When Motherhood is Traumatic (You're not crazy and you're not alone) - Sarah Mae
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When Motherhood is Traumatic (You’re not crazy and you’re not alone)

Recently I was asked if I would watch a friends kiddos for a half a day plus an over night – an 11 year old, 9 year old, 7 year old, 3 year old, and a one year old. Plus my kids.

I thought back to my desperate days and told them I would do it. I knew they needed a break. But after saying yes I began feeling extreme anxiety. It crept up my shoulders and latched into my heart and all I could think about is how much I was dreading watching all their kids plus mine plus an overnight.


Why was I so fearful and anxious about helping my friend? What was wrong with me? I kept thinking, I’m so stupid, this is silly, people watch kids all the time and don’t panic about it! I’m just being ridiculous.

As I went to bed with all this on my mind, I asked the Lord to untangle my anxiety and help me understand my physical reaction to the upcoming situation. And as I thought and prayed, the Lord spoke to my spirit and I remembered.

I immediately was back to the days when I had two toddlers and a baby and felt so alone. I was desperate for a break, for some help, for something and I didn’t think I could face my days. I was jealous of others who had a mom to help them. I was envious of people who had help period. I felt like I was drowning and I didn’t know how to catch my breath.

Perhaps I had some postpartum stuff going on, I don’t know, maybe I’m just prone to depression and anxiety, but there were days I didn’t think I was going to make it.

Yet, here I am. I’m through those desperate days and I’m delighting in my children. But it’s interesting to me that just knowing I was going to be back with a toddler and a baby plus other kids, alone, overnight, triggered all my anxiety. I mean I physically felt it. Is there such thing as post traumatic stress disorder for those who had babies and toddlers? I’m thinking yes, because I can’t explain the fear and stress one babysitting job gave me. I’ll tell you what I do know: mothering can be traumatic.

Just recently I received an email from a mom who is carrying the weight of guilt that she is failing her kids because she is so overwhelmed. Here’s a portion:

I feel like I can barely keep my head above water most of the time. I am angry, short-tempered, anxious, depressed, and completely overwhelmed… I just find that I don’t even have the energy or willpower to love them, at least in ways that seem tangible to them, most days. How’s that for terrible? I just feel like I’m screwing them up for life. I don’t even know what to do…I’m feeling heartbroken and awful, but it seems like I feel this way every evening, and then the morning comes, and all the ugly and awful just starts all over again.”

These are the kinds of letters I get and they bring me to tears. Because I know how hard and lonely motherhood can be. I know how you can feel so boxed in and heavy and you’re scratching for a way out just so you can breathe and then you feel guilty all the while because you think you’re ruining your kids. It’s an awful burden to carry.

And as your sweet kiddos grow up (time will actually move on and they will grow up), you’ll be surprised at the triggers.

So for all the moms out there who are drowning, for all the moms who don’t know why they have anxiety around small children or RUN LIKE CRAZY when they are asked to watch the toddler room at church, I have some words for you.

First of all, you’re not crazy and you’re not a bad mom.

You are (or were) an overworked, legitimately exhausted woman who is caring for little people who are uncivilized. Yes, uncivilized sin-natured sweet-as-pie-but-also-crazy little people who don’t even have their brains formed yet. Cut yourself some slack in the guilt department unless you are abusing your children. If you are, you need to send out an SOS stat. Call someone. Tell your husband. Reach out to your doctor. GET HELP. If you’re not abusive but just feeling so overwhelmed and confused (you want these kids!) and depressed, CALL SOMEONE. Tell your husband. Reach out to your friends. Get out of the house (library, Fast food kids area, etc. – free or cheap). Read encouraging articles and books and blogs. I heard of a woman who kept her bible open on the counter just so she could get snippets in the throes of motherhood. TALK TO GOD. He hears your cry. And also, snuggle and kiss and smell their little heads because I promise you, they will grow up. And those sweet little feet that you kiss now will be so stinky there will be no kissing them.

I barely even remember her at this age! Oh but she’s so cute, my little Caroline!

Here’s another thing: You can face this. 

