Growing up, I was so excited at the prospect of becoming a mother. I had worked with many children through a variety of roles and had enjoyed their curious minds and imaginative hearts. How amazing would it be to experience that firsthand with my own little one?
However, when the day came that I did become pregnant, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a range of other emotions I had not expected (pregnancy hormones, right?). I was anxious, stressed and very, very worried. These emotions can, of course, be normal for expectant mothers as they attempt to muddle through the unknown. However, for me, these emotions were brought on for a different reason.
Growing up, I experienced constant verbal and emotional abuse (and on a couple of occasions, physical) from a family member experiencing severe depression. It was pretty brutal for a young girl growing up - although now I understand more clearly how mental illness can impact our thoughts and actions.
This experience in a lot of ways shaped who I became: someone insecure, self-deprecating, and highly anxious.
So when I became pregnant, my thoughts quickly turned to my situation growing up. Most of us know that our own childhood can impact how we parent; and this terrified me. What if I began verbally and emotionally abusing my own son? These thoughts plagued me for all nine months of pregnancy and beyond. I knew I needed a way to break from that cycle from my childhood and create a new dynamic with my new little family unit.
How am I working to fight the cycle of abuse?
The first few weeks after my first son was born, I had severe anxiety, for many reasons. I was getting highly emotional, and finding it difficult to cope with the demands of my newborn.
Not only was I anxious, but I was angry. An irrational anger that came out from a constantly (extremely loud) crying baby. Not being able to control a situation seems to be a common trigger for abuse victims.
It took me a little while, but I knew I wasn't coping and I needed to do something to manage these emotions.
The most important way to fight this cycle is to identify that it exists. I spoke with my husband constantly about my fears of replicating my own experiences, and the triggers I knew that would send me into a spiral of negative emotions - such as a loud screaming baby or not being able to leave the house drama-free - ha!
After I recognised these triggers, I found a support network to help keep me in check. My husband, close family and friends, and a professional psychologist all helped me process my emotions and work through the triggers that I knew would set me off.
My husband is a great help daily, as I still call him in the middle of screaming children (I now have two of them!) to help me calm down. Having the loving support of a close network keeps me accountable and reminds me of the bigger picture, that is, a loving and beautiful family and my aim to NOT replicate my childhood.
Lastly, I try to find ways to keep my emotions in check that work for me, such as some quiet reading, going for a walk, or practicing some mindfulness.
When I am in the middle of a trigger, such as screaming kids, I take few by walking to another room by myself and taking some deep breaths. This keeps me grounded by removing the intensity of the emotions I'm experiencing in the moment, and allows me to revisit the situation with a clearer head.
After a rough day with the boys, I try and have some time to myself after they've gone to bed and do something I enjoy like reading (in the bath - double relaxation!). This helps me to feel more centred and helps me to refocus for the next day.
It's still a daily battle trying to wade through the negative emotions and triggers that might set me off in anger, anxiety and despair. But with the loving support network I have, and the unconditional love I have for my gorgeous boys, I know that I can move through these struggles, one day at a time, and head in the right direction.