Written By: Alicia Wagner
I had it all figured out. I was going to have my first child, rock her endlessly, read her all the Llama Llama baby books in the series, and then get back out there after maternity leave. That’s not what happened, though. I know . . . shocker. In fact, where’s the chapter in that expecting book that acknowledges what you are supposed to do when everything starts to fall apart?
Like processing the miscarriage I had three months before getting pregnant again or the health issues that came from caring for a child with a vaccine injury who developed PANS (Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome). All of those emotions were just going to go away as I built my career and started my family? I sure was hoping so.
I spent enough money out-of-pocket on therapy and life coaching to proudly call my childhood and twenties my past. However, what I didn’t know back then before kids, was that it was only peeling back the layers of trauma I had already experienced, not the ones yet to come.
What many of us aren’t prepared for or talking about these days? The trauma we are going through as women in America, right now. Because what we’re calling motherhood, is in fact, traumatic for so many the way we’re currently doing it (especially for black and brown mamas who can have even greater barriers).
Say it with me, “I’m not crazy, the way we’re doing motherhood is crazy.”
Glad we got that out of the way. We can’t keep saying we need more women at the table or out here building new ones when so many women can barely even get off the couch at the moment, and for good reason. We’re trying to do life, marriage, parenting, and work . . . traumatized.
Women are carrying the ridiculous weight and emotional toll of multiple broken systems and our health and well-being are paying the price. “All is well here,” is the modern-day version of believing the Earth is flat. So why do we keep trying to advance as a gender by stuffing our needs even further down and getting there by morphing ourselves into a version of motherhood that is no longer working for us? Great question, let’s stop doing that, because not only is it not working, it’s killing us and our kids . . . literally.
The unfathomable infant and maternal mortality rates (especially for women and children of color) clearly speak to the issue. Women and children are dying, and as my friend Erin Gallagher likes to say, “No one is coming to save us.”
Our generation is not only dealing with a staggering number of chronically ill kids, but we’re also dealing with aging parents at the same time. Yet workplaces stay the same, policies stay the same, school systems stay the same, and our healthcare system altogether stays the same. One of my favorite quotes is, “Change with the times or die with them,” and unfortunately, women and children are doing just that, but the real conundrum? We’re allowing it to continue.
When we understand that roughly two-thirds of the entire human population has experienced trauma, we can begin to understand why things are the way they are. Most of our current leadership is male dominated and many at the helm are operating out of fear because they, too, have experienced it along the way. Much of their value sits squarely in their titles and in their ability to keep and use power—not help people—but protect themselves from losing the only thing that keeps them feeling safe, control.
However, it’s hard for women to create new systems when so many are out here drowning, fighting the choppy current that already exists day to day. It makes sense why women are two times more likely to be on an antidepressant compared to a man. Women go back to work way too soon after birthing babies, are expected to bounce back like nothing happened, and then wrestle through life fitting a square peg in a round hole. Women are exhausted and immediately set up for failure in the workplace the minute they birth a child in the United States . . . that’s if they’re lucky enough to survive it.
That new trauma we’re feeling in real time in motherhood is bumping right up against any old trauma we may have experienced and it’s creating tension, anxiety, depression, stress, burnout, and a whole host of other conditions. As physician and author Bessel van der Kolk says, ”The Body Keeps The Score.” If you have endured trauma, your body doesn’t know the difference between the old stuff and the new stuff when it shows up. This was a sense of relief for me when I learned why I couldn’t just turn the sail and start moving my mental health in the direction I wanted it to go. My mind, body, and soul needed help to get there, it’s likely some of you do, too.
It can feel even harder as more trauma piles on as issues go unaddressed like school shootings, a drug crisis, and suicide as the second leading cause of death in our kids aged 10 - 24 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Knowing women experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) at two to three times the rate that men do, it tracks why women today feel like they can barely hold it together with all that is going on in their own lives, let alone all that is going on around them and impacting the lives of their children.
It’s “mama trauma” any way you slice it, and we need to wake up to the fact it’s happening and that we have the power to do something about it. We need to recognize due to today’s expectations and derailed systems, that many moms are stuck in the trifecta of shame, blame, and guilt and feel paralyzed to even make it through the day they currently find themselves in, let alone think about a better one ahead.
The brain considers information around us all the time and responds accordingly with “logical” next steps. If the sensory information is “threatening” (like a toxic boss, workplace, home, or society) then the brain directs the information to a part of the brain where a flood of stress chemicals are released creating action. In this moment, the brain reacts based on previously stored patterns. It’s why so many people can’t just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and move forward (let’s make sure leadership gets that memo ASAP).
Electing more women who understand and execute DEIAB efforts in government at all levels should be priority number one. Women in local seats are the pipeline to greater long-term change, let’s get them there, and let’s get out to vote for them this November.
Second, we need to slow down to speed up, with each of us taking our own inventory of what is playing out in our lives. That reflection inward will create the right GPS coordinates to move onward. “Do I need help? Am I stuck? Do I have unprocessed trauma? Is my health OK? Am I in current trauma? Should I really be at this job? Do I need help becoming the parent I want to be? What does success even look like to me these days?”
You may need a good therapist to help you process old trauma or learn more productive coping strategies as you navigate current trauma. You may need a good life coach to help you make sense of your story and provide clarity around post-traumatic growth and the next steps to help you get there. When we do get there, individually, it provides a collective step for others to climb and find their way when they feel like they can’t, because “together we rise.”
Our systems are ready to be transformed; they are ready for us to wake up, break, and recreate them with the other half of the population in mind. It’s time for our generation to turn the page on accepting “mama trauma” as the American standard and rewrite chapters that include a bold cast of characters who are ready to heal, find their strength, and create a brighter future for all ahead.
Meet the Author
Alicia Wagner, CPCC, TICC, MHFA Alicia Wagner is the Founder of The Joss District, a care navigation firm committed to “Landing the Mothership In the Real World” for women and children. Alicia is a certified professional coach, specializing in trauma-informed care. She is also certified in youth/adult mental health first aid and is currently obtaining her health coach training from Epidemic Answers, addressing the needs of families with children affected by the “new childhood epidemics.”If you need a safe space to land where you can reimagine life, marriage, family, care, and a career on your terms . . . Welcome to The Joss District.