A counselor friend of mine told me that anxiety is believing that you can’t face reality, like it’s just too much. You can’t handle it. You won’t make it. You feel like you might die.

That is pretty much how I’ve felt as the approaching date for my babysitting loomed and that’s how many of you feel right now, like you just can’t do it.

But then she told me that you actually can face reality and you aren’t going to die. And that’s the truth: You can handle it. You will be okay. You’re going to make it. You have what it takes because God made you a mother, and when you don’t have it, He will help you.

One day at a time. Slow and steady. Deep breath.

My friend Amy says that when you get anxious feelings, don’t push them away, but listen to them for they are a window into the deeper parts of your heart. What is going on in there? Say to those feelings and anxious thoughts:

Come here.

I won’t push you away, I will get curious.

I won’t say my feelings are stupid, I will ask why I have them.

I will listen to the Lord and take into account my life and pay attention to what my body is telling me.

I will bring the truth to the light, honor it, and not stuff it.

I will not let my anxiety rule me. I will go forward in the truth.

How you are feeling as a mom is real and valid. Listen to it. And then wash your face (as a dear older woman once told me), and go forward.

And one more thing, tell your husband how you’re feeling. Tell him all of it. Tell him you’re drowning and need him to throw you a rope instead of you swimming harder. Work something out so you can get out or stay in while he takes his kiddos out for awhile. You’re in this together, so tell him your needs.

By the way, that babysitting job for my friends, it happened, and I was fine. I didn’t die.

We can do hard things, and we can keep on and we can know we aren’t alone.

Much love, Sarah Mae

P.S. I’m giving away THREE copies of my book Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe. And some chocolate, because moms need chocolate. Just leave a comment to enter. Share this post on FB so other moms can see it and let me know if your comment and I’ll enter you three more times. Just want to get the book and get with other women and read it? Get it HERE for under $10.




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  • Laura

    Thanks so much for this reminder. I’m just about 30 weeks pregnant with my 4th, and my oldest turns 5 in two weeks. Anxiety has crept into my life and started to take foothold last summer and it was AWFUL. Gut wrenching, spirit groaning AWFUL. I’m learning to ride the waves but oh boy, I’ve had some really rough times. (And oddly enough, my anxiety has manifested itself in my fears as dying and leaving my kids mom-less. Attack from Satan, likely! Postpardem stuff going on residually from 3rd baby? Wouldn’t doubt it. I’ve been reading desperate and love it. Thanks for sharing the tough stuff. ❤️

  • Thanh

    It’s crazy you just posted this because I just purchased the book on amazon! I was feeling a nudge to host a book study (maybe online) with other moms when I saw your Facebook post on it. Taking that as confirmation! Can’t wait to read it.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for your timely post. It helps to know I’m not alone.

  • Kendal Rich

    Ahh! This! So good! Thank you 🙂

  • Kandace Acord

    Thanks for such an honest depiction of motherhood. I have an almost 3 year old and a 2 month old and can feel the walls caving in some days! You just have to laugh/sometimes cry and keep going 🙂

  • Jennifer

    This explains almost to a “T” how I feel about my “motherhood” role. I’m a step-mom and it’s HARD. The kids aren’t young but this description “hits the nail on the head”. Somehow just knowing that helps me. Thank you!!

  • Emily

    This. So great. I have finally opened up to my husband about the real reason I don’t want to have another child and it’s fear. I love love love my 15 month old son. But I did not love the first 9.5 months (that’s how long it took for him to sleep through the night). Thank god for sleep and Mother’s Day out. I am finally aware that it’s fear and anxiety that is holding me back. I don’t want to go back to that lonely, sleepless place. Is that selfish? I don’t know? I’m working with the anxiety and fear. This post was so great to help me continue processing.

  • Kimberly Chapa

    Great read Sarah, I think we have all been there at one time or another especially through the terrible 2s stage ahhhh! Shared

  • Elaine Parr

    Thank you for being transparent. It encourages this momma of littles to know I am not alone in my journey of mothering. Bless you.

