On March 22, 2015 my life again changed forever. We welcomed our second child and first baby boy into our family and though he came early and unexpectedly by a few weeks, he was healthy and beautiful. My daughter was so gentle and kind around him and I remember feeling like our family was complete.
We had struggled for months with the decision to try for another child because he had a one in four chance of having the same rare recessive genetic disease, cystinosis, that my daughter had. I always knew that I had wanted two children but the thought of taking that risk and knowingly giving him that condition tore me up inside. In the end the decision was taken out of our hands when I accidentally got pregnant but both my husband and I felt nothing but joy in learning this news. It wasn’t that we were afraid of having another child with cystinosis, it was the guilt surrounded by knowing that we could give it to him, because with my daughter we had no idea it was even a possibility.
So now I finally had the two children I had so desperately wanted and I should’ve been feeling elated, however looking after a newborn and a 2 1/2 year old is so freaking hard! I was completely unprepared for the stress of having an infant that needed me 24/7 and a toddler who was not used to sharing my attention, not to mention the extra medical care she needed. Sure I expected it to be difficult, but this hard? I was completely shocked! And what really took me by surprise was the intense feeling of anger that started to erupt out of me towards my daughter. Suddenly I felt like I was yelling at her all the time, like I had lost my compassion for her and like most days I didn’t even like her.
She would throw tantrums, hit her brother when she didn’t get her way, purposely defy me (or at least it felt like she was doing it on purpose), and do all those normal things that toddlers with big emotions do, but for some reason I seemed to expect her to be better. I couldn’t see that she was also struggling, all I saw was a little girl who was making life more difficult than it had to be. I resented her for taking up most of my time and taking me away from the happy baby who also needed me. I found my anger bubbling over and reacting in what I deemed to be horrific ways, doing things I thought no good mother would do. I once yelled at her for waking up her brother, saying it was her fault and to get out, another time I told her that if she hit me again I would break her fingers (I knew it was b.s. but I doubt she did), And another time I squirted an oral syringe full of potassium citrate on her after she’d squirted some on me when refusing to take it. And as soon as I said something awful or did a terrible knee jerk reaction I would see this poor little girl, who I was supposed to be protecting, so upset, and the guilt would come crashing over me.
I’m ruining my daughter, she’ll be scarred for life, I’m a terrible person, I can’t do this, my children deserve better than me—these were all thoughts that cut into me, leaving me feeling inadequate and knowing that I was failing them. I had so much support, a loving husband who helped out as soon as he got home from work, the most wonderful mother-in-law who came over almost every day to help with the kids and clean up our mess and my own parents who visited every other weekend to help. I was taking time for myself and trying to be healthy. But still I was failing, still I was lashing out at my daughter. It got to the point that I would wake up in the morning already telling myself that I couldn’t do it, wishing I could go back to the days where I did whatever I wanted to do.
That’s when I realized I needed help.
I called the Pacific Post Partum Support Society and spoke to a lovely woman who sympathized with me and understood exactly how I was feeling. She made me feel like maybe I wasn’t such a monster, but just a mom of two, struggling to keep her head above water. I felt so good about this exchange that I decided to seek counselling for anger management and to try regain my compassion. One of the things that struck me the most during these sessions was the amount of guilt and negative self talk that I was carrying around. I felt guilty about being angry all the time, about the things I would say when angry, about not spending enough time with the kids separately, about not getting any housework done, about snapping at my husband, about almost everything that I did. And I was still carrying residual guilt from my desire to have two children despite cystinosis being a possibility. This is no way to live.
What I needed in my life was self-forgiveness, I had to stop dwelling on the should-dos and should-haves. To recognize that though I didn’t act as I wish I had, tomorrow is a new day and a new chance to be the mother I want to be. Hell, why even wait until tomorrow? It’s okay for me to make mistakes because although I may feel like I’ve said some awful things (and thought some worse ones), I am aware of them and I’m trying to be better. Forgiveness is a powerful thing that allows you to let go of the burdens you’ve been carrying, things that serve no good purpose in your life, and it makes room for hope and joy and all the wonderful things that you deserve to have.
Though this is written in past tense, I am still very much a work in progress. My children will continue to push me and my buttons beyond anything I think I can handle and sometimes I am not going to act the way I want to in that situation. Sometimes I might feel like a monster all over again but hopefully I will be able to forgive myself and remember that I love my children, I am trying my best, and I am a good mother.
Amanda is a mother to two beautiful children and her family resides in New Westminster, British Columbia. When her oldest child was diagnosed with the rare disease cystinosis she started a blog to chronicle their story and help other families come to terms with their diagnosis and show them there will still be lots of joy and love ahead. You can follow their story at www.elsinosis.wordpress.com
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