This whole parenting thing has not come easy to me. And it’s not that I think being a parent is “easy” for anybody. I just never anticipated how difficult it was going to be. From the moment my baby girl was born to this moment, almost four years later, the stress, anxiety and uncertainty I have experienced is on a level I could have never imagined. I’m not trying to paint a bleak and dreary picture. Parenthood comes with many, many rewards. I’m not walking around in a gloomy haze here. There is joy on a level I’ve never known as well. And I talk about that. A lot. But right now, at this moment, I need to talk about the other stuff. The stuff that we (or at least I) tend to keep in. These feelings, and the desire to express them, takes absolutely nothing away from the good stuff, from the total and unconditional love I have for my daughter. That, I hope, is obvious and unquestioned. Although I will repeat it as many times as necessary. And then some more.
I didn’t sign up for this gig without a lot of thought. Years, and years of thought actually. For as long as I can remember, until I was nearing 40, I was firm with my decision that I was not going to be a mother. I liked kids. In fact I liked kids so much that I spent several years working in childcare. But we all know that liking kids, even wanting to care for or teach them, does not equate to wanting to parent one.
There were a few reasons I didn’t want to be a mom. I never heard that “clock” ticking. I felt like I was suppose to but it just never happened. Or maybe it was there and I just chose to ignore it. I also had a terrible relationship with my mother. Terrible. I didn’t want to repeat that. What did I know about being a mother? What my own taught me? Didn’t seem like a good starting point. I’m not saying this as a way to strike out at my mother. It’s simply the truth. My truth. And the other pretty big block for me was that I was just never in a relationship that was conducive to starting a family – and again that may have, unconsciously, been a choice that I made.
Obviously, things changed. My life changed, my thinking changed. Now I am married with an almost four year old daughter. And it all happened so fast. It had to. I was 37 when I got married. Once I (we) made that decision to start a family you better believe I heard that clock. It wasn’t a slightly distracting little tic toc either – it was like a drum beating in my ear. So, we were married in July and I was pregnant in August. I never, ever imagined that it would happen so quickly. I was “older”, I had been on birth control for decades. I was prepared for, and totally expected, it to take a year or more. By the time we celebrated our first wedding anniversary we were already two months into being parents.
I was blessed with this beautiful baby girl. And right from the moment I had her I didn’t know what to do with her. She screamed and screamed. Relentlessly. Those couple of days in the hospital are a blur to me now. I just wanted so desperately to get out of that place. To go home. It was cold and loud and I was convinced that everything would get better if they would just let me go home. Finally they did. We bundled up our little one and took her home. It was a relief to be there. Back in my own place. But I still didn’t know what I was doing. Or at least that’s how I was made to feel. My instincts told me this seemingly healthy tiny little girl should not scream so much. She was well fed, warm, dry and loved. But still she screamed. And the nurses, and the doctor just kept telling me what I should do to make it better. I needed to work on my milk production (said the nurse, over and over) – I was already nursing her round the clock and she was gaining weight quickly. In fact she was gaining so much that my doctor told me to give her a soother when she started screaming, that she wasn’t really hungry. Is it any wonder I was questioning my own abilities? My own instincts? In the end they were all wrong. There was an actual, medical reason my baby cried so much. The system had failed me. Had, for months, made me feel like an inadequate, inept mother. That is a horrible feeling.
Since that rough beginning I have learned to trust my instincts. To the point where I don’t really trust anyone else’s. So, I constantly feel on guard. Like my opinion, my knowledge of my own child is worthless in the eyes of others. The truth is, and I have learned this lesson over and over again, degrees and diplomas don’t always mean you have the right answer (although we did finally find a wonderful pediatrician). Even experience doesn’t always give you the insight you need. You might be the mother of three but you don’t know my child. Not the way I do. But does finally learning to trust my instincts as a mother give me more confidence in that roll? I’m not sure.
We’ve gotten over (mostly) some health hurdles. Those were tough. Full of sleepless, stressful nights for all of us. And now we’ve moved on to other things. Most notably anxiety. It comes in waves. And waves is the perfect way to picture it. It’s like being on the ocean. You might have days and days of clear smooth sailing. But then a storm comes, and it settles in. There is nothing you can do to make the storm pass any quicker. You have to settle in, hold on and ride it through. And you never know when the next storm will hit. It may be days it may be weeks. When it does come it may be relatively quick and harmless or it might be long and strong.
There are so many days that I feel like I’m just holding on for dear life. How did we get here? I am mom, it’s my job to make things right – right? Am I failing at that? Some days it feels that I am. I question myself, again. Can I be doing better? Doing more? Bottom line, the big question – is my daughter’s anxiety my fault? I KNOW the answer is no. Yet I don’t know that. Does that make sense? You can tell me a million times over that none of the things we’ve been through are a result, directly or indirectly of things I have done or not done. And a lot of days I even believe that. But those doubts do not, any may never, completely go away. My daughter is awesome. She is intelligent, she is beautiful, she is hilarious. She is the biggest joy in my life and always will be. And I don’t need or want her to be perfect. I just want to take away her struggles. To see her blossom without anything holding her back.
There are days I feel like I can get through anything. We have our small victories and they lift me up, give me strength, give me confidence. And there are days that I feel at a complete loss. It’s not that I’ve given up. I’ll never give up. There are just days that I struggle, that I can’t have one more “argument” with a four year old going through an anxious bout. In those small moments I guess I do give up, but just for that moment. Because, in all honesty, I have to. I can’t make everything better. I want to. Very much. But I can’t.
But every day is a new day. And in the light of a new day I am reminded that many of those days, most of those days in fact, are pretty amazing. So I take a breath, count my blessings and hope for the best. Because the best really is amazing.