  • Beth Everson

    THANK YOU! I will be sharing this on my fb wall! I have been so overwhelmed and now we are expecting (surprise!) baby #3, I just feel like I can’t. Thank you for being transparent! You are such a huge source of encouragement!

  • Nicole Bruno Rueckel

    I totally understand that feeling. While my kids are slightly older I am now a single mom. My husband had an affair, which he started shortly after I received a cancer diagnosis. I now have my oldest birthed child, 19, his daughter from his first marriage, 21 and our two girls together, 9 and 7 all living with me. My sister died six months before catching my husband in his affair. Shortly after he moved out I shattered my elbow which required 3 surgeries. Among all that I watch 2 very little boys, 7 months and 2 1/2. There are days I don’t know how I’m going to go on one more second and then there’s God. Without Him I could do nothing but stay curled in a ball in bed. I’m sure I’ve messed up a thousand ways a thousand times, but I love my kids and I love those boys. I know I feel desperate often, but I pray somehow through all the stress they see how much I love Jesus and in turn how much I love them.
    Thank you for sharing what we all feel. I’d love to read your books one of these days.

  • Anonymous

    Yes! Thanks for this. With an angsty tween, a preschooler, and a baby, some days I feel I might lose my mind! 🙂

  • Emily

    Wish I could have read this a few years ago. Mine just turned 4,6,&8 (& a foster baby almost 11 months we’ve had since birth),& I remember all too well not knowing how to make it to bedtime. Daddy was a retail manager,& I was afraid to even leave the house. But we are here! We made it,& I miss them being little.
    Sharing on FB also!

  • Sarah Mackley Lamb

    Thank you. I needed to hear this. Not to try harder, but to honor my feelings, trust God, and ask for help when needed. I’m a mother of 7 and love them desperately, But struggle with guilt for feeling overwhelmed.

  • Liesl

    Wow…so much this. Thank you!

  • Jen C

    Great article! It sounds silly compared to other moms here who have more than I do, but I’m barely pregnant with my 3rd and I’m already stressing… Wondering what I was thinking… Why did I think I needed a 3rd? I have such a weak support system. I’m already drowning and I’m not even there yet
    …. Excited to win your new book and if I don’t, I’ll prob buy it.
    Thanks Sarah. I shared too!

  • Amanda Dingley

    This is exactly what I needed to read tonight. Thank you for writing this and sharing. I didn’t get to this point until just recently as I have two under two. I was a single mother for 10 years and got this way a few times, but nothing like I have felt recently. We have a 12.5 year old, 1.5 year old and two month old. This hit home. I will be sharing for my friends on FB too.

  • Lindsey Hayes

    We are 10 days out from baby 5’s arrival. My oldest will be 9 in April, my second to youngest refuses to sleep lately. Pregnancy was filled with depression and overwhelm and not wanting this new guy. I got through with the hope that hormones would level out and I would instantly bond as I have done with the others. It hasn’t been so easy. I’m faking it till I make it. Skin to skin ishelpful for my mood and his, but the overwhelm is still there and the feelings that I just really don’t want the added stress of one more to take care of. One more who is quite demanding of my time right now. Some days are good others are too much. This was encouraging and much needed during this stage of life. I have shared on facebook as well. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

  • Karissa Hall

    Awesome post!!! Would love to win but may just have to purchase it if I don’t! So know those feelings you described!

  • Maura Griesse

    So encouraging. Sweet reminders that we are ENOUGH and we ARE NOT crazy. Ladies, let’s bind those lies from Satan, in the name of JESUS. Amen.

  • Melissa

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. It feels great to know I’m not alone in those feelings, and everything said, couldn’t have been more exact! Absolutely what I needed to read right now. I’ve been so stressed lately that I feel like I haven’t been giving my full mom potential to my babies (9, 2.5, & 1.5) and it breaks my heart. Definitely sharing on FB.

  • Martha

    Sarah, thank you for this encouragement. Your posts this past week have been so perfect. When I feel alone and broken, only to open my email and see I’m not the only one feeling this way… well there just aren’t words for how encouraging that is. I’m sharing this on Facebook too – not just because of the contest but because more moms need to hear this.

