I had it all planned out since I was young. In my mind it was a simple story: Get married, have babies, live happily ever after... right?? So many people had children, and from the outside they made it seem fairly straightforward. Leading me to believe that it was just something that came 'naturally', just something you did, and life went on.
When I got pregnant fairly easily, I was ecstatic! My story was playing out just like I had planned. Dream job, wonderful husband, and now a beautiful child! Then we had our first ultrasound. At first we saw a blurry image but a strong heartbeat which was great news - then with a closer look, they appeared. BOTH of them! We were having twins! We were shocked but overjoyed. We wanted more than one child anyway, so this was just the fast track to becoming a family of four, just like we wanted.
My pregnancy went fairly well until 29 weeks when I started to have pain in my belly and headed to the hospital as a precaution. I was in pre-term labor and needed to be rushed to another hospital across town more equipped for premature births. After a week in the hospital I was released and spent the next almost 10 weeks on semi-bedrest but finally, at 37 weeks and 5 days, our beautiful boy and girl were born! I had done it, I kept them safe and they were born nearly full-term. It was a huge relief to have two healthy babies...
Until our daughter suddenly didn't appear to be so healthy after all. Her blood sugar was too low and her oxygen levels were unstable. She was immediately hooked up to an IV and other machines. My peaceful birth suddenly took a terrifying turn. Her condition worsened each day and no one could explain exactly what had gone wrong. I spent my first weeks postpartum traveling back and forth between home and the hospital, alternating caring for my sick baby and my healthy baby. My body had no time to recover because I needed to be in two places at once constantly. I pumped at home, then at the NICU, back and forth, feeling more exhausted each day. Living in some kind of hellish nightmare instead of in the 'pink cloud' I had envisioned.
Eventually our daughter was diagnosed with Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency. She would live! But with consequences. Her body didn't produce a stress hormone called cortisol and she needed daily medication... for the rest of her life. I suddenly became not only a Mom of two children, but also a full-time medical care giver for a child with a chronic illness which I had never even heard of before.
I was completely blindsided by my new reality. I felt angry that no one else around me had gone through similar circumstances, their words of encouragement usually stung rather than comforting me, leaving me feeling very alone at a time when I needed more support than ever. No books, no friends or family, really no one, had ever mentioned to me that there was always a possibility that motherhood might not only bring me joy and happiness but in reality might also cause me extreme heartache and severely impact my mental health. I was young and healthy and thought I should just be able to 'handle it'. But I couldn't. It was all too much and I fell into a difficult cycle of extreme happiness and terrible sadness that first year as a Mom.
I struggled to get out of the house with two babies and became quite lonely and isolated. Eventually I started therapy to deal with the trauma of my first weeks as a mother and was encouraged to get outside and meet others. I started to share more of my story with other Moms and quickly realized that I wasn't alone after all. It turned out that so many other mothers had similar experiences and I was left wondering why no one talked about the many difficult parts of motherhood more?
From physical pain post-birth, to strains on your relationship, to just how sick sleep deprivation makes you feel - we all were struggling with something. I couldn't believe that in a world where we had access to more information than ever, we were still somehow completely clueless about the reality of parenthood - and often fairly miserable.
I became inspired to start supporting other Moms in two ways. First, by helping them get out of the house - by organising meet-ups and even weekends away, inviting specialists who offered support to parents in various areas and just helping them have a little bit of fun. Second, by helping them share their stories. Even the stories which are more painful to tell, and can be uncomfortable to read or listen to. The stories which I wish someone would have told me.
I started a blog featuring birth stories from around the world and then expanded it to also feature inspirational stories of Moms who have used their own, often very difficult experiences to pick themselves back up, and also help others. My hope is to normalize these types of stories - and showcase just how many parents experience significant struggles and heartbreak before finding happiness in their new reality. Maybe if more of us talk about these feelings openly, less of us will experience so much guilt for having feelings which are actually quite normal in the world of parenthood.
I'm aware that not everyone is ready to read the difficult stories, it can feel scary and unnecessary - but whenever you're ready, or wonder if you're the only one in a certain situation, they'll be there. These stories prove that no matter how lost or down you feel, how misunderstood or alone, someone, somewhere, has been there too.
The most amazing part of the work I do now, and the 50 (!!) stories I have heard so far, is the undeniable sense of strength and resilience shown by mothers everywhere. To me that is the most important reason why they need to be told, why they need to be read. No matter how difficult the circumstance, how heartbreaking the situation, Moms everywhere find a way to fight through anything life throws their way - and not only do they pull themselves out of the ashes and come out stronger personally, but they also have a natural instinct to use their own experience to support others along the way. They each reminded me that, while my own reality wasn't what I had expected to experience as a mother, it taught me so many important lessons which actually made me so much stronger and also more aware of the fact that I too had the power to use what I had learned through those difficult circumstances for something good.
In 2020, I lost my work as an event planner due to the pandemic and focused on expanding my work supporting Moms instead. I interviewed even more mothers and also a few non-profit organizations who support Moms in need. I wondered if I might be able to use my blog to also support these types of organizations financially - bringing my entire concept of 'Moms supporting Moms' full circle.
Moms could no longer get together in person as they could before, loneliness was settling in after months of social distancing, working from home and virtual schooling - it felt more important than ever to offer more ways for Moms to connect, to reach out, to send a little bit of love and light to each other - I decided to help them do so through good ole' snail mail. That's right, I brought back physical paper cards, in a very virtual world.
I sought out a few illustrators online who are also Moms, to create greeting cards for Moms. Each has their own style and design, stemming from their own experiences as mothers. A portion of the proceeds from each card goes towards charities supporting Moms in need. It's quite literally a way to support multiple Moms around the world through a few clicks on your computer.
I launched the webshop and Esty shop in November 2020 and am thrilled to already be able to make small donations to a few organizations this year. I plan to continue to grow the initiative both by expanding my collaborations with other illustrators and additional non-profit organizations supporting mothers. I'm so thankful for every mother who has bravely shared her story with me so far - your words have inspired me to continue to build this community and continue to find ways to support more and more Moms along the way.
If you'd like to support this initiative, in coordination with Giving Tuesday (December 1st, 2020), or any other time, you can do so by purchasing one of our cards, donating to the project or directly to one of the charities we partner with, or support our work for absolutely for free by following Moments with Mothers on social media via Instagram or Facebook, liking and sharing our posts or just reading along.
- Anna, Mom of Marcus & Emily (The Netherlands)
Read more on: www.momentswithmothers.com