. I was anxious, depressed and stressed throughout maternity leave. I’m still anxious today. And it’s something that’s been hard for me to admit, because that’s not who I am.
I was never the anxious type. I was a happy-go-lucky, take-it-as-it-comes, never-really-stress-about-much kind of person. Sure, I experienced stress, but always in relation to a specific activity and it would always end. Never have I ever felt a low level of stress and anxiety like this for close on two years.
What do I worry about? The better question is what don’t I worry about. I worry that he isn’t eating enough; that he isn’t drinking enough; that his nappy might need changing; that he’ll run out of clean clothes; that his bathwater is too hot/too cold; that he isn’t warm enough/cool enough while sleeping; that he isn’t sleeping well at night/during the day/ever; that his nose is runny; that his development is too slow/fast; that he’ll be a picky eater; that he’ll be a bully when he’s bigger. And that’s just scratching the surface of things I worry about. Will he grow up insecure if I don’t co-sleep? Will he be clingy if I do? Will he be malnourished if I don’t breastfeed? Why can’t I breastfeed? Am I even any good as a mother if I can’t do it? What if I never find a formula that he thrives on? Why won’t he eat anything I’m giving him? Why won’t he sleep through the night? When will I get a full nights sleep again? How do people have careers and babies? How do people do this without stressing out all the time?
But I don’t think that this anxiety was a choice. I don’t think it’s something I could have ‘snapped out of’ at any point. Believe me, I have tried. I think that, for some people, like me, the combination of hormonal changes coupled with extreme sleep deprivation (and a whole host of life changes) basically deprived me of happiness, and quite badly marred my first year as a mom. And, in our culture of putting on a photo-ready smile about everything, I’ve felt kind of ashamed admitting that.
As we go into his second (!) year, I’d like to write over the anxiety of the first. We are a year older, a year more experienced, and a year greyer and more tired than ever before. We also laugh a lot (and cry, quite often). We marvel at how quickly he grows and learns things, how much he changes and makes us laugh all the time. It’s still incredible to me that I built that little human from scratch, but he is his own, wild and crazy, personality.
I think, often, about whether it was worth it. Whether all the stress, tears, anxiety, grey hairs and sleepless nights were worth it. And while I loved my life before, the cliché is true: on balance, it is richer for having my small boy in it. And I reckon it will get even richer as he grows up. There is nothing in the world like the love I have for that boy. And I owe it to him and to myself, to sort my anxiety issues out so that I can be the fun, carefree mom I imagined I would be.