  • Jen

    I shared on fb 🙂 My kiddos are 4 and 7 now, so I feel like my head is finally above water most of the time… but I have a friend who has wee ones, and she is struggling now, just like I did. I’m hoping to win your book for her!

  • Jennifer Doub

    Thank you for this post! I go through many of the same feelings and emotions while being a mom to five little ones! I love them dearly and sometimes you just need extra encouragement to keep on keepin’ on! Your blog has been a blessing and I’ve gotten a lot from your ministry! Thank you Sarah Mae!

  • Stacey Pirtle

    OH man did I ever need this post. My husband is active duty army and has been deployed since April 2016 and won’t be back till April 2017. We have four kiddos aged 9,7,5, and 4. And with no family that lives remotely close to me, I know these feelings all to well. I don’t feel like myself. I feel crazy. And definitely alone. Thank you so much for your inspiring post. It was much needed to give me a little kick and inspiration today.

  • Lauren

    This! This is exactly what I needed to hear! The part that another mom wrote to you, I could have written those exact words! (I’ve even thought about emailing you!) It’s a tough season we’re in and I definitely feel like I’m drowning in all of the chaos. Thank you so much for this, I’ll definitely be sharing this after this comment! ♡

  • Abby

    “…Anxiety is believing that you can’t face reality, like it’s just too much. You can’t handle it. You won’t make it. You feel like you might die.” Exactly. Spot. On. Scheduled to be induced in two days with my fourth child…first daughter. Scared to death. But… “you actually can face reality and you aren’t going to die. And that’s the truth: You can handle it. You will be okay. You’re going to make it. You have what it takes because God made you a mother, and when you don’t have it, He will help you.” Exactly the words I needed to hear. Thank you soooo much.

  • Thankful Farm

    Thank you…I needed to hear this today. In the trenches with 4 under 8, and feeling old at 40.
    I love my children, but I never wanted to be “this” mom…I want better for them. I want better for me. I want to be the joy, my husband met before all the stress and strain.
    So I pray, and continue to try everyday…

  • Amy

    Wow! Being a “trauma mama” of older kids has also had the same effect on me as my bio littles did! Would love to read this book! Thanks for your honesty and encouragement!
    God bless!

  • michelle

    Thank you for the encouragement. I definitely need the book as I have 3 under 4 years old.

    • http://www.mylittlebitoflife.com Carolynn

      Been there! Keep going. Somedays food, hugs & diaper changes are all they need.

  • Megan Phennicie

    This is so encouraging to me. I spent the first 2 years of my youngest child’s life completely alone. My husband was working 2 jobs and going to school full time. I lived hours away from my mom and his family was of no help. They were quite the opposite, actually. Now, we’re in a better spot but I still feel overwhelmed and like I’m failing them. I’m in school now and so are they. I feel like I’m dropping so many balls with the housework and homework (mine and theirs). I thought that I was pregnant not long ago and I actually referred to it as a scare because that’s how I felt, terrified. That’s terrible, I know. I just don’t think that I could mentally handle it right now.

  • Sara

    Oh my gosh. I read Desperate first when my second baby was three months old…my rainbow baby after three losses, and she was actually kind of a terrible baby…and it was so life-giving. Then again when I had my fourth baby in five and a half years…it felt like this stage would never end. Now #4 is almost 2 and I feel like I’m getting my head above water. I’d love to win this book and give it away to a friend who is in that stage I was in the first time I read it!

  • http://www.mylittlebitoflife.com Carolynn

    I’ve wanted this book since before it came out! I know the feeling of drowning! I have 5 kids, the first four were REALLY close together. I shared this on my blog FB page.

  • Erica Mustian

    Everything about this post is so true. I went through a time when I couldn’t even get out of bed much less deal with the kids and my husband. I wanted to run away and hide and never come back. And as we anxiously await the birth of our third baby, I feel these thoughts and anxieties creeping back inl

  • Sarah Hegel

    Perfect read for a Wednesday morning! Thank you!! I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt like this, and dropping my 4 year old off at daycare makes me feel it again sometimes. Craziness! Thanks for the giveaway!

