Jul 25, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
Through the years of mothering my son, my constant companions have always been there; guilt, grief, pain, mental illness and shame. There have been times of falling apart, times of seeking help in the emergency room, weeks of counseling and, one time, I checked myself in to the hospital.
I felt when it was my own child that things would be different.
I had never wanted the Mother experience like so many other girls. I never liked baby-sitting (only did it once) and couldn’t fathom pushing a baby out of my body. I was even advised by a psychiatrist that I should consider not having kids because of my mental illness. I didn’t listen. I felt when it was my own child that things would be different. Beside, I was afraid I’d lose my husband and life as I knew it if I didn’t.
I gave birth, naturally, to a healthy baby boy. At first it was like a dream, all cuddles and cooing, then the nightmare of postpartum depression became a reality. That was my first hint that the doctor might have been right.
Throughout my son’s first couple of years, I still struggled, not only with my mental health but with my physical health as well. I developed chronic pain and took muscle relaxers and pain medication in addition to my anti-depressants. His health changed as well, going from a healthy, happy baby to an inconsolable, developmentally delayed toddler who was eventually diagnosed with autism.
I felt that my mental health somehow affected and changed him.
It crushed me. I felt intense guilt that I had done something wrong. I felt like it was all my fault. I felt that my mental health somehow affected and changed him. I became someone I didn’t know. A Warrior Mom, trying to fight for her son. A Rage Mom when I couldn’t take it any more. A Depressed Mom when the sadness overwhelmed me. Pain Mom was constant and I was on so much medication that I welcomed the numbness.
As years passed, the roller-coaster ride of being a Mom and having both mental illness and chronic pain took its toll. I divorced from my husband and became a single Mom. In hindsight it wasn’t a wise choice, but I had been a stay-at-home Mom for seven years. My son had become my identity, my purpose, and my whole life. After two years and a crushing breakdown, I realized that things needed to change. My son went to live with his Dad and I sold everything, put my life in a backpack, and went traveling to nurture myself. At first, I felt like the worst, most selfish Mother in the world for making that decision. But it became apparent for many reasons that I needed to love myself first.
For three and a half months, I traveled around Europe. There were heart-breaking times where I missed him beyond words and times where I forgot about him entirely (after which I felt tremendous guilt and shame). In the end, I missed him so much that I decided to end my trip and come home.
I became a working Mom and saw him every other weekend. We had quality time together yet still the guilt of not being there for him attacked me. There were weekends that had to be cut short because of my mental failures and not being able to cope with them. There were also more breakdowns where I couldn’t even honour my weekends with him. “What kind of Mother was I?” I tortured myself. I felt ashamed of my lack of Mother-strength.
My breakdowns and chronic pain led to me not working and eventually going on disability support. I found and married a wonderful man who supported me when I was down, helped take care of my son when I couldn’t, and provided encouragement when my anxiety, depression and self-hatred of my mothering abilities overwhelmed me.
I still have anxiety and panic attacks before he arrives.
After a few years, puberty came to my son and brought with it aggressive meltdowns and inappropriate touching. I couldn’t physically or mentally cope with either. I had to push back my visits to once a month and they still continue that way today. Even though he only visits briefly, I still have anxiety and panic attacks before he arrives.
It has taken me many years of therapy and counseling to try to come to terms with the Mother-guilt and shame that I carry in my heart. I know that I’ve done my best but I still continue to ask myself if it’s enough. I don’t know if I will ever get over my self-judgment of my mothering abilities. I feel shame for not being able to take care of him more than I do. I feel shame for leaving him and putting myself first. I feel shame at wondering if the psychiatrist was right and I should never have chosen to become pregnant at all. I wonder what he thinks of me.