Which kid WOULD you save first in a fire?
One of the worst things that ever happened to me as a mother didn’t actually happen to me. I’d just had my second son when I saw I had seen a news segment about cars exploding into flames while fueling at the gas station. Suddenly, all I could think about was the possibility of my car bursting into flames. I’d cry and beg my husband to fill up the car for me and when I had to do it myself I’d unbuckle both kids as a precautionary measure because I didn’t know how I’d get them both out in time and couldn’t bear to choose between them. This constant worry about fiery death wasn’t my first brush with mommy anxiety, unfortunately.
You know how some moms get postpartum depression? Well, I get crippling postpartum anxiety. I worry about everything — SIDS, meningitis, choking, the weird man at the park — to the point where I stop eating and sleeping. With my first son, I sat by his crib to watch him breathe, only sleeping in fits which I’d wake up from in a total panic, sure that he’d died. It was hard to enjoy my infants because I was consumed with worry. Thankfully, my doctor caught on to what was happening and when I had my third son, they put me on anti-anxiety medication the second he was born.
I’m not alone. Anxiety is the second most common mental illness in America, and women are twice as likely to be affected, according to the American Psychological Association. And 10 to 15% of women suffer from postpartum mood disorders (PPMDs), which can include postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum psychosis. One of the hardest parts of dealing with anxiety as a mom is that people assume it’s normal for you to worry about your kids and so they brush off your fears as no big deal. But there’s anxiety and then there’s anxiety.
So for all the moms who worry too much, you’re so not alone! I understand you, and I’ll never laugh when you confess you stayed up all night Googling fetal alcohol syndrome after taking a dose of NyQuil. In fact, I’ll see your crazy and raise you one. Here are some of the biggest fears anxious moms face:
1. How stressful the everyday school drop-off can be. “My biggest struggle is leaving Riley at school. Of course I have the little fears every child deals with, like bullying and academic troubles, but my real fear — that I worry about every single day — is kidnapping and school shootings. I do realize that these are less likely to happen then the other problems, and yet every time I drop him off at school it’s all I can think about.” —Lia F., 26, Denver, CO
2. Worrying that you’ll pass your anxiety on to your kids. “I’ve lived with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder almost my whole life so I know how incredibly painful and debilitating it can be. Sometimes I see my kids doing things or worrying like I do and it scares me. I have anxiety that I’m giving my kids anxiety!” —Cassie S., 31, Sacramento, CA
3. Not being able to enjoy it when your kids sleep in. “Whenever my kids take longer than normal naps or sleep in, my first thought is that they’re dead. Most moms would enjoy the extra quiet time, but I can’t help but think of the worst. It’s so not a normal response but it’s always the first thing I think. I still check on them during long naps and in the morning if they sleep later than normal.” —Candace A., 28, Arvada, CO
4. Never wanting to let your kids out of your site, ever. “I am terrified to let my kids play alone in the front yard or be out of my sight. I’m so scared they will get taken or hurt and I won’t be around to protect them. Oh, and they’re 14 and 9 — it’s not like they’re toddlers! To help myself feel better, I’ve had them start taking self-defense classes. If I feel more secure in their ability to protect themselves, maybe I won’t be so scared to have them away from me.” —Amanda S., 32, Houston, TX
5. Watching your kid choke. “I’m always worried about choking, to the point where I see choking hazards everywhere. I continue to cut my toddler’s food smaller than it probably needs to be and am constantly reminding him to chew (as if he’ll forget if I don’t tell him and just start swallowing everything whole?). I’m already overly anxious about my 5-month-old choking and she hasn’t even started solid food yet.” —Lindsay L., 32, Columbus, OH
6. Feeling like every time you say good-bye could be the last time. “Every time my husband and kids leave together, I’m overcome by this intense panic that they’ll get in an accident and I’ll never see them again. I think about what the last thing I said to each one was and what they said to me. I actually get weepy about our ‘last words’ — and that’s before they make it off our street. A couple of times I’ve actually had to take a Xanax and go to sleep to stop from having a full-blown panic attack…because they’re going to Chuck E. Cheese.” —Maria H., 29, Seattle, WA
7. Feeling guilt for things that haven’t (and probably won’t) happen. “I have this constant thought that if I choose to stay back and work and let my kids go with my husband on a fun day out, it will be the last time I’ll see them and I’ll have to live the rest of my life knowing I chose work over family. Then I start second-guessing all my life choices and worrying that I haven’t prioritized my kids and I’ll regret it forever.” Emily K., 30, Las Vegas, NV
8. Seeing germs everywhere. “When my twins were born, they were premature so they were more susceptible to infection. I had to be really vigilant about hand washing and germs. But even as they’ve gotten older and their immune systems have developed just fine, I still worry. It’s to the point where I’ve been diagnosed with OCD, over my fear that I could make them seriously ill as a result of some contamination.” —Selma A., 39, Istanbul, Turkey
9. Having a mortal terror of parks. “Parks are some of the best places for kids! But they’re also a huge source of anxiety for me. My girls are still really little but I can’t even sit on a swing without starting to panic thinking about them being older, swinging way too high, and me watching them fall. It gives me a panic attack.” —Jennifer G., 32, Hartford, CT
10. Imagining the worst possible conclusion to every situation. “I constantly struggle with the fear of having both of my kids in the car with me and finding myself in a situation where I might need to save one before the other. How would I even decide who to pick? What if I couldn’t get them both out? It makes me feel physically sick. Some days are better than others, but it’s something I just can’t shake.” —Courtenay H., 33, Albany, NY
11. Being so afraid of your kids falling that you can’t enjoy normal activities. “I have so much anxiety about ledges and high places, especially ones in nature where there are no safety engineers regularly inspecting things. It absolutely shuts me down, which is a big challenge for someone who loves the outdoors as much as I do! My fear of falling is actually quite embarrassing in addition to being debilitating. And when my kids are with me, it’s 10 times worse and I’ll even have nightmares for a few days afterwards. I can’t even handle knowing my parents are taking my kids to a place with ledges, so I’ve forbidden my parents from ever doing so. It’s so bad that I’ve made my eldest son almost equally as neurotic about it as I am.” —Shanna F., 38, Layton, UT
12. Not being able to watch or discuss the news. “Years ago, before I even had kids, I saw a news segment about a family who got trapped in their car underwater when it went off a bridge. The mother was able to make it out but her kids all died. Then, when I had my first baby, suddenly that story was all I could think about. I’d have nightmares about it. I even bought a seatbelt cutter to keep in the car, just in case, and will avoid driving over bridges unless there is no other way. But as I’ve had more kids, I’ve found it’s not just that one story, it’s any news story where a child is hurt or killed. It will haunt me for days. I’ll feel sick about it and even cry uncontrollably. My husband has banned NPR in our house!” —Heidi B., 34, New Orleans, LA