  • Jaimie

    I only have one baby (outside the womb; number two coming in May!) but he’s almost 15 months old and sometimes the whining/fussing gets to me! I had to put myself in time-out the other evening because I didn’t want to yell. I am blessed with nearby family and friends, but motherhood is still really hard some days. Thank you SO much for this. Shared on Facebook; I hope my mama friends are blessed by this too!

  • Laura

    This. I needed to read this today. I have 5 babes, all under 8 years old, the youngest being 4 months. And we just moved. And I homeschool. My husband travels for work and my dad is battling cancer. Tired. Stressed. Worn-out. A fellow mama of 6 was just telling me of this book. I would love to read it!

  • Caryn

    I needed this!!! I’m a step-mom to 5 (3 of those are teenagers; talk about anxiety!!!!), And one of my own who’s a year and a half plus I’m 5 months pregnant. I’ve really been struggling with depression, and needed this little pick me up!!

  • Corena Hall

    Sarah thank you for being transparent.I have a 16 year old with a chronic life threatening medical condition and that developed at age 13 out of the blue. My mothers heart has been anxious since the day she was born. I lost my own mother when I was 9 and my inlaws though very kind and helpful tended to be critical of all the inlaws and lived too far away and were and would prefer to not be supportive. Unfortunately I had witnessed both my parents dying and post partum depression and PTSD hit. I was not part of a church where women cared to be hands on helpful. I was spoken down to and felt judged.
    I am grateful you encourage moms even me. I rely on God above because there are times when I need to be loved and supported. I have almost lost my child twice. It has changed our lives completely but yet I know God is good always and truly feel He is in control.
    I have commented on FB as well. Thank you and I would read your book and share it with other moms who have battles of their own. I know it will help even us with teens or young adults. Thank you Happy New year and God bless

  • Carrie

    OY!! I dont even have little little ones anymore! I have 4 boys ages 12, 11, 9 and 6… and this still totally describes me. It all oozed out the other night actually, to my husband. I didn’t explode… i was a sobbing, difficult to breathe, hard to spit out the necessary words that I promised myself not to sugar coat, DISASTEROUS MESS! A serious mess! Thank you for the encouragement!

  • http://www.thepurposefulwife.com/ Rachel O’Neill

    My three are all 5 and under right now… and for those crazy days, I am so glad to know that its not just me <3. Umm, chocolate?? Yes please :). Thank you Sarah Mae!

  • http://www.thepurposefulwife.com/ Rachel O’Neill

    Oh, and shared it :).

  • http://www.j2burk.blogspot.com j2burk

    Thank you for sharing this!

  • Kate Cannon

    Oh my this is me and I have teenagers. I still feel like I am going to mess them up and my life is still crazy.

  • Kate Cannon

    I share this on FB with my Ladies’ Group

  • Dana

    I have been there! Sometimes I worry I might circle back there since my children are young and we are waiting to see if the good Lord should see fit to bless us with more. I hang on to scripture (2 Corinthians 12:9) and have found a Christian mentor, thanks to the advise of you and Sally Clarkson.
    Thank you for sharing!

  • Shawnnelle Hazard

    Sharing in my mom groups, this is me these days.

  • Melissa Blanton

    Thank you for writing this. It’s just what I needed this morning as my whole family is sick in the midst of trying to close on a house, and I am feeling overwhelmed!

  • rebecca childers

    i prayed my whole life for lots of children and didnt think it would ever happen. i adopted my oldest child when she was 13 and i was 28 and then when i was 33 i gave birth, now here i am 48 years old with 11 kids (only 9 still live at home). i have my hearts desire, the very thing i begged God to give me and now….i just want to breathe! oh the guilt of asking, recieving, and then wanting to take a week long timeout!! i needed this and love your posts and i really hope i win your book and the chocolate because the world always needs more chocolate!! lol

  • JoyM

    I am feeling so desperate today. I so need that book. Homeschooling Mom of 3 living on the road in an RV this year. Choosing to believe this is only a short season.

