I’m so excited to chat with you about how my relationship with anxiety, and my relationship with myself, changed for the better when I became a mom. And honestly, if you would have told me years ago that I would be talking to you about how becoming a mom has positively impacted my relationship with anxiety in so many ways, I would have laughed, like out loud. And quite honestly, all of this is so crazy because a big part of me was convinced for a long time that I’d never be a mom, partly because of my struggles with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. But, here we are! And I am so incredibly grateful.
And just yesterday, Amelia turned 4-years-old! I can’t believe I’ve already experienced 4 years of life with such an incredible little soul that Adam and I created. I could obviously go on for days about how amazing she is, but let’s instead dive into today’s topic!
So, I want to start by giving a much needed disclaimer. The experiences that I’m going to share are obviously my own, and I recognize that there are lots of women who struggle immensely with anxiety during pregnancy and after birth. If you’re struggling with anxiety in pregnancy or postpartum anxiety, I really just want to take a moment to send you some love. You are an amazing mum and you are doing a good job, anxiety and all. And also, I really want to encourage you to listen to episode 31 titled Postpartum Anxiety & Becoming a New Mom with Sarah Swenson. In the episode, Sarah shares lots of helpful information and tips on anxiety and postpartum anxiety that will be helpful to you.
And in that episode, Sarah shares something really important that I think is worth mentioning here. She says, “Not everyone who struggles with anxiety will have an exacerbation of anxiety after they have a baby.” And it’s worth mentioning here because I know that many women are afraid of becoming pregnant and having children because they’re afraid that it’ll either make their anxiety worse, or it’ll make the anxiety that they used to struggle with resurface, or it’ll lead to postpartum anxiety, and although it’s a very valid fear, I want to show you that struggling with anxiety during pregnancy and after pregnancy isn’t always the case, even if you’ve had a strong history with an anxiety disorder.
I had been recovered from anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia for just over a year when I became pregnant with Amelia. And I very vividly remember the moment that I told my therapist that I was pregnant. It’s like I could instantly see the concern in her face, concern that made total sense. After all, I hadn’t been recovered for all that long, and she had witnessed a ton of the struggles that I went through and overcame. She quickly told me about support groups, and suggested that I give one a shot. The introvert in me cringed, real hard. And I remember sitting on her couch thinking… I’m not doing that. I’ve got this!
I felt like a support group may only bring up thoughts, worries, and fears that I didn’t have, or trigger me in some way. And in retrospect, I’m sure there was a huge part of me that was trying to protect myself. I felt very strong and confident in my recovery, and I had basically made an internal declaration that I would never go back to what I had struggled with before. Was it the right decision for me? I think so. Could a support group have been helpful in some ways? Absolutely. But every ounce of me was focused on staying on the path that I had created and had worked so hard for, and again, the introvert in me wanted nothing to do with a support group.
So yeah, with no support group and essentially no resources to walk me through the whole labor, delivery, and postpartum process (aside from the support of friends and family and a book I skimmed), I delivered Amelia naturally in August of 2018. Yup, I did it naturally! No epidural, no medications. Just me and my incredibly strong and amazing body. And I want to touch on this because I know that lots of women worry about experiencing anxiety during labor and delivery, but I had NONE. Yup, none! And I think that this is a common experience. Because the reality is, your body and mind are so full force in the moment, that it really doesn’t have time to be anxious. It’s like all of the adrenaline you’re experiencing, you’re simply using to help get your baby out safely into the world.
And then came navigating life as a new mom! And this is where I really want to dive into how motherhood changed my relationship with anxiety and myself, because I was honestly so surprised by the lack of anxiety that I experienced, and I’m still a little surprised by it when I think back on the last four years. So I just want to state the obvious, I’ve of course experienced some anxiety from time to time throughout the last four years, because I’m human! But none of the anxiety has looked like anything like it used to. In the six years I’ve been recovered, I’ve experienced one panic attack, and I share that experience in episode number 26 in case you want to listen.
So the biggest way that motherhood has changed my relationship with anxiety (and with myself) is that it has forced me to be super present, and it has taught me the immense value in practicing mindfulness. From the time Amelia was born, I was thrusted into the present moment. Between caring for her, and playing with her, and teaching her, and sharing experiences with her, I had no choice but to be present, especially in the early days. She needed a lot of me, a lot of the time. And I wanted to be present for, and with her. And because of how much I needed to be present for her, it also made me realize that I needed (and wanted) to be as present for myself so that I could actually be present for her and every other part of my life.
I can remember sitting on the floor with Amelia sometimes, watching her roll on her mat or play with toys and thinking… I can’t remember the last time I just sat and paid attention like this. I would literally stare at her and watch her facial expressions, and listen to her laughter, and I’d hold her and think, how many times have I missed out on things because I haven’t been present like I am right now?
And when I would watch her discover, and play, and laugh, I would think to myself… I want to feel what she’s feeling right now. The way she would smile, and be so in awe of things, and laugh… It’s like I was jealous of what she was experiencing. And this was a huge shift for me because of course I knew that I could experience what she was experiencing, too, but it would mean that I’d have to make some conscious shifts and implement some habits that would take energy, commitment, and actual work. Yeah, this is why we often give up before we get started, right? Because it is harder for us adults to get present, but the hard work is so incredibly worth it!
