Pregnancy triggered a whole new set of teeth in this emotional beast. I broke down every day just watching my then-husband leave for work. I cried and begged him to stay home. I raged and accused him of plotting to never return. In the quiet moments of clarity, we’d wonder in agony if other pregnant women felt this way. We chalked it up to “pregnancy hormones” and even joked about “estrogen” for a while.
If I thought pregnancy was personal, breastfeeding was an overwhelming invasion of my body. There were days that I felt surges of anger at the thought of another human needing my body. There were days that I felt the insatiable need to have total control over my body, which was ransacked by this tiny human whose needs had to be immediately prioritized over my personal space. We figured “this is what they meant when they said it would be hard” and we made it our mantra to “just get through this.”
If breastfeeding was an invasion of the person I was, Owen’s first birthday marked the day my previous self died completely. The paranoia and anxiety attacks, the impulse to lash out at everyone close to me because of the irrational fear that they would suddenly disappear, the days that I wanted to cease to exist because of how hollow yet also full of an overflowing ocean I felt all at the same time…these qualities were nothing like me. I was nothing like the calm and logical me that disarmed her fears with the power of wit. I was nothing like the loyal and loving friend/daughter/wife who carefully considered her words and actions before reacting. I was a stranger to the woman who used to be able to hone her overwhelming emotions into the power to act wisely and overcome.
It’s common for pregnancy hormones to make you blue, every woman agrees that breastfeeding is hard, and toddlers have a 100% chance of “driving you crazy.” But what about when motherhood actually drives you crazy. When it uproots the safe harbor that you imagined and reveals the abandoned shack that actually exists. What about when motherhood ignites the pain and fear that has settled at the bottom of your soul like dust on a book that was read once and tucked in a desk drawer for too long. What about when motherhood sends an earthquake through you that unsettles the ashes and rubble to uncover the ruins underneath it. What about…when motherhood actually drives you mentally ill.
There’s nothing like having a child to shake your soul into unearthing the horrifying things you’ve lived through as a child yourself. While motherhood has the power to shake any woman, it has a unique ability to take over a woman who was once traumatized in childhood. While I have struggled with quite a few disturbing, unremitting signs of childhood trauma throughout my life, motherhood brought about the first signs of true mental illness. Motherhood is the first time that someone looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You need help.” Motherhood is the first time that I begged for answers, “Whats wrong with me?!” Motherhood is the first time I called in to work. Motherhood is the first time I woke up without any knowledge of how I got there. Motherhood is the first time I went days without eating anything. Motherhood is the first time I conspired against loved ones in my head. Motherhood is the first time I experienced an anxiety attack.
Motherhood may not have actually driven me crazy, but it sure did pave the way to the most outrageous symptoms of my mental illness. Motherhood drove me crazy, in a sense, but it also drove me to healing. Motherhood is the first time I walked into a therapist’s office. Motherhood is the first time I walked away instead of reacting. Motherhood is the first time I accepted loneliness and used it as a chance to better myself. Motherhood is the first time I had a game plan to avoid harmful behaviors.
Motherhood drove me crazy and motherhood drove me to healing.
If this post resonates with you or you feel you are struggling with a mental illness, please reach out to local programs or therapists immediately. Here are some resources: