Thursday, June 11, 2009

Guest Post: How Do You Conquer Fear?

Today's blogger, Amy Rauch Neilson, is another writer I met during the May blogathon. Although we'd never met before, we're connected on a genetic level: Amy and I are both carriers of genetic mutations known as the "breast cancer genes."

On a happier note, we're also both moms of boys. Today, Amy blogs about an universal concern.

In some ways, women in the new Millenium have the best of both worlds – the option to choose both motherhood and a career. And for that, I am very grateful to the women who came before me, who fought for the opportunities that have woven themselves so beautifully into our modern lives.

Or have they?

I’m the mother of a three-year-old boy, Theodore. We call him Theo for short. Theodore is not only named after my late father – one amazing man – but the name means “gift of God.” It was perfect in both regards for our new little one.

When Theo was six months old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor’s initial diagnosis was Stage 3 – with five years or less to live. My husband and I lived in complete terror for six very long weeks, believing that the diagnosis was correct – until, thank God, further testing showed that I was not a Stage 3, but a Stage 1 – with a 99 percent chance of full recovery. But even with that sunny prognosis, I find myself battling with fear and separation anxiety when it comes to my son. So, this is my question:

How do you conquer fear?

I know that even if I hadn’t faced a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment such a short time after Theo’s birth, that there would still be anxiety. Perhaps not with such intensity. But I know myself. It would still be there.

I want to be two places at once. I love what I do – I’m a freelance writer and editor. I also blog on the topic of genetic breast cancer ( And, I’m putting the finishing touches on a memoir – A Matter of Life or Breasts – the story of the four generations of women in my family who have been identified as carriers of the BRCA 1 (Breast Cancer) gene.

And even if I didn’t love what I do – I’d still need to do it, as my financial contribution to our household isn’t optional at this point.

But, the other part of me wants to be with Theo – all the time. My cousin – the mother of three and an incredibly wise woman – says if I do that, I’ll smother him. And I know she’s right. So, I don’t. But it doesn’t stop me from wanting to.

I’m an incredibly lucky woman. The type of work I do not only allows me to keep a less-than-full-time schedule, but it gives me lots of flexibility. So, in my busiest months, Theo is away from me three full days a week – but we have one-on-one time every Tuesday and Thursday, plus as a family on the weekends.

That’s a lot of “together” time. Yet, I sometimes still wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Will studies published a decade from now determine that the true-blue stay-at-home mom is best when it comes to raising children? Would it be better for him if I was home with him all the time? Or is a little time apart good for both of us? In the moments when I’m filled with the greatest uncertainty, I hear Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s voice echoing in my head – telling her millions of listeners that, hands down, mothers should stay home with their children ‘til their first day of Kindergarten.

My shrink recently offered me this advice: “You can’t live in his skin,” she said. “You’ve got to let him have his own life experiences.”

I know that to be true. And I think that it will get easier as he gets older and I see him as needing me less. At least, I think that will be the case – I won’t truly know ‘til I get there.

But in the meantime, I’m at this crossroads. And though I try to deal with fear and separation anxiety in a rational, reasonable way, it’s not easy.

Are there any other mothers out there who feel this constant tug – this strong desire to be two places at once, who wish they were two people instead of just one? If so, how do you deal with it? And what’s your take on working vs. being a stay-at-home Mom?


  1. This is something incredibly personal and no two woman can or should respond in the same way. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36, at the time, I had 2 small boys, ages 4 and 5 (my mother was diagnosed with stage 3 when she was 38, so I had been getting mammograms and the whole shabang for over 6 years). I stopped working while in treatment, but as soon as my fatigue let up, I went back to work. At the time, I strongly believed the boys benefited from time with others. But time goes on, we meet other women who really do have stage 3 and we go to funerals. My kids looked at me and said, we don't want to go to school, we want to stay home, and I put it all aside for them. We are a full 12 months in to full-time togetherness, and life is good. They are 7 and 9 now, and everyday I see how independent they are becoming. I read about Michelle Obama and think she is so right on. Although we are in our 40's, we have so many years ahead of us to do our jobs and fulfill our career goals. I am not torn, because I don't really believe I have given anything up. But of course, I absolutely acknowledge that we are all individuals capable of making our own story.

    Peace to you, as you find your way.

  2. Wow, Andrea. I'd read on your blog that you're a cancer survivor, but I had no idea how the whole story came together. Incredible.

    Thanks for sharing.