  • Courtney

    Saw this share from a friend on facebook of which I normally do not EVER get on. So glad I caught it! Just had #4 in October and homeschooling my oldest at 7. Postpartum with several who were also SUPER colicky with no extra help. So many low feelings and dark days, but also precious friends who answered the call for mental and emotional support help. Thank you for these encouraging words and the reminder that there is nothing wrong with us for feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

  • MinB

    I’m due with baby number 3 next week and have been so anxious about making it through another birth, dealing with a newborn, not sleeping, caring for my 2 and 4 year old, and maintaining our marriage. My father-in-law died right before Christmas unexpectedly – I don’t think we’ve even begun to process that amidst a hard pregnancy, sickness, holidays, traveling, and two demanding littles. Thanks for your words today. I have a picture by my bed that says : DARE GREATLY and DO HARD THINGS (from Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly). Raising littles is hard work and takes a whole lot of bravery and grace and Jesus!

  • Kat

    What a breathe of fresh air…this is so spot on for my soul. We only have two with another on the way and I already feel like I am drowning. The thought of #3 can be completely terrifying if I think on it too long…Thank God He hears my cries and I can/will get through all this time with my littles

  • faith start

    So good to hear. Thank you for sharing, I shared on FB for all the other desperate moms.

  • Nicki

    Thanks for the encouragement!! I shared on FB for other desperate mamas.

  • tammy cordery

    Sometimes I thought that too but I had my parents and a job to go to.

  • http://www.justfootnotes.com kylie

    This book is on my to-read list this year!! Can’t wait, and so thankful for the encouragements that you shared, Sarah Mae, very timely and helpful. Thank you!!

  • Jessica Beery

    Ping…this hit home. <3 Thank you so much…today I was trying to figure out a plan for homeschooling our preschoolers (5, 4, 2, and due in April) and I was just. plain. overwhelmed. And crabby. And not satisfied with what I was trying to work with (schedule, family support, resources, etc.) – and before you know it, the kids wake up from their naptime and I feel like I bust out at the seams on them. 🙁

    Anyways – I would love a copy of the book and I shared this on my wall because i know of a few other mothers that could use some of these encouraging words right now.

  • lacemmr

    Needed to hear this!! Thanks!

  • Laurie Moll

    I have two foster toddlers that we’re about to adopt. They’re not just toddlers, they’ve been traumatized by their life events, so every “normal” toddler behavior is amplified by 100. I’m 47, old enough to be their grandmother, and have chronic pain. Most days I’m really happy that we’ve all survived until bedtime!

  • Becky S.

    Great article. So true. I’m a mom of 6 (50 years old now) and a Grammie of 8 (lots of littles!)! Wonderful. So blessed to have been mentored by Sally C’s books and conferences. But yeah, I had to laugh bc I do get scared at the thought of keeping them by myself and I think it’s like you said… it’s the memories of being in the trenches and alone, exhausted, and that feeling of “this will never end!” But it did end and I did survive. A lot of it is a blur haha! But I wish I could go back and do it over! Love this season of my life so much though and am sharing this especially to encourage my daughter and daughter-in-law!

  • Ashley

    I so needed this post and likely this book. Thankful for your words

  • Christina Murphy

    O boy do I need this. #2 is on the way and I feel like I’m totally crazy for doing this all over again. Sweet LO didn’t sleep through the night until 3 1/2 and after a half a year of enjoying that I’m preparing to have an infant…… totally sharing this as I know a few others who are crazy enough to be doing this all over again too

  • Victoria Wollf

    Shared on my facebook because I can’t be the only one who felt like you were writing straight to me

  • Michelle Watt

    I remember this feeling when I had 6 under 6. Now that they’re in their teens and 20’s, life is still crazy chaos some days, but I’m not as overwhelmed by fulfilling all their basic needs like it sometimes felt when they were younger. But I wouldn’t change those early years for anything. I cherish the memories we made together.

    *I shared on my FB also. Many moms could use a book like yours.

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