Note: If you are struggling with you mental health, please reach out to Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773 or dial 2-1-1 to connect with someone locally.
Shortly after my daughter was born, I dove deep into examining my own upbringing.
As I looked down at my new bundle of joy, I felt shaken with fear. Thinking of my own childhood brought up some pleasant, and some not-so-pleasant, memories.
I started to ask myself questions about how I would raise my daughter differently. Will I continue or break the cycle of bad habits I experienced growing up? How can I still be there for her on the bad days? Do I have enough self-awareness to know my shortcomings?
I felt almost panicked at the thought that I was somehow predestined to fail my daughter.
Wrestling with those questions alone made me feel isolated and terrified. My husband, although a very supportive partner, didn’t always know how to counsel me through these concerns. I found myself asking the same questions of myself, over and over. This only led to a spiral of fear and anxiety.
I’m a firm believer that mental health is health.
If you had a body part that ached or worried you, you’d have it checked out. So, I did just that. I took the first step, which can be the hardest, and sought help. Pouring out my heart as I answered the online intake form for a mental health provider. And praying that whoever received it could help me.
In my first session, I sat before my licensed counselor feeling both excited and afraid. I vowed to myself that I would be honest in that space. I knew that I would not leave with all the resolutions at once, but over time would slowly build my confidence.
As I continue in therapy, I can confidently say it’s made me a better mom.
1. I’m Less Ashamed to Ask for Help.
Wrestling with the fears of new motherhood alone is devastating. I felt validated that what I was experiencing was completely normal.
It can be challenging to ask for help, especially professional help. I felt like something must be wrong due to the thoughts I was having. But I realized these fears were not only normal, but worth processing with a professional.
Asking for help has been life changing and for me, and has calmed so many of those inner fears.
2. I’m More Present.
Knowing I have a safe space and allocated time to go over life with my trusted, unbiased therapist has brought me more peace. It makes me more present as a mother. In the past, if something was weighing on me I would call a friend or family member. It can be beneficial to talk to those in my circle, but I have found easing up on those conversations means I am not stirring up anxiety and ruminating on it. When intrusive thoughts or feelings interrupt my day, I can do my best to set them aside.
Therapy gives me a trusted space and time to process those thoughts and feelings, so I have more time and energy to parent.
3. I Can Accept My Failures.
We are hard on ourselves as moms. How many of us look at our week and can point out at least one “mom fail”? Sometimes, those failures are more than a laughable social media post and actually keep me up at night. And it hurts when others (even well-intending loved ones) point out those failures.
Therapy has taught me that I can accept my failures, and move on. Failing is part of learning and doesn’t mean I am a bad mom, wife, or friend.
One exercise that especially helps is identifying the difference between my thoughts versus my feelings. I would tell myself, “I feel like a failure,” and my following thought would be, “I AM a failure.” Therapy helps me shift from that mindset to, “I feel like I failure, but I know I am valued and loved. I matter, and it’s okay that I failed.”
Therapy has given me introspective tools that help me reshape my negative thinking.
4. I’m More Confident in My Choices.
Being a mom has challenged me to not care so much about what others think, particularly my close family or friends. Therapy has helped me realize I can stand firm in my decisions as a mother, and if someone else doesn’t like or agree with my choices, that’s okay!
Shortly after my daughter was born, I included disclaimers on almost every photo caption I shared on social media. If there was a photo of me with my daughter resting on my chest, I would add a disclaimer like: Just snuggles! She sleeps in her crib #safesleep. A friend private messaged me after noticing a few of my posts. She encouraged me that I am a good mother, and challenged me to stop worrying what others think.
Through therapy I was able to process that further. I realized I was so afraid of conflict in my other relationships that I was watering down my own, trusted decisions I was making as a mother. I was able to realize I owe no one an explanation. At the end of the day, the health, safety, and comfort of my daughter was what was most important to me.
Therapy actually has made me comfortable enjoying conversations with friends or family members who may have a different outlook.
5. I Have the Power to Break the Cycle.
Most of us can point to the good, bad, and ugly about our upbringing. We are heavily influenced by our parents growing up. They help form our understanding of the world and sense of self. Therapy has helped me identify my own sense of self and worth, outside of the relationship I have with my parents. Therapy has given me tools to identify where I can do better for myself and my daughter.
By making sense of my own story and working to understand the generations before me, I have a firmer grasp on what kind of life I want for my own children. I no longer need to live in fear or feel I am somehow predestined to fail. I will still have struggles, but therapy has given me tools to work on my emotions, thoughts, and responses.
As I continue in this journey to better my mental health, I feel empowered, confident and able to better address the stresses and conflicts I face in my life. Never feel you have to wait until things are out of control. A professional will help you process it all: good or bad.
Where to Go For Help
If you are considering therapy, I highly recommend researching someone who fits your style and completing an intake form. For more information on local therapy options see Counselors in Fargo-Moorhead: When & How to Get Help.
If you are a new mom, Postpartum Support International offers a list of professionals who have received training in perinatal mental health. You can contact them at 1.800.944.4773 or www.postpartum.net.