What Mothers Fear Most: A Way To Peace
The doubts and fears go on and on, yet there is one fear that is pervasive and often more overwhelming than all the rest.
The mothers that I work with carry a number of fears; am I good enough? Can I raise another human being? Can I handle being a mother? Can I handle another child? The doubts and fears go on and on, yet there is one fear that is pervasive and often more overwhelming than all the rest. The fear of death.
It’s a taboo topic to discuss death, never mind discussing it after the birth of a child. Most mothers don’t even want to utter the word for fear it will somehow come true. Yet, often, it haunts mothers as they look down at this tiny being that they love more than any words could describe.
It’s not a fear that can be dismissed, it’s not always irrational, and it’s a fear NO ONE wants to talk about.
Many mothers say, “if my baby died, I die”. And it certainly seems that that would be the truth. After all, this tiny being seems to hold a piece of our soul. He or she is part of us… there would be no way to continue living without him or her.
And the second fear is, “What if I die? Then my baby will have to grow up without a mother.” Mothers know that there is no other relationship in life like that between mother and child. It is intimate and nurturing, we are the ones that brought these little ones into the world, we are the ones that sustain their lives as infants, and they continue to feel like a piece of our hearts; once on the inside, now on the outside.
Mothers often obsess over the damage it would do to their children if they were to die. They imagine their children going through life with an unfillable emptiness that could hinder them forever.
I can tell you that for the first years of my child’s life I was horrified by the possibility of her death or mine. As part of my postpartum anxiety, it had been a constant obsession. Visions of it would torture me, yet, nothing seemed to soothe the fear. I knew that it was possible; no one could tell me otherwise.
So what to do about this intense fear? It’s not a fear that can be dismissed, it’s not always irrational, and it’s a fear NO ONE wants to talk about.
Mothers very often identify themselves as just that… a mother.
There is no getting around that the fear of death is a spiritual issue. This is hard for many people because often, in the industrialized West, we believe in ourselves as the captain of our universe. Many people have a very difficult time believing in something beyond; a greater intelligence, a spiritual presence, a god, or anything of the like. Often, even if people do have beliefs they assign to, when it comes to death, it feels hollow.
Mothers very often identify themselves as just that… a mother. Your little baby is totally dependent on you. Life revolves around these new little ones and continues to, even as they grow. Many mothers say, “my kids always come first”, or, “I do everything for them”.
My kids come first too… but not in the way you may think.
One way of dealing with the fear of death is purpose.
I recently asked a client, who is a father of a large family, “what would be your purpose if your family wasn’t around anymore?” He couldn’t answer me. Many parents cannot. They might say, “I’d paint more” or “I’d spend more time at work” ... these are things you would do to fill your empty time. What would be your purpose?
My beautiful children are not my purpose. I love them all, step kids and biological kid alike. I do everything in my power to give them a positive and loving home. I would walk to the ends of the earth for them. But they are not my purpose.
What does any of this have to do with a mother’s fear of death? Everything.
Here’s what I mean by purpose: purpose is what we do, as an individual, that creates a sense of fulfillment and joy. I can hear every mother saying, “well, caring for my baby gives me fulfillment and joy”. Yes, it does for me as well. But what if that little life was no longer here? What if that source of fulfillment and joy was gone? What then?
Purpose cannot rely on any individual outside of you. It cannot be created by your partner, your children, your dogs or cats. Purpose usually has to do with serving the greater good of your community and the world and it continues on with or without your family.
What does any of this have to do with a mother’s fear of death? Everything. The fear of death is the fear that, if another person is gone, life will become meaningless and too painful to bear. This is very true if you have no purpose to keep living for. However, if you are connected to your purpose, the fear of death is no longer as intense because you know, with or without others, you have a reason to live, you will have inspiration, you will have fulfillment.
In no way do I minimize the impact of grief.
This can also comfort us around the thought of our own deaths. If it’s possible to live a meaningful life no matter what, then maybe your child would also be able to do just that; live a meaningful and fulfilling life with or without you.
In no way do I minimize the impact of grief. Grief will come if there is a death, with or without purpose. However, after time, living with grief will be more bearable if you have a reason to keep going. Living with grief could actually become meaningful, it may even become a part of life’s purpose.
The next very important question is how do I find my purpose? Okay, this is not an easy question to answer. There are steps you must take to begin uncovering your life’s purpose. These steps are necessary to regain connection to your inner guidance.
Listen. Listen. Listen.
The amazing thing is that your inner guidance never goes away. You are never disconnected from it. You are never going to lose it. And, most importantly, once you tune into it… it will never misguide you.
The very first step to take to finding connection with your inner guidance is very simple.
Listen. Listen. Listen. LISTEN ALL THE TIME. This is what I mean: you are walking into work and you look down at the ground. You notice a fast food cup thrown on the sidewalk. You hear a tiny little voice say, pick it up. But… you’re in a rush. Someone else will. You keep walking.
The rush of a busy life just muffled your inner guidance. It was your inner guidance that said, pick it up. Listening means, you hear a tiny little voice say, pick it up… and you listen and do as it asks. In a rush or not.
Your inner guidance does not discriminate by level of importance. It is just simply always working. Always.
How often through the day do you hear that tiny voice and ignore it? Pick that toy up off the floor… no, my husband will get it. Put that dish in the dishwasher… no, I will do it in the morning. Double check my purse to make sure I have my phone… no, I’m sure it’s in there. On and on and on. Later on, when someone trips on that toy on the floor, when that dish brakes in the sink, or your phone is at home snuggled under the coach, we kick ourselves… why didn’t I just listen?
Your inner guidance does not discriminate by level of importance. It is just simply always working. Always. It is working to guide you through the mundane day to day. It is working to guide you to your life’s purpose.
However, before it will be able to guide you to more profound, life changing answers, you first must learn how to listen to it. Once you practice this for a time, you will notice more and more connection to your intuition, this will open the door to following your inner guidance when it’s directing you towards your purpose.
This is just the beginning of discovering your purpose and easing your fears of life’s uncertainty.
Whether you want to consider this a spiritual journey or simply getting more in touch with the self, it doesn’t matter. Putting labels on it could be a great waste of time.
This may seem pointless in the face of your deepest fears. I can assure you, it’s not. Life is uncertain, which is why the fear of death is so profound. It’s reality. It’s inevitable. It’s unknown. What do we do in the face of such uncertainty? How do we find comfort?
A sense of meaningful direction allows us to feel more confident that we can find our way even through the hardest of hard times. There is assurance and security in knowing that there will be meaning in life no matter what happens.
This brings me to the end of this article, however, this is just the beginning of discovering your purpose and easing your fears of life’s uncertainty. There is more in my soon-to-come e-book “You Really Do Know the Way: A Guide to Peace with Fears of Death”.
Sarah is a psychotherapist and life coach. She specializes in anxiety, body image, eating disorders, and trauma. Sarah also works extensively with mothers around postpartum, perinatal and fertility issues, challenges related to motherhood and step parenting. If you're interested in working with Sarah, contact her for a free consultation.