As a young teenager, I got caught in a large Atlantic wave while swimming on holiday in France. Turned upside down and surrounded by water, I didn’t know which way was up.
This is how I feel when caught in the throes of anxiety: It feels like I’m moments from drowning, I don’t know how to get to the air I need to survive, I’m alone, afraid and can’t escape the powerful forces pressing down on every side.
Sometimes it feels like a radio is playing and I can’t turn it off. The negative thoughts just keep playing in my head: ‘you’re the world’s worse mum’, ‘you’re such a rubbish wife’, ‘your friends don’t really like you’, ‘you’re no good at your job’, ‘the good times won’t last’. For much of this year, the soundtrack in my head has been constant anxious thoughts about the health and well-being of my baby: ‘is the baby moving?’, ‘is the baby going to have a safe and healthy delivery?’, ‘why did I think I could have two children? I can’t even cope with one’. It was a struggle rather than a joy to tell people I was expecting. Sometimes I wished I could hide the obvious physical signs.
I couldn’t swim to the surface. I couldn’t turn off the radio. All I could do was cling to a promise from God: he said to look at Small Boy as a reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Just as he had brought my son into the world safely, so he would this baby.
While in labour I started feeling a failure for having a epidural. I remembered a counselling idea I’d heard about. I think it’s called ‘sympathetic’ or ‘compassionate friend’. I imagined asking some of my close friends if I should feel guilty for my decision. I couldn’t visualise any of them saying yes. I then thought how I would respond if a friend came to me and said she chose to have an epidural but felt a failure. I knew I’d confidently tell her she’d made the best and right decision; giving birth is not a competition. Sometimes it’s easier to show more compassion to others than ourselves! As I rejected the guilt, I drew closer to the water’s surface.
Somehow in the process of giving birth, the fear dissipated and my strength returned. I have decided that the only mum I can be now is a Dido Pilgrim Mum. This will look different to how others parent. As I make mistakes and muddle along in this motherhood adventure, I’m determined to say no to guilt and fear.
This is not to say that I’ve been totally free from anxiety, panic, guilt and fear since the birth of Little Miss but it seems that something has shifted. I’ve reached the sea’s surface and am swimming.