The Struggles of Mental Health and Parenting

The Struggles of Mental Health and Parenting

Parenting is one of the hardest yet most rewarding things I have ever experienced.

It is no secret that my pregnancy was not planned. Before I became pregnant, I was struggling with my mental health a lot. I had just gotten out fo residential treatment for an eating disorder and was trying not to relapse. I started working on trauma work again in therapy and was using sex, over-exercising, and restricting my food intake as ways to cope. When I went to get my tonsils removed, I found out I was pregnant and my entire world changed–and yes, I still have my tonsils.

I knew as soon as I told my son’s sperm donor that I was pregnant, I was going to be a single mom. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with my son (still doesn’t) and he told me that he would pay for the abortion. Based on my own personal reasons, I did not want an abortion. Even though I thought about having an abortion multiple times, I decided to go through with the pregnancy (and I am so glad I did). I went through pregnancy, birth, and raising my son alone. Throughout my pregnancy, my mental health declined. I was alone, scared, anxious, depressed, and struggling with my changing body. I had so much doubt. How was I going to be a single mom? How was I going to provide for myself AND my son? I felt like people were going to judge me for not being married first before getting pregnant and for being a single mom in general. That was the total opposite. Everyone around me was so supportive and that response really helped me through this tough time. Doubting yourself as a parent is common. In my experience, focusing on doubting myself really affected my mental health. I expressed those doubts to my therapist at the time and to the people who I was closest to. They were able to challenge those thoughts and help me reframe what I was telling myself.

My birth was traumatic. If you want to know more about that or about my story in general, my memoir is available here.

When I first held my son on my chest before he was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), I felt no greater love. I felt like all my doubts and worries disappeared. I wasn’t depressed, anxious, or worried about my body. I could look at him and feel like everything was going to be okay–this is still true today. I cried because of the overwhelming sense of love I had for my son. I cried because I wanted to hold my son a little bit longer before they rushed him to the NICU. I cried because my hormones/emotions were everywhere–haha. While my son was in the NICU, I did not leave his side. I stayed with him at the hospital until he was discharged. During this time, I started struggling with my mental health again. My body was different than it was before and during my pregnancy, my depression was higher because I felt isolated, and my anxiety was back–especially not knowing what I was doing as a mom as well as worrying about my son being in the NICU. My son decided to come right when COVID was becoming a thing. No one wanted to visit my son or I after he discharged because they were worried about spreading COVID (which I understand, it was just hard at the time). I felt hopeless and cried–a lot.

I remember looking int eh rearview mirror driving off from the NICU, seeing my son in the car seat, and thinking “is this real?” I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was terrified. I struggled immensely with my mental health the next couple months. I was not eating enough to sustain myself or produce enough milk. My depression got to a point where I didn’t want to live but knew I needed to stay alive for my son. My son was and still is my biggest blessing. Right after my son’s first birthday, I needed to go back to residential treatment because my eating disorder got out of hand again. This was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. It came to a point where I Was going to die if I did not get help. I felt like a horrible mom for leaving my son and for struggling with my mental health. After nourishing my body and working through things in therapy, I have realized that leaving my son to work on myself was essential for both him and I. I could not be the mom he needs when I was continuously starving myself.

I tell all of you this to let you know that it is okay to get help–even as a parent. It is okay (and so hard) to leave your family to work on yourself. Something I have learned is that you are not a bad parent for doing so. In order to be the best parent you can be, you have to be healthy and take care of yourself! Struggling with mental health is going to happen. What matters is how you deal with it. For me, I needed to rely on God and work through my own issues. I needed to take care of myself so that I can focus on my son and giving him hat he needs and deserves–a mom/parent who is present.

Parenting in general can be a struggle at times. The tantrums, crying, arguing, and making a mess right after you cleaned it gets frustrating. When your child(ren) fight bath time, going to sleep, and getting dressed, it becomes exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I love experiencing these things because it makes the cuddles, laughs, and sweet times so much sweeter. The struggles of being a parent in general is more than enough, then you add mental health struggles on top of it.

Today, I am still a single parent who deals with mental health issues. I still have thoughts and doubts of not doing enough for my son, not being the best mom I can be, and that unpleasant feeling of mom-guilt. Those thoughts and feelings are going to come up; however, I and now able to deal with them differently. I utilize healthy coping skills such as:

  • talking to others (and being open with my therapist/dietitian)
  • setting aside time for myself
  • making sure i am reading my Bible consistently
  • setting aside a date night where it is just my son and I
  • making sure I am taking care of my physically (nourishing my body, exercising in a healthy way, showering, taking my medications consistently…)
  • going to therapy and having regular dietitian appointments to keep myself on track
  • doing fun things like hanging with friends, knitting, journaling, listening to music, etc.
  • limiting my social media use because I tend to compare myself to others

…I am continuously adding to this list.

I am setting boundaries with myself to not be on my phone when I am spending time with my son so that he can have my full attention–if you need me on a Friday night, I most likely will not answer my phone, haha. I am keeping track of my mental health so that I am aware off when I am struggling. I am being open with my therapist, dietitian, and friends so that I can have plans in place when I need help. Parenting is tough. It is important to have your village.

Here is a link to my blog post about how it is important to have a village because life isn’t meant to be done alone.

Watching my son grow up is my favorite thing to do. I want to make sure I can be present and experience these firsts with him. If you are a single mom (or dad), I see you. You are not alone. If you are a parent and struggling with your mental health, you are not alone. I see you. We can do this!

I am by no means a perfect mom/parent, but I am striving to be my best, most authentic, and present self.

-m

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