Panic Mom

Anxiety, isolation, and new motherhood

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[The Body/Politic}

This is a story about mental health. It’s also a story about being a mom, alone and in a community.

I’ve been an off-and-on-again denier of my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It comes in waves, and usually strikes at the most inappropriate times. GAD is like being on high alert all the time. A honking of a horn, a friend not returning your text, or a simple disagreement can all make you highly stressed out and worried. Your brain perceives many neutral moments as potentially dangerous, and so you act accordingly with anger, sadness, and anxiety.

But recently, my GAD has been tested to new limits by a new experience: I recently became a mom, and despite my best efforts to find a real-life community, it’s been difficult. There is no stress in the world like being a mom (well, maybe war), but most of us go through it alone, without connection to other moms. Partners can provide some support, but they can’t understand the unique experience that the mother goes through, and that can put a lot of strain on a relationship.

I’ll be honest: being a mom is rewarding, but it’s also weird, hard, and constantly changing.

You’re always learning new skills, and making decisions that will have major consequences on your child’s life. Especially at the beginning, sometimes you look at your kid with terror, and sometimes you’re actually scared of them because you don’t know if what you’re doing is working.

Can we talk body issues, mental health, and sleep deprivation? No one told me that I would smell like cheese after giving birth, or that my boobs would leak or that I would never sleep, which can lead you into dark places. No one said my baby wouldn’t latch on, that my c-section would take six weeks to heal, or that my body and spine would be moved around. Everyone said I would lose weight, but it took me four months to see a difference. All of this really affects your self-esteem.

Because you may be feeling a little gross, new mothers tend to not go anywhere. There is a real issue with isolation and motherhood. Old friends are often less available, feeling nervous around babies, or worried all you’ll talk about will be your kid. (Personally I never talk about my kid unless someone asks, because I know not everyone enjoys it. But at the same time, it is a big, huge part of your life, so if you need to share, decompress, or praise your baby, I say do it!)

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The only people who really understand what we’re going through are other new mothers, but even reaching out to them can be difficult, because of fear of shame and judgement because you’re “doing something wrong.”

I’ve never understood this. If you want to learn how to make socks, you attend a knitting group. You’re there because you all love knitting, want to learn new skills, have some concerns with making a mistake, and want to feel more confident. A group of new moms should feel no different.

For many, the first stop for connection is the internet. There are many forums and websites speaking up about mental health and being a mom. Amie Morris runs a blog called Mommy’s Inside Voice, and has an Instagram following of over 85,000. She shares stories about her struggles with being a mom, and encourages others to do the same. Comment by comment, we all start supporting and sharing and validating, and she “likes” our comments in return.

Still, that rarely makes me feel any better. Even if you’ve opened up online, does it really help you deal?

It feels like an imperfect solution at best, and no substitute for a drink with a friend, a good rant, and a hug.

Thankfully, there are many groups in Peterborough where new moms can get together to share and support each other in an open and non-judgemental environment. Play Cafe is an awesome space for moms, and they run tons of groups. The Peterborough Family Resource Centre is also a great space to join in on the fun.

I recently signed up for their workshop about postpartum depression and anxiety, “Not What I Expected,” which runs this October. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, had a difficult pregnancy, or are having difficulties or stress due to a lack of support, get in touch. Join us and talk to other super-moms who are doing a bang-up job, but just need someone to talk to about anything and everything.

We need to get together.

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Manon Gagnon

Manon Gagnon

Manon Gagnon is a full time mom to Franklin Mitewamewkwe Ferrio. On her spare time, she makes cute felted dolls under her business name Mon Amie Manon. She is also an educational assistant, knitter and needle felter.