When I was young, Mother’s Day was a tough one. We would make or buy random things for her for the day, do whatever she desired, and she would soak it all in. The love, attention, the affirmation that she deserved to be celebrated on a day reserved for all women who have been a motherly figure in another’s life. She qualified for the day based purely on technicality, but in her head, she was an amazing mom who deserved everything it had to offer.
Though celebrations for her ended many years ago, and we all sort of moved on and pretended the day didn’t exist, Mother’s Day lingered like a wound. It was too painful, watching all the ads with models portraying perfect relationships, reading dedications on social media from friends about their great moms. Mother’s Day ceased to exist for us because even acknowledging it sparked a sort of anger and resentment found only in children of parents who don’t deserve them. Mother’s Day came and went every year without fanfare for about ten years.
Then I became a mom.
I became not just any mom, but one suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety. My daughter was four months old for my first official day of celebrating, and I felt like there was no way I deserved it. Yes, I held the title, and I loved her, but I was such a mess of chaos. I resented her most days, and felt crippled by a responsibility that I should’ve felt comfortable with at that point. I felt shame deeply seeded in my gut, and underneath it all was the fear that I deserved it no more than my own mother did. How can I accept accolades for motherhood when I wanted so badly to flee from it?
People who know me can remember the next part. I chose the path of single motherhood a few months later when too many problems came to the surface, buried under layers of depression and anxiety. I started over in a new country, went back to school, worked two jobs, and raised my daughter alone. Friends helped in the beginning and a few months after our move, we were on our own feet, she and I, but I still had a lot of mental illness to battle.
In my lowest point after we first left, I almost gave my daughter up because I felt so undeserving. I felt like I was no better than my mother, and I wanted to spare my daughter of what I endured. I couldn’t differentiate between my mother’s actions and my PPD/PPA. Yet a voice that I would later come to recognize as pure love for my daughter and, in my personal beliefs, that of God told me to hold on. Fight for your daughter—and fight for yourself.
So I fought for us.
I went to seek mental help starting in February of that year, 2014, just a month after my daughter turned one. That Mother’s Day in May, one year after my first encounter with the holiday, I was showered with love. From my new partner, from my hilarious and beautiful toddler, from family members back home who saw me fight and rise and never lost faith in me. I deserved it.
I always misunderstood my depression and anxiety. I felt that any negative feeling toward motherhood was just one more way I was turning into my mother. I never struck my hand against my child, never left her without food, or used her for personal gain, no. But my feelings, they were all wrong, which felt just as bad as committing crimes of neglect and abuse.
I didn’t know how to freely love her from a healthy place until I realized I’m not in a healthy place, so how can I? The moment I chose to even try to find that place was the moment I became nothing like my mother. I became my daughter’s mom, a mom uniquely her own, who needed healing and help. The road was agonizing in length, with sharp rocks and moments of complete darkness, but I kept walking. And she walked with me, forgiving the multitude of mistakes I made.
This year will be my third Mother’s Day. That new partner is now my husband, and we have another little girl due in just one month. My daughter is excited and still slightly unsure of what lies ahead of us, but she isn’t alone. I don’t recognize who I was three years ago, but I recognize the fear and confusion that pop up now and then. I know what those feelings are; I know that being scared, exhausted, and sometimes so over parenthood are completely normal feelings. And if they end up turning into something more, it’s okay. It’s okay. I learned that there is a stark difference between who my mother was, and who I am as a mom with postpartum anxiety. Mental illness did not and does not disqualify me as a mom.
Mother’s Day isn’t just for women who look like the models on posters with their perfectly-captured relationship with their mom models. It also isn’t necessarily for people whose only contributions to their children was childbirth. It’s something in between. It’s a day that means something unique to everyone.
I don’t know what all this day encompasses, or who passes “the test” of deserving it that we sometimes impose on each other, because like mental illness, life isn’t cut and dry and neither can this day be. But I do know that it’s also for the moms trying so hard to fight through the darkness of mental illness, who want so badly to feel that spark of love and joy that seems to come naturally to others.
If anything, this day is so important for us to feel and take part in because regardless of how wonderful they were or weren’t, we are not our mothers. We are beautiful, flawed women who are uniquely moms to our kids. We’re trying, we’re fighting, and that deserves all of the praise and love it can get.
The Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit that raises awareness & provides peer support for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. To see some of the ways we provide moms support, visit http://postpartumprogress.org/community/.