The WhatIf Monster

I recently bought my son a book called Jonathan James and the WhatIf Monster written by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt. It came with a cute plush of the The Whatif (“what if”) Monster in the book. The monster is a symbol of our worries, fears and doubts that get stuck in our head.  

The “what-ifs” in life can get a little scary if we let them, and this book is a great read for kids. Turns out its a pretty great book for moms, too.  

Worries, fears, and doubts are all normal to some extent,  but if we don’t know how to deal with them, they have a sneaky way of taking over and stealing our joy.  This is my story of how I narrowly avoided becoming a Whatif “Mom-ster”.

The Best Little Worrier There Ever Was

As long as I can remember, I’ve been a serious worrier. Somewhere in my early twenties, I became aware that it wasn’t normal, and that it was starting to take its toll. I have jokingly referred to myself as the “best little worrier there ever was.” In all honesty, though, there’s nothing funny or cute about it. I could almost tell my life story in a series of what-if statements. Here’s just a sampling – 

What if I never {insert life goal}?
What if I have {insert fatal condition}?
What if I faint and get into a wreck?
What if I have a brain tumor?
What if I go crazy?
What if I’m making a huge mistake?
What if no one likes me?
What if I have a heart attack on this airplane and they have to land it and everyone will hate me?


These two words nearly ate me alive. Sometimes they were fleeting, sometimes they sent me into sheer panic attack mode, and sometimes they just lingered in the back of my mind and chipped away at my perceived diminishing sanity.  

None of these things really ever happened. Except for fainting — once. The fact that one of my what ifs came true really didn’t bode well for my anxiety at this time in my life. It almost sent me into a tailspin.  I became obsessively terrified that it was going to happen again. It was full blown anxiety with a side of occasional panic attacks. Super fun.  The worrying and what-iffing was taking over and I knew something had to be done about it.  So after a solid couple years of misery, I did the only thing I could think of to do.  

Talk, Talk, and Talk Some More

I started talking.  I reconnected with my therapist, I opened up, and I started to breathe.  There is 1000% no substitute for talk therapy.  I could not recommend it more.  After a few months, I, for the most part, felt like I had a handle on the worrying.  It, at the very least, didn’t feel nearly as debilitating.  I was a high-functioning what-iffer and I learned to not give these worries too much credit.  The logical part of my brain was in control and I felt good. 

And then I got pregnant.  


This little what-if snuck itself inside my veins and camped out. It morphed and grew into something kinda ugly. 

What if I lose this baby and I never get over it?  
What if the sadness is too much?  
Or worse…

What if I lose this baby and I’m ok with it? Like what if I’m actually relieved because subconsciously I don’t even want kids because I’m a heartless person who would make a terrible mother anyways?!? (<—  yep I actually considered this craziness). 

And then I did. I did have a miscarriage. And I was broken. I was devastated beyond belief.  The sadness I felt was more than anything I could have imagined. I lived in that sadness and grief for quite a while. 

To make things even worse, yet another one of my what-ifs had come true. And it was a biggie.  So what if they all came true? Here I went, down this road again. If there was a gold medal for worrying, I was Michael Phelps.  

What if I get pregnant again and have a miscarriage again?  
What if I keep having more miscarriages and the grief just consumes me?
What if I can’t ever have kids?
What if I’m never happy again?

And then I did. I got pregnant again. The worries and the what-ifs seemed to be too much.  It was non-stop.  I couldn’t breathe. 

What if something is wrong with the baby?
What if I deliver too early?
What if I just. can’t. handle it?

I literally thought to myself once… “What if I worry too much and like…die of worrying?”  Is that even a THING?!  To my knowledge, no, you can’t actually die of worrying. But all this stress was obviously not healthy for me or the baby. The fact that I was now worried about how much I was worrying was where I drew the line.

Set Them Free. 

I knew that worrying was a normal part of motherhood to some extent. But this was far beyond normal. At this moment, somewhere early in my second pregnancy, I felt as though I was standing at some sort of a crossroads. I was either going to get a conscious handle on this anxiety once and for all, or I was going to go down the darker path with a one-way ticket to crazy town.   

I chose to fight and I chose to overcome. Crazy town was not my final destination. Not today. Not in this lifetime.  

So once again, I chose to keep talking about it. My therapist, my husband, my sister, my family, my OB, my friends. Anyone and everyone. I just kept talking and then I talked some more. Talk therapy isn’t the fastest solution, but I wholeheartedly believe it is the only one that sticks for good.  

Here’s what I realized that changed everything: If I talked about these worries and what-ifs, it was like they were set free.  Even the really ugly and embarrassing ones. If I just let them out of the cage, they would go on their merry way. Sure, they’d pop back in from time to time to say hi and rear their ugly head.  But they didn’t live here anymore. Talking about them SET THEM FREE. And it set me free.  

These little monsters that once had their claws sunk in deep do not control my mama self anymore. 


In addition to talking about them, I set a couple more rules for myself that really help me keep it all in check.  One of the biggest ones is that I don’t allow myself to google.  For the love of google – if you are expecting a baby or have a new baby and there is even the smallest shred of a concern about something, DON’T GOOGLE IT.  Please just don’t, mama.  I told myself that if I had a legitimate concern, I’d ask my OB.  If her explanation wasn’t enough and I needed more, I’d ask her to send me more information.  And that’s where I drew the line. I suppose if we had any major complications I’d have sought out a second opinion. 

I also used deep breathing, yoga, and essential oils for coping with panic and anxiety in the moment.  Fortunately, apart from some high blood pressure (no doubt worrying-induced), my pregnancy went pretty smooth.  

The WhatIf Mom-ster?

In November of 2013, my first born, my son Lochlan entered the world and made me a mom. And yep, you guessed it. Between hormones, lack of sleep and a whole new life that I was now responsible for, a whole new litter of worry monsters tried to move in.  The worries and the questions that come with a new baby are legit.  I know I’m not alone in that. But I stuck to my rules and I kept talking.   

To this day, I still acknowledge all the what-ifs that come to mind.  Of course, I still worry about some things, but I’m actually surprised with how many things I DON’T worry about.  I’m not even sure I classify as a helicopter mom anymore! 

We have our daughter, Isla, now too. A whole new kid brings a whole new set of worries. But here’s the really great thing: The more I practice dealing with this anxiety, these little monsters, the better I get at keeping them away to begin with.  They rarely get as big or as scary as they used to.  I’m actually not a WhatIf Mom-ster. I’m living, breathing, proof that you can overcome that fearful way of life.  I no doubt will have to fine-tune and continue to work at it over the course of my life, but it does not and will not control me.  

So when my kids have monsters of their own, we will talk, we will read, and we will set those little monsters free.  

A page in the book reads: 

“‘Now wait just a minute! I have something to say, after hearing what ifs all through the day.  I hear all your worries; I hear all your claims. But what if you’re wrong?’ asks Jonathan James.”



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