I catch myself having this experience once in a while where I feel like I’m drowning. I feel the weight of a metaphorical ocean heavy on my chest. I can’t think. I literally don’t know which way is up. I start to panic. My brain screams the signal to my body, “WE CAN’T BREATHE!” and, horrifying enough, this experience can ensue much longer than the minutes it would take me to actually drown…in my twenties it could last months.
I’m only rescued when something or someone snaps me out of my paralyzing frenzy.. When a mentor or friend or husband or romantic comedy will violently shake me and suddenly (usually mid-sobfest), I’ll take a giant gasp of air . . . and remember to breathe.
This happens all the time to mothers.
Especially with our first children. (I would know. )
I used to catch myself holding my breath while nursing my first daughter.
I would forget to breathe when the baby would fuss in public and when my daughter would cry for hours at night. As in, I LITERALLY forgot to practice taking breaths. In our sleep-deprived haze of survival, as unlikely as it sounds, we sometimes just forget about breathing because we’re focused on so many other new skills we’re learning.
On a deeper level, too, though, motherhood can feel a lot like drowning for many.
Mothers feel like we’re drowning in the chaos.
We’re drowning in the meltdowns and tantrums.
We’re drowning in the poop accidents.
We’re drowning in the dishes in the sink after a long-ass day, and the thought of getting up in the morning and doing it all over again. #amiright?
Motherhood can totally feel like you’re being held underwater for way longer than is safe, and like you’re on the verge of NEVER coming back up for air - ever again. (Perhaps a bit melodramatic . . . perhaps, not.)
A study by ForbesWoman and the pregnancy website TheBump.com found that 92 percent of working moms and 89 percent of stay-at-home mothers felt overwhelmed by work, home and parenting responsibilities, according to this article.
But here’s the hard truth: You are not drowning. You have just forgotten to take a breath.
Now before you get all angry that I’m dismissing your unique experience or very real feelings that you are about to die: Hear me out.
Motherhood IS chaos.
Motherhood IS meltdowns and tantrums and patience you didn’t know you had.
It’s poop accidents and soccer games at the most inconvenient times. It’s double (more like quadruple) the dishes in the sink and waking up every morning at ungodly hours to do it all over again.
That IS motherhood.
And frankly, people have endured far worse and NOT DIED, so deep down we know we got this.
So WHY THE F IS IT SO HARD? Why does it feel like we’re drowning? Why won’t anyone save us!?
Put poetically, we are the only ones who can save ourselves. And it starts in our MINDS.
Let’s start with a very widespread example that’s also backed in studies: The mother’s need to “keep it together.”
We run around like crazy stressed women trying to maintain the illusion of “organized” and “perfect” FOR WHOM? For WHAT? To prove it isn’t chaos? Contrary to what they say, chaos on the outside DOES NOT guarantee nor predict chaos on the inside. It is 100% possible to experience outer clusterfuck; inner peace. It’s worth questioning why some of us are clinging to the identity of “Put Together Mom” over just “Mom.”
Moving on to other common symptoms:
The only problem with meltdowns is that we are judging them as insane or illogical or too much or embarrassing in front of our friends (instead of admitting we had one last week in private, because we learned a long time ago that’s where dignified people lose their shit.)
I don’t wet the bed, but I spill and break everything I touch.
My schedule is insane for ME to manage MYSELF and I’m a grown-up so WHY in the world do I have different expectations of my kids’ schedule?
THIS is not logical. Our expectations of motherhood are. not. logical.
So this illusion that I’m drowning when it gets hard—when I feel those (very normal, human) feelings, that is a big reminder to me that I’ve forgotten the easiest trick in the book: BREATHE. Physically stop what I’m doing, close my eyes, and take 3 deep lungfuls of air. Watch as all the spinning plates move into slow-motion, listen as the boisterous children blend into the background, notice as the thoughts soften. Sometimes I’ll take an entire 2 glorious minutes like this just deeply breathing, if you can believe it. (The audacity.) Make the time to check in with yourself and give yourself permission to take that time (*Note: 2 minutes is the ABSOLUTE minimum). Studies show that deep abdominal breathing can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
And what will likely happen, when my eyes open and I take back control of my day, is I’ll feel differently, less like I’m drowning and more like I’m driving, and from that place I’ll make a different choice. I’ll choose to laugh it off, let it go, give the benefit of the doubt, lighten up, hit the easy button, and see the love, because honestly—I’m surrounded by it, and if you’re a mom, chances are, you are, too.
To learn how to take back control of your identity and your life from this season of motherhood, get on the waitlist for Reclaim You—doors open May 1st and spots are limited!