Anxiety After the Incident: When Mom Needs to Acknowledge She’s Not Okay


anxietyEven if you were fortunate enough to never experience true, debilitating anxiety before having children, I’m sure you’ve realized by now that motherhood comes with quite a bit of baggage in the stress department.

It seems as if all we do as moms is worry about our kids…then worry some more. We lose sleep over the smallest issues, Googling health concerns we never, in a million years, thought we could have.

But it’s only when something really scary happens to our little ones that we realize the immense responsibility on our shoulders: our jobs have no breaks, no days off, no leniency. We must be alert, attentive, and in tune with our kids at all times to make sure they stay safe.

We cannot fail our children because that would mean failing ourselves, too.

As moms, many of us carry so much guilt if we think we did the slightest thing wrong, sometimes even when we don’t. This is the silent contract we sign when we welcome our children into this world. It’s a forever kind of thing.

In a matter of weeks, I experienced back-to-back small “incidents” with my 21-month-old that could’ve ended very, very badly, and these very thoughts about motherhood have been on my mind constantly.

About two months ago, the day of the first incident, my son had just eaten lunch and was playing in our baby-proofed living room. I used the opportunity to wash his highchair tray in the kitchen quickly. After about a minute or two, I peeked my head into the living room and noticed my son was no longer there, and, to my horror, the porch door was wide open. I had no idea how he opened it, but without thinking, I hopped the baby gate. I caught sight of him at the top of the backyard steps just as he took his first and last step before tumbling down, out of sight.

What happened next was a blur: scooping him up off the stone path, the tears, and the blood. Luckily, it was more fear than hurt, but the mere thought of what could’ve happened that day has haunted me ever since. It didn’t help that a few days after that, during an impromptu visit at our new neighbors’ house, my son ran off on his own and opened a random door which I thought was a coat closet but happened to be the door to 40 steps leading to their unfinished basement. Thank God I followed him, and thank goodness he happened to wait a few seconds after he opened the door.

Again, my son was fine, but I wasn’t.

Then, a week later, as my son ate a quick breakfast before we left to go to an Easter event, I heard him make a funny noise. I rushed to his highchair and instantly knew something was wrong. He was struggling for air, a startled look in his eyes. I looked into his mouth and noticed a large mush of pineapple bobbing in his throat and, without thinking, attempted to scoop it out with my finger. My firefighter husband had always told me never to do that (it could push the object further down), but it was my instant reaction, and it, fortunately, did the job.

Although my son was back to eating his fruit salad within mere minutes, I was left pale, shaking, and nauseous, unable to stomach anything that morning. My son quickly forgot all about it, but I was left scarred, unable to sleep that night because of it, reliving all the worst-case scenarios that I could come up with. 

Our job as moms is to protect our kiddos, and, repeatedly in the last few weeks, I’ve felt like a failure. Granted, most of these situations were beyond my control, but I couldn’t help but blame myself for them.

As a control freak, I usually always feel like I’ve got things in check – I was reminded, in these instants, that I am just human and that things happen, sometimes.

We also forget how easily disasters can happen, but all it takes is a small incident to remind us of life’s fragility.

It took a while for the frightening images in my mind to subside and for me to return to my normal self, minus the guilt and edginess. It took a while to realize that my journey as a mother will include many of these terrifying moments, glimpses of my absolute worst nightmares.

It was an important lesson I learned, though. I will never take one second with my son for granted, and I will always give myself the time to process those scary moments. I will not play the role of superwoman, at least not in this department. Because the more I tried to ignore these feelings, the more they continued to haunt me.

From now on, I will give myself all the time I need, forgive myself, and then move on. I will not fight the powerful emotions taking hold of me but rather accept that they need to be acknowledged or they will not let me go.

There will be many more of these moments. That’s what motherhood is and why I will always admire mothers for their strength. We take on the world and make sure every single person but ourselves is fine. What I learned is that sometimes we’re not. And it’s okay. If only we can accept that, we will be okay.