The children were happily playing in Claire’s room with our spare foldable mattress. I stepped out to the kitchen to get their evening vitamins.
I heard Tommy protesting and thought Claire must have pulled a toy away from him again. I thought I would check anyway and came back to a terrifying scene.
Tommy’s upper body was stuck in between the folds of the mattress and Claire was lying on top of the mattress trying to squish him.
You might be thinking that’s no big deal. The children were just playing. But Tommy was only a year old and Claire was twice his size.
My heart raced as I dragged Claire off and rescued Tommy. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt.
Children trigger anxiety
After the initial fear, the first emotion to hit me was guilt.
I have never admitted this to anyone except Adam but since the birth of our first child 3 years ago, my anxiety levels were through the roof.
I grew up with an anxious mother and was always a bit of a worrier. But the anxiety usually ran in the background, never affected my work in any obvious way and was easy enough to hide from the world.
When Claire was born three years ago, she was so small and fragile. I loved her so much and knew I would do anything and everything to keep her safe. That first night was when those first scary thoughts popped up.
I had visions of her going blue from SIDS.
I checked on her repeatedly when she was sleeping just in case the wrap loosened and covered her face.
I worried my father-in-law was holding her the wrong way and would break her neck.
The list went on. I could think of all horrible possibilities. I was hyper-vigilant and didn’t trust anyone with her except my husband. Even then, I checked in to make sure.
Negative effects of maternal anxiety
Needless to say, I was exhausted. It wasn’t just the sleepless nights, crying baby and hormonal imbalance. It was the mental exhaustion from being anxious and vigilant all the time. I was always on alert in case something happened. I was taking no chances whatsoever because I knew that if something happened to her while I had my guard down, I would hate myself for life.
This went on for months. It affected my health, my happiness and my relationship with my husband.
I spent my days in overwhelm and on more than one occassion had panic attacks from visions of my child being mortally hurt. The anxiety even triggered severe seborrheic dermatitis.
I knew my anxious thoughts were not impossible but pretty unlikely to happen. Regardless, I felt helpless to stop them. When I hit rock bottom at about the 6 month mark, I was broken. I realized something had to change.
Face your fears
As cliche as it sounds, I started facing my fears. When I had an anxious thought, I let it wash through me. I don’t try to ignore it and I don’t try to distract myself. I look it in the eye and feel all the emotions well up inside me. For a few seconds, it feels unbearable.
Then the feeling of doom passes. I can think again. And the first thing I tell myself is this:
“It’s OK. It was just an anxious thought. Nothing has happened.”
Label your thoughts
I did this again and again. Every time a horrible vision popped up, I stopped what I was doing and watch the scene play out. Every time a worry intruded on my thoughts, I listened to it.
But I did this with intention. I separated myself from my anxious thoughts. I reminded myself daily that these thoughts were not me. They were anxious thoughts because I had maternal anxiety.
The ironic thing was that when I started ‘fighting back’ and facing it head on, the thoughts gradually and slowly went away.
I’m not saying I was cured of anxiety. I am not. I can’t imagine ever being worry-free when it comes to my children. But now that I have a way to deal with it when it happens, I have taken my power back. I can live with courage, knowing that I am strong enough to face my fears.
To wrap up
Sometimes my anxiety would be triggered. Like today, when I found Tommy under the mattress. But I know I am only being anxious. He was OK. I am OK.