by Amy Stuart
“You have to be kidding me.”
I muttered these exact words to myself as I looked at the pregnancy test I held in my hand. It was positive. I had no idea what to do.
My husband and I already had two small children. While pregnant with my second child, I went through a series of personal hardships that drained me emotionally and depleted me physically and following the birth of that child, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. I recovered, but it had been a long, painful process. As much as I loved my family, and as often as I had originally dreamed of having more children, my situation was such that it seemed wisest to be done. I felt guilty for not taking greater preventative measures.
That sense of guilt soon morphed. I felt ungrateful for not celebrating my pregnancy when so many other women wrestled with infertility and would have changed places with me in a heartbeat. I felt selfish for how quickly my thoughts jumped to the toll this pregnancy would take on my body. I felt fearful at the prospect of grappling with postpartum depression for a second time, or of going through something even worse. These feelings united and then guilt washed over me again.
While my circumstances may have been unique to me, the feelings that I experienced were not. Primary caregivers often encounter feelings of shame, embarrassment, or guilt surrounding the decisions or missteps they make in the course of raising their children. These may not ever dissipate entirely, but my own position as a parent has taught me that there are still ways to keep them in check and channel them productively.
- Focus on the big picture: helping your children feel safe and loved. You may not experience the unmedicated birth you hoped for. You may not breastfeed for as long as you thought you would. You may not fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans as quickly as you imagined. You may end up allowing more screen time in your home than you originally planned. But regardless of your failings, real or imagined, you can cultivate a warm, loving home for your children, and that is ultimately what matters.
- Use discernment in determining how much weight to assign to someone’s opinion. People are often exceptionally vocal in sharing their opinions on pregnancy and parenting, even without a pre-existing relationship, and it can be tempting to feel sheepish when confronted with someone else’s perspective on how you ought to be doing something. I’ve been given advice by cashiers, baristas, and random people at the gym. While I do believe wisdom can come from surprising sources, I am generally cautious in whom I allow to influence my thoughts on what I “should” be doing. The opinion of a medical professional or of someone I admire and respect who has raised kind, thoughtful children will likely be quite significant to me. The viewpoint of the stranger is one I will take with a grain of salt.
- Be mindful of the fact that social media often presents a veneer of perfection that misrepresents reality. This often manifests itself in the use of apps that blur skin, cinch waists, and broaden hips, but there are also other ways to manipulate a narrative. I’ve witnessed heavily rehearsed, “candid” family photos that depicted a sense of togetherness that didn’t exist beyond the scope of the camera lens. Once the camera was out of sight, the warmth and joy carefully staged for the photo disappeared as well. If you find that you struggle in comparing yourself to the momentary perfection captured in online images or in feeling guilty about your own inability to live up to these false standards, you may want to reevaluate the way you use social media and you may find it refreshing to distance yourself from it for a period of time.
- Acknowledge your limitations and play to your strengths. I won’t ever be the kind of mom who can create a whimsical, Pinterest-worthy craft to do with her family. I do, however, have a tremendous amount of physical energy. I love climbing trees with my children, cartwheeling around in the grass as they laugh, and playing tag with them. For every way a parent is gifted, there is an avenue for them to use that gift to help shape their children in a positive way, and this should be celebrated.
Parenthood has the potential to sabotage your mental health with feelings of guilt. Instead of succumbing to these feelings, reflect on what helps you best care for your children and determine what fosters their sense of love and safety in your home.
Amy Stuart describes herself as both an avid writer and as someone with a desire to be a passionate advocate for those in need, particularly for those impacted by mental illness. She completed her B.S. in Justice Studies at Arizona State University, where she also studied English and history, tutored writing, and was a columnist with The State Press. She later worked with at-risk students and young adults. Currently, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, writing, working out, baking, and volunteering in her community.