Living in the aftermath of an Amniotic Fluid Embolism has been really rough, almost worse than the event itself. Looking back, it feels like just a blink but the rest of my reality is a slow drag that never ends. The mental health side of my recovery has easily been the worst part, and I’ve talked about that often both here and on my regular blog. Depression and anxiety together is something I don’t wish on anyone, but depression that comes out of nowhere is really the worst.
Because of my depression and anxiety, I know I am not the same mom I used to be. My children are 14, 11, 4, and 3 so I feel the worst for my older two children. I’ve spoken about it often in therapy, but they are really getting the shaft in the mom department. I used to be the most organized, most efficient mom there was. I was planning Pinterest-worthy parties, slumber parties for countless kids; I was the neighborhood house everyone wanted to be at. I was working part-time and the rest of my available hours I spent volunteering at their school. I read in classrooms, I signed up for every volunteer request; I was the PTO President for five years.
I made a lot of friends; I knew every parent in both kids’ classes and I was that annoying mom who enjoyed field trip days. I loved being the cool mom, the one the kids wanted to be paired with because I would make it more fun. I was outgoing, funny, adventurous and happy. I was so happy. My kids really thrived in that environment and I took for granted how easy it all was for me.
Once I had my AFE, everything changed. As some of my friends said, I became a “normal” person. I was going to learn what it was like to “wing it” every step of the way. It’s so opposite of who I am to my core that I was not prepared at how terrible I was going to feel. Of course, my children noticed right away. It started with the first volunteer opportunity that fall at their school: picture day. I signed up, a mere month after my AFE and fully delusional at how impaired I still was, and I showed up.
I hadn’t showered in a week, I hadn’t changed my clothes, I looked like a wreck. I screwed up the line of parents; all clearly annoyed they put such a train wreck in charge of this table. All I had to do was make sure the form was filled out correctly but I was so overwhelmed I just gave up and started sending people to the photographer. After my volunteer duties, we had to go meet their teachers and put their supplies away in their desks, and I can’t even tell you who their teachers were. They knew me from all of my work at the school, but I couldn’t tell you what that experience was like because it was mostly my oldest daughter dragging me from spot to spot helping me along.
That was the start of my mom guilt.
The mom guilt is responsible for letting her get a music video app on her Kindle. My gut told me no but my mom guilt won and I told her she can totally get that. Fast forward a few months and I noticed my sweet, intelligent, kind daughter was turning into an emotionally distant stranger. I couldn’t understand and I wondered if it was just hormones. I would learn later that she was being influenced by not so great kids at school and would eventually be bullied and physically threatened through this app.
I had no idea.
Mom guilt is what made me spend more money than I want to admit on school clothes to make sure they had the coolest stuff. Mom guilt made me let my kids drop out of things they had committed to, made me forgo all of the rules I had spent years crafting. Mom guilt made me not ask questions when every alarm bell was going off.
As I continue to work on my mental health, I’m trying to do things the way old Sara would have done them. I stick to my rules even when I feel terrible guilt. Every time I have to say no I feel like I’m letting them down because if we didn’t spend all of our money on my medications or doctor visits, we would have the money to let them do whatever activity they wanted to do. Not that my kids don’t value a dollar, they do, but it’s gotten to the point where we don’t do birthday parties because I just can’t swing the expense if they want to go on a field trip.
My kids tell me that they miss their “old mom”, but not in a mean way, mostly in a sad and confused way. They were proud to tell their friends that their mom volunteered at the school, that their mom would totally host a sleepover, of course you can all play at our house. All of the things they loved about me being their mom were gone and they didn’t know how to adjust to that. Just as I was adjusting to my new reality, they had to do it… but they did it alone.
I had no idea what was going on in their social lives, I didn’t know how school was going, I wasn’t checking in on their emotional well-being, I was really dropping the ball on all of the things that are extra about being a parent. I would later learn that my daughter struggled the entire year with bullying and I had no idea. I wasn’t present, I was lost in my own depression I wasn’t able to care for her in all of the ways a mother should. That was the moment I decided that no matter how awful I felt, I absolutely had to do right by these kids first, and if nothing was left over for me it would just have to be that way.
Being a mom is really tough under the best of circumstances. New obstacles pop up around every corner and just when you think you can coast a little, something always happens. I’m sad my younger two will never know what a dynamic mom I was, that they are just getting the leftover’s and hoping for the best. What I’ve learned from all of this is that you can not parent out of guilt; it will never work. Self-care is important, but your kids are more important. They are tough, resilient, loving creatures and they’ll love you no matter what, but you have to love them back, even at your worst.