In July 2015, I gave birth to my baby girl. According to the doctor, she already had her eyes wide open as I pushed her out of me, she was already observing her new surroundings. When the umbilical cord was cut, she gave the midwife a mischievous look. I remember the midwife saying, “She looks like she’s going to be a real handful”. And guess what, she is. She’s my beautiful, cheeky little handful. She’s my everything.
So far, motherhood has been wonderful and exhausting. It has drastically affected me physically and emotionally; through the post-pregnancy body changes, unconditional love, and demands on my time and energy. I’ve been pushed to my limits with few chances to rest and recharge. But it’s all worth it.
However, as I’m still recovering from borderline personality disorder, motherhood has in some ways been extra challenging. I’ve only had 3 nights of solid sleep over the past 18 months, and that has put a strain on my already low tolerance for emotional distress. I cannot afford to have any emotional outbursts, I cannot afford to lose control of my BPD symptoms. If I do, I risk emotionally harming my child. That’s one of the sad truths about being a mother with borderline personality disorder. You have to be careful when you’re around your child, you have to fight hard to remain warm, loving and emotionally available. The other sad truth is that your child is already at risk of developing BPD through genetics. It’s unbearable to face the fact that they could one day suffer the same emotional torment that you do, no matter how good a mother you are.
In order to stay in control of my BPD symptoms, I try to keep stress to a minimum. It’s difficult, as the duties that come with motherhood relentlessly test your ability to handle stress, but it’s not impossible. There’s a number of things you can do to relieve the pressure.
1. Rest and relax when you can.
When my daughter has a nap, I use that time to rest or relax. Sometimes I’ll have a nap with her, sometimes I’ll have a warm bath. The cleaning and other household chores can wait. If I’m not well rested and relaxed (well as much as I can be), I find myself rather irritable and prone to having emotional outbursts.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It’s okay to ask for help. Since my family lives in England and my S.O.’s family lives on the other side of Germany, my support system is limited. My S.O. is the only person I can turn to when I struggle to keep my BPD symptoms under control. But by asking him to take over, I can take the time I need to cool down before I return to mothering my daughter.
3. Stick to a routine.
It took me a while to establish a daily routine, but after I did, it made motherhood a little easier. I’ve been able to get more things done by allocating specific times of day for bath time, mother-daughter bonding, play time etc. My daughter recognises the routine. She knows what to expect at certain times of day, like when it’s time for her to play independently so I can get some work done.
4.Learn to manage stress.
I’m self-aware in the sense that I recognise my emotions and how they affect my behaviour. When I feel like I’m starting to lose control, I immediately stop what I’m doing and breathe. I slowly take deep breaths until I start to calm down. Then I think about what caused me to start losing control, what made me feel so stressed. By identifying the problem, I’m able to recognise it in the future and keep calm through my understanding.
5. Stay on track with your recovery from BPD.
Since being a mother is a full time job, it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself, your mental health. I remind myself every day that my daughter needs me at my best, to ensure I don’t lose focus and stay motivated to recover from BPD. As I progress with my recovery, the pressure that comes with motherhood becomes easier to handle.
Although relieving the pressure makes mothering easier and reduces the risk of you emotionally harming your child, they are still at risk of inheriting BPD. That factor is out of your control. But there is something you can do that will have a positive impact on their wellbeing, something that will allow them to cope with having BPD if they do develop it. You can teach them the skills you are learning to recover from borderline personality disorder.
The skills of dialectial behaviour therapy (DBT) are based on emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is something that you learn as you grow up. Us borderlines never emotionally developed, we never learnt the skills of emotional intelligence. By teaching your child these skills, you’re giving them the tools they need to understand their feelings and behaviour, as well as those of others. Application of this knowledge will allow them to regulate their emotions in a healthy manner in all circumstances.
Within a year or so, I plan on teaching my daughter these skills. When she starts to express herself through words, I’ll validate her emotions. I’ll do what ever I can to make sure she grows up happy and healthy. My mental illness will not hinder my ability to be a good mother.