Fear. That's all I wrote for my final article proposal as a contributor here at The Village. At the time it was I could think about and all that I could feel: fear.
I thought surely by the time I sat down to write, months away, the fear would have disappeared and I would have learned some great lesson to share in the journey. And yet, here I sit, writing on the day these words are due, still wondering where to even begin.
Motherhood is many beautiful and wonderful things. But it also can quickly be defined and hedged in by fear. From the moment the strip turns blue as they say, this whisper in the back of our hearts begins to make it's presence known.
I've given and been given the advice before, to try and not be overcome by fear during those pregnancy months, and to try and revel in the miracle. There are so many rules, so many choices, so many (usually conflicting) studies, statistics, and unsolicited opinions to read and consider. But no one really prepares you for the fear NEVER ending. In every season, in every decision, in every correction, in every moment, the fear speaks to you, asking if you're sure?
Are you sure you're ready for this whole "being a mother" thing?
Are you sure that's the kind of mother you want to be?
Are you sure your instincts are trustworthy? What about the experts?
Are you sure you're willing to defend this decision to your family and friends?
Are you sure there is nothing else you could have done?
Are you sure you're not becoming your worst nightmare of a mother?
There is rarely a moment on my journey as a mother that these questions aren't running through my head on a loop. Should I be feeding (organic/non-organic) formula because I'm not producing milk? Am I sleep training correctly? What is the right sleeping arrangement for our family? When do I start to discipline? Am I disciplining the right way? What is the right style of play for him? What is the right style of education for her? And heaven help me for even mentioning vaccines.
I could literally make lists of fears and lists of circumstances my fears invade ALL DAY LONG.
The fear of this journey, of this life, and of this thing called motherhood, were never mentioned before I had kids. No mother ever sat me down and prepared me for anything more than the happy glow that would most certainly set upon me as soon as that bundle of joy was set in my arms. 5+ years, 3 children and 3 miscarriages later, the fear is still there. An infant, a toddler and a Kindergartener, and the fear is still there. And as I sit here writing next to a Mom and Dad making plans with their daughter about to graduate High School and all they have to do to prepare, I'm pretty sure that their fear is still there too.
And I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in my fear and doubt. But I’m still missing where anyone is really talking about the toll that fear is taking on our mothering souls. So, in the name of hard-core vulnerability, I’ll mention three ways that’s I’ve started to battle with the daily fear. No revelation came, but I believe some daily baby steps can help us calm the war raging in our hearts and minds.
1. Accept that fear will always be there.
I accepted this idea after reading Elizabeth Gilbert's incredible book, Big Magic. While not a book about parenting, her ideas about accepting fear as a part of the process of creativity struck more than one chord in my soul. She speaks to fear as if it must be accepted as a part of the journey, using the metaphor of our journeys being a long road trip. As parents we must accept that fear plays an important role in keeping us and our children safe, and therefore we can not kick fear out of the car on our road trip. Fear will never go away, and we probably don’t want it to totally disappear anyway. But, fear also does not have to rule us. We must not let fear be a back seat driver to our lives, our parenting, or our passions. I can accept fear as a passenger on this journey as a mother, but as Gilbert says, it will not be allowed to change the temperature of my car, suggest detours, choose the music and it NEVER should be allowed to drive completely.
Gilbert's words are more eloquent than mine could ever be, and I encourage you to go read them. But I hope even my summation of them helps make it clear: we must accept fear as a part of the journey of motherhood. Therefore, let's make peace with that whisper in our hearts and work hard to never let it become a scream drowning out our every day lives.
2. When the whisper does become a scream, seek professional help.
Fear can go by many other names than just fear. It will manifest itself as anxiety, depression and control, just to name a few. These other traits ultimately boil down to fear in our lives that things are not going as they should be, how we expected, or how we think is right. And I've struggled with all of them. Truly.
Depression has been a sidekick for longer than I'd like to admit. I am a recovering control freak, as my OCD tendencies will tell you. And the anxiety I’ve experienced during my third to term pregnancy, which came directly after two back-to-back miscarriages, was so crippling I thought I wouldn't survive it. It is in those dark times, I've learned that this journey is not one anyone should have to endure alone.
It is a very difficult thing to admit that I don't necessarily have the strength to dig myself out of the hold fear has on me sometimes. And it is rarely financially convenient for our family for me to seek professional help in these moments. But, I've also put it off in for to long in the past, and the suffering has effected not only me, but my family as well.
There are many other issues and questions that could be addressed when it comes to talking about getting professional help and counseling, and the stigma and even shame around it can be great. But the freedom that can come from not being alone is great and the prospect of living in crippling fear will always make the rest worth it to me.
We do not have to suffer alone in our fear, no matter how it is manifesting itself in our every day lives. When you can't hear anything else but the fear screaming in your ear, and the cry of our child only adds to the feeling that you're doing it all wrong, find someone to talk to.
You're not alone. You are brave. Get some help. Get some healing. I’ll be here, cheering you on.
3. Get some perspective.
Ultimately what I’ve learned in my journey with fear is that a fail safe way to get fear back in the closet at the back of my heart is to get some perspective. For me, being behind the camera lens is often the best place to go to put blinders on my heart to all else but the blessing of a happy child and a little bit of sunshine. Sometimes, it is truly that simple and the rest can melt away.
Often times perspective comes when I shut off the phone and spend some time away from the opinions and statistics on Facebook and Instagram and all the rest. And then there are those rare days when the community I have on social media, and the vulnerability and honesty of other mothers online is what reminds me that I am are NOT alone in my struggles.
And sometimes perspective comes when I simply remember how blessed I am to stress about all these things in the first place. The daily ins and outs of my life, my daily parenting struggles, and my anxiety about doing it all “right,” I ultimately choose to see as a privilege because I don’t have to worry about feeding my children, providing them shelter, water, or any life sustaining comfort. Sometimes, a little perspective, even in the most obvious ways can truly help center your heart and silence those fears, putting them into perspective of a bigger picture and a bigger world.
So, whether it’s a creative endeavor, some time away from the world, or a little truth talk to yourself, I can’t recommend getting a little perspective more.
As I approach the completion of our family with the upcoming birth of our third child, I feel as though I’ve finally made my peace with the fact that fear will always be a part of my journey as a mother. Not a day will go by when fear doesn’t whisper in my ear. But that doesn’t mean that my future will be crippled by that fear, as it has done in the past. Every stumble has lent itself to a new perspective, a quicker willingness to seek help and healing and ultimately a new and better version of me: strong woman, confident mother, joyful friend.
Journalist: Rachael MacPhee