I woke up abruptly, heart palpitating, eyes wet with tears, desperately trying to pull myself back to reality so I could go check on my son, asleep soundly in the room next to mine.
It was just a dream,I told myself, over and over again.
But it wasn’t “just a dream”. It was a nightmare. One of many that have troubled my mind ever since I started allowing a little piece of my soul to walk around outside of my body.
In the dream, my husband and I had taken our two-year-old swimming. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except, instead of a swimming pool, we found a murky pond; so dark it was like swimming in tar. And instead of holding him safely in our arms as we floated together, we just threw him in.
Yes. Threw. . . him. . . in. And lost him below the surface.
To anyone else, it may sound silly—irrational, even. But every time I think about that dream, those feelings come flooding back all over again.
The helplessness I felt diving beneath the surface, each time only to return with empty arms. Every second in my dream world dragging on like hours, knowing my child was stuck somewhere in the darkness below, longing for his mother.
I couldn’t save him. No matter how hard I tried.
The dream may not have been real, but the terror certainly was. And now, that senseless hallucination is something I carry with me. The damage invisible to everyone but myself.
Before becoming a mom, most of my nightmares were harmless. Missed deadlines, late for meetings, showing up at the office in my underwear. You get the gist. Sure, there was the occasional bad dream where something would happen to my husband or a loved one, but those were rare. Any terror my mind managed to make-up was just that: made-up. Easy enough to get over by simply turning on the light.
But motherhood isn’t just a state of being a woman enters into when she has a child. It’s a process that changes us from the inside out. Where pain, fear, and worry comes at us from all angles; real and imaginary.
It has introduced me to a type of joy I didn’t even know could exist. Seriously, how can that little boy’s smile alone feel like radiant sunshine beaming down on me? But every yin has a yang. And with the joy, I have also met the fear. The fear of not just losing something I love, but losing a piece of myself entirely.
It’s easy to delight in motherhood in the daytime. Watching my son play, hearing his giggles, hugging him tightly—it really is a dream come true. The tradeoff comes with the darkness. When my subconscious worries gain enough traction to overpower my sense of reason.
It’s something I rarely talk about, and I’m not sure why. Because I would bet my bottom dollar I am not alone. There are others out there, like me, who dread the night, not knowing what horrors their minds might create.
So I’m here to say: I see you, mama, carrying a burden on your shoulders that is unlike any other. The weight of your world and the worlds of your precious little ones always baring down upon you. I hope you know that at the end of the day it’s okay to lay those burdens down. I know I am going to try to do the same.
Take comfort in your faith, in your spouse, in your family. And know that no matter what fear the darkness brings tonight, tomorrow’s light will surely cast it out.
You are not alone.
Note: While infrequent postpartum nightmares are common, high anxiety, insomnia, and OCD tendencies that may accompany more frequent nightmares are not. If you or a loved one are suffering instead of thriving, please seek help.