So I really started paying attention to everything that I was doing and where I was putting my focus. When I picked up my phone, I began asking myself… Shannon, what is your intention? And oftentimes, I had no intention, aside from mindlessly scrolling. And so I’d put my phone back down and do something mindful instead. I think that this one simple question is so powerful. Really slowing down enough to say… Hey, do you have a reason to be doing this? And if not, making the conscious choice not to. It’s so simple but it’s so beneficial because it allows you to stay in the present moment and not take in more information that will likely lead to overwhelm and anxiety. Try it out! The next time you pick up your phone, or reach for your laptop, or turn on the TV, ask yourself… What is my intention?
What I found myself doing instead of mindlessly scrolling, or working when I didn’t need to be, or watching something that I didn’t even care to be watching, was doing things that actually brought me the joy, laughter, fulfillment, and awe that I was so envious of Amelia experiencing. I began spending more time in nature, which has always been hugely beneficial to my mental health. I began spending more time calling people and connecting with people that I love. I began listening to more podcasts and audiobooks. I began watching things that actually made me laugh, smile, and think. And I started seeing the benefits of me actually being more present. I began smiling and laughing more. I began enjoying things more. I began feeling more at peace. I began feeling more fulfilled. And honestly, I craved more of all of it!
And you know when I created the A Healthy Push platform? It was a year after Amelia was born! Talk about mindfulness habits put to good use! I truly don’t think I ever would have created A Healthy Push if I hadn’t done lots of mindfulness work.
Okay, another way that motherhood has changed my relationship with anxiety (and with myself) is that it helped me to see just how silly some of my thoughts, fears, and focuses were (and still are) sometimes, and to not take them all so seriously! When Amelia was 9 months old, we took a trip from Maine to England. And on this trip, we took multiple plane rides, train rides, and car rides, all of which used to be incredibly tough for me. I’m talking, a trip like this would have been full of panic attacks, lots of tears, and me just wishing that I was home. And instead, on the flight back home, I remember Adam asking me… “You’ve been good this whole trip?” And I was a little confused initially as to what he was asking me and then he said, “You haven’t been anxious or anything?” And I remember being like… WOAH, you’re right. I have been good this whole trip!
I had no thoughts or worries about panicking. I had no thoughts or worries about passing out, or losing all control, or dying. I had no thoughts or worries about making it to safety, or to a bathroom in time. There was no problem solving, or making plans and exit strategies. I was just being. Such a crazy thought, huh? I know, because I used to think, that’s just not possible for me. That type of “carefree” living just isn’t possible for somebody like me. Yeah, I was wrong. And I just want to say, I know that you likely don’t believe that it’s possible for you, and I get it. But it is possible. Unfortunately lots of the recovery process is about continuing to have blind faith that your actions will get you to the place you want to be. And just because you can’t see what your life looks like without anxiety, panic, and fear being at the forefront of it all, doesn’t mean that recovery isn’t possible.
And sitting on that flight back home, holding Amelia on my lap, I couldn’t help but think of all of the nonsense that I put myself through. I couldn’t help but think of the fact that I’ve had to keep a child alive and care for her, plus care for myself, and how I used to put all of that focus and attention on trying to keep myself safe in any and all situations when I was already safe. And of course all of this is really easy to say this in retrospect, but it honestly made me laugh because I couldn’t help but think of how often I worried about stuff that had never even happened, or how often I worried about things that had happened a bunch of times but I had always gotten through it.
Because now if I had any of these thoughts or worries, my response would be… Yup, interesting. I’m not answering that thought/worry. Or I’d work to change the story that I was telling myself. Or just honestly laughing at the thought or worry. Because the reality is that we so often take our thoughts and worries so seriously instead of actually pausing to say… Wait, brain, I see what you’re doing and we aren’t going there! This type of response obviously takes practice and some hard work, but again, it’s a type of hard work that will actually lead to the results you’re so badly wanting. And couple this type of work with mindfulness, and it’s incredible where you can find yourself!
And in general, having Amelia has only helped to reinforce lots of things I worked so hard for throughout my healing journey. Things like having a healthy response to my thoughts and feelings, and practicing mindfulness, and being kind to myself, and setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, and on and on and on!
And becoming a mom has also allowed me to truly step back and ask myself often… Are my actions right now teaching Amelia how to have a healthy relationship with her emotions? Because she’s learning from me every day. And of course I don’t want her to struggle with the things I struggled with. And slowing down and asking myself questions like this one, and continuing to take healthy action will allow me to support her in the best way possible.
So here’s the truth right… I didn’t do everything “right,” and my motherhood journey hasn’t been free of anxious thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I Googled when I knew that it wasn’t the healthiest decision. Sometimes I didn’t ask for support when I really should have. Sometimes I beat myself up when I should have practiced self-compassion. Sometimes I didn’t maintain a healthy boundary that I had set. And all of this is true and a reality because I am human. And as humans, we make mistakes, and it’s often in the mistakes and mess ups that we grow, learn, heal, and live beautiful lives. Allow yourself to be human.
Alright, I want you to really hear this... It’s okay if you’re scared of becoming pregnant or becoming a mom. It’s okay to be scared. It’s scary because it’s an unknown. But there is so much beauty in the unknown. And oftentimes, you will surprise yourself time and time again in the unknowns. In the unknowns, we really get to grow, expand, and see who we are and what we’re capable of. So allow yourself to be scared, but don’t pass up the opportunity to see just how capable you are and how amazing your life can be.