“You need to be un-pregnant.” –L (Therapist)
“I do actually understand that I’m not pregnant.” –Me
“I know that. You’re not bonkers! You’re not psychotic. But you’re trying to control everything about this pregnancy before it even happens. No more books. No more researching car seats. You will have plenty of time to do that when there is an actual baby to prepare for.” –L
She wasn’t being mean or even harsh. She was pointing out that obsessing about a future pregnancy makes it awfully hard to live in the moment. You know what’s a really good way to get yourself really anxious? Thinking about the future all the time. You know what therapists have always told me to do to calm myself down? Find a way to focus on the present. Focus on the taste of a cup of tea. The air in my lungs during a walk. Obsessive thoughts about the future lead only to an overwhelming helpless feeling. After all, I cannot predict, let alone control all possible outcomes.
Often, I feel better about something as I gather more information about it. Case in point: my decision to stay on my medication. I read, talked, listened, read some more and eventually decided that taking the medicine posed few risks and offered many benefits. Done and done. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. But the more I learn, the better I feel.
So why has talking and reading about pregnancy made me more anxious? Should I be less anxious? Shouldn’t reading books about birth choices make me feel confident about giving birth? If I were truly anxious about the physical changes pregnancy might bring, learning about pregnancy might help me relax. I’m not scared of all that, though. I have a healthy fear of the real dangers pregnancy can pose. But I’m not anxious about it.
I am anxious about being a bad mother. I am afraid that I will choose my own well-being over my family’s. Because here’s the thing: I already have. I will take medication through pregnancy, through breastfeeding, because I don’t want to feel out-of-control anxiety and depression. I’m glad that taking meds poses relatively low risks to our hypothetical baby compared to the risks of having an anxious and depressed mother, but I’d be lying if I said that I’m taking them to keep my family safe. I want to feel good. I take them to feel not just ok, not just slightly better than suicidal; I want to feel good. I don’t think that’s selfish and have no guilt about it. Call me names, and I still won’t feel badly about it. So why am I anxious?
I’m afraid that it’s going to be a slippery slope. I’m afraid because when I was small, my own mother made some choices that hurt me; she put herself first because she had to. And you know what? It still hurts. Will I do that to my child? These are rhetorical questions. I know that I will be a good mom, and no matter how many times people tell me that I will be a good mom, I’m still afraid. The fear is not rational. It’s a shadow that lurks in darkest corners of my mind and feeds on “What if?”
I used to fear abandonment. I am now afraid that I will abandon.
No amount of reading is going to change that. No amount of talking will fix it. Until there is an actual child to worry about mothering, I can only do one thing to beat back the shadow: stop feeding it hypothetical failures. What if I find myself so depressed that I need to leave my baby and go to a hospital? Then that will happen. And we’ll all survive. But I have done everything that I can do. I will not sit and wait for disaster.
I am going to think of the next five or so months as the best and longest “babymoon” in history. We always intended to wait until March of next year. Until then, I am going to enjoy the heck out of my family as it is. I will avoid books on pregnancy, birth and parenting. I will be sewing and knitting baby stuff, because it gives me something to do with my hands and my therapist sanctioned these activities. I will sleep late, stay up late, enjoy a quiet house, watch too much TV, play video games, read books, leave the house in five minutes flat, spontaneously go to the movies and wear impractical shoes while going on dates with my husband. And other activities parents tell me they now perceive as luxuries.