Having Depression Doesn’t Make Me A Bad Mother
Stop pretending that in order to be good moms women can’t be real, vulnerable or human
Though my son was born five and a half years ago and I’ve earned some of my stripes as a mom, I’m still pretty new to the game. My experience has not been easy (though what mother’s experience is?), and it’s been decidedly more difficult because I have depression and anxiety.
Motherhood hit me like a frying pan to the face. No one told me just how difficult the transition would be, and even if they had I wouldn’t have believed them. It was 2013 and I was 27 years old, happily married, and a dedicated career girl when my son was born. My ego had me thinking that I’d just be able to figure it all out —that it couldn’t be that hard.
I had a traumatic birth experience and my son was small when he arrived— 6 pounds and 2 oz — and I can still remember the terror that filled me when I first held him. His small size and tiny, delicate limbs made him seem a doll, and I had no clue what to do with him. I was afraid I would break him.
Major depression and bone shattering anxiety followed and my first year as a mom was a nightmare. It was fueled by unrelenting insomnia, nightmares and flashbacks of my birth experience, and anxiety so intense that I could literally feel my eyes shaking under their lids when I would try to lie down on my back.
While I was trying to figure out my own health I was also tasked with being this little boy’s mother. There would be days where I would simply hold him and stare at the wall for hours on end.
Other days we would follow our routine of ‘sleep, change, feed, sleep’ with furor as it was all I could do due to the brain fog and confusion that my depression brought with it.
The loneliness and isolation of new parenthood was compounded by a long, cold winter that had me stuck alone at home for days on end. I would literally count the minutes until my husband came home each evening. Once he walked through the door I’d be able to relax a little, and escape from the home that had once been a refuge, but now felt like a prison.
Despite the start we had, I was the best mother I could be to my son during that time.
It would be a total falsehood if I told you that once my son got older my depression and anxiety disappeared. I finally found effective treatments and started the long road towards recovery in late 2014, but major depression and generalized anxiety disorder decided to stay.
These two illnesses are part of my life and will be with me until the day I die. They require constant vigilance and effective management in order to keep things steady.
While they limit me and can quickly turn my mood sour, they don’t make me a bad mom. Not only have I survived the terrible twos and fuck it fours, but my son is blossoming into a smart, compassionate and creative tiny person, who surprises me each day with his wit and humor.
I’ve been able to continue my career, try my hand at being a working mom, and still make time for him. While depression can make these tasks seem impossible some days, and the constant self-doubt that plays on repeat in my head is enough to drive me crazy, I push forward.
There’s a mythical ideal of what a ‘good mom’ looks like — how she feels, what she wears, and the Pinterest worthy birthday parties she throws. None of this is real or accurate, instead it’s a box of neatly packaged notions we buy and then expose ourselves to until they become our reality.
According to this myth a good mom is entirely selfless. She loves her role as a mother and her commitment to her children never waivers. This woman doesn’t doubt her mothering abilities, can run on 4 hours of sleep a night for years, and never, ever dreams of running away to Hawaii.
She is always there and never takes a day off — doing it all with a smile on her face. And of course she never gets sick — like really sick — but if she did she would just push through.
Slapping on a smile and baking 200 cookies for the school holiday party isn’t an option for me — even if I really wish it was.
I can’t push through sick days and pretend that I’m okay without major repercussions.
If held myself to these standards I would never measure up, but this doesn’t make me a bad mother. My mental illness means that I can’t run in the same race as others without a major handicap, but I’m learning that that doesn’t really matter. No one would consider diabetes, high blood pressure or even cancer as disqualifies from being a good mom, and yet we continue to treat mental illness this way. This has to change.
What counts as good mothering isn’t that hard — it means showing up and loving your child the best way that you know how and letting that be enough. To try and pretend otherwise does mothers a disservice. It keeps us from actively taking care of our mental health and perpetuates the lie that in order to be a good mom we can’t be real, vulnerable or human.
Depression can be a monster and swallow you whole, but this doesn’t mean you can’t be there in whatever shape you’re in and still be a mom. Though it’s taken me years to get here, I now know without any hesitation I am not my illness and I am a good mother even though I have depression.