On a warm June morning, I typed at my laptop, sipped my iced latte and paused. The realization came unbidden: I couldn't remember the last time I had my period.
I kept working, but on my lunch break I moved as though on autopilot to the drugstore, where I bought a two-pack of pregnancy tests at the speed of light and prayed I wouldn't run into a co-worker in the checkout line.
I came back to the office and peed on the little stick in a stall of the first floor bathroom, the one that was nearly always empty. I waited a few minutes, idly scrolled through Instagram and thought about what to make for dinner that evening.
Then I stared at the faint pink plus sign, and sat down on the toilet.
I spent the rest of the day feeling slightly numb, like I had just heard life-changing news about somebody else—except, it was me. I couldn't connect the two dots. Me, pregnant? With a real, live baby?
I played around with the idea of not telling anyone, not even my husband, for a couple of days. Tests could be wrong, I told myself as I drove home. In a daze, I stopped at yet another drugstore, where I bought a Father's Day card.
I didn't know how to tell my husband the news—the news I couldn't process, the news that wasn't real to me—but part of me understood I would have to retell this part, this moment when we found out we would be parents. I wanted us to at least have a good story.
“Come home from work," I texted. I took another test. Still pink. Still happening.
Thirty minutes later he walked through the door. I handed him the card and he raised his eyebrows. “Uh, did I forget an anniversary or something?" He asked.
“No," I replied, and waited. I stood at the kitchen counter with my arms crossed. I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
He opened the card, and his eyes lingered on the handwritten “To be! (not kidding)" on the inside page. “No way…" His voice trailed off in a soft, shocked tone.
I handed him the two pregnancy tests, both positive.
“Yeah," I said.
How women are “supposed" to feel about pregnancy
Here's the thing: As an almost-married, heterosexual, middle-class woman at the ripe old age of almost 30, I was supposed to be stoked to be pregnant.
Except I wasn't.
I didn't really want a baby right then, nor did I experience undulated waves of joy about being a mother in the near future. But I didn't not want a baby, either.
I felt ambivalent, and I quickly learned that showing even the smallest sliver of uncertainty about the baby now on board in my uterus led to a double-edged societal sword—because for women, there's a strong, set narrative around female attitude and behavior when it comes to pregnancy and parenting.
The baby is now your main objective, your highest priority, your be-all and end-all, your source of passion and focus and interest.
Your entire existence now lives to serve that bustling bundle of joy; you must be on cloud nine 24/7, fully consumed with the idea of a child making your life “complete," ready to quit your day job and leave your hobbies behind to helicopter parent.
I viewed parenthood as something that would happen eventually, but not anytime soon. I loved to travel and drink whiskey and sip strong espresso and practice hot yoga and run 10Ks and curse (I still do!). Motherhood registered as a foreign event, something that happened to other, more grown-up, women: women who owned houses, who had zero student loan debt, who talked about baby fever. The concept of a child simply wasn't on my radar.
Part of me wanted to play the role of the dutiful pregnant woman. (What can I say? I'm a people pleaser at heart). I tried to remain open to unsolicited advice, eager to trade opinions about epidurals versus natural births, thrilled to discuss diaper brands.
I understood that the topic of pregnancy was considered low-hanging conversational fruit for women, just as the subjects of wedding planning and engagement tend to be, and I realized that most people meant well and brought it up as a show of interest and support.
I wanted the baby to be healthy, I tried to practice self-care whenever possible, and I hoped for the best. But my lack of interest in dissecting the details led to growing shame and guilt. Was I going to be a bad mom? Shouldn't I feel more, well, lucky? Shouldn't I be happier?
Mixed feelings are allowed
One day after a midwife appointment, worn down by anxiety and panic, I teared up as soon as I reached the parking lot and fumbled for my phone to call my mother.
“I hate being pregnant but I love the baby but I'm scared I'll suck at this and then I saw all the moms in the waiting room and everybody seems to know what they're doing except me and what if I'm terrible at it and I don't know if I want to breastfeed and I just want my body back and I miss wine and I'm sick of people asking me how I feel every second…" I rambled on.
“Whoa, honey," she replied.
I cried big, heavy sobs that took my breath away.
“You know," she said carefully. “It's okay if you weren't ready for all this."
And that's the thing: I wasn't ready.
I wasn't ready, and then we got pregnant, and then I had to figure out how to accept this new turn, the one for which I wasn't prepared.
No wonder I felt hesitant and scared about this unexpected change of events. And no wonder those emotions became even more pronounced as the pressure and expectations of how to be pregnant came bearing down at every turn.
Let go of all the “rules"
I'd love to say that some magical moment occurred during my pregnancy where I welcomed the concept of having a child, let go of all my vacillation about motherhood and instead looked forward to my due date with pure confidence and excitement. But that would be a lie. Instead, I had to do what I always do when it comes to change: Try to make peace with the journey.
First, I gave myself a giant permission slip to feel everything.
Instead of forcing down unwanted emotions, I let them all rush in on any given day: the sadness, gratitude, frustration, awe, confusion, excitement, grief, happiness, and longing. I invited each feeling to rise up to the surface of myself like a bubble blown from a wand, and then expand for as long as need be until each eventually popped and dissolved.
Second, I released the external expectations.
The expensive maternity clothes, the glowing demeanor, the stylish nursery, the chock-full registry, the “how to" books and articles, the right toys, and the heady rules about good and bad, right and wrong. I sought out role models, mamas with children who spoke openly about the difficulty of identity post-baby, who didn't seem to experience mass guilt and shame and anxiety about not being enraptured by pregnancy or motherhood, who refused to label themselves selfish for having a full sense of self and life in addition to their children.
Finally, when people asked how I felt, I told the truth instead of hiding behind the doors of 'should' and 'must' and 'always' and 'never.'
To my great surprise, many women and mothers responded by sharing their own authentic, vulnerable stories about struggling with these same issues. I wasn't alone. (I also killed the buzz during a lot of small talk efforts, but hey, connection comes at a cost.)
I cut myself some slack. I gave myself grace. And I felt immensely better almost immediately.
It's okay to be ambivalent, really.
Getting pregnant, having a baby, being a mom—these things weren't on my to-do list a year ago, and this next chapter of my life looks nothing how I anticipated. But that's okay. If anything, pregnancy taught me to better value and articulate the challenges of any significant life shift.
Too often, we're quick to dismiss other people's pain or discomfort during personal transitions; we want to point ahead to the shiny parts where everybody is in control and everyone says the right thing and everything looks good from the outside. I fall prey to that same inclination, but I've learned that it's more important to make space for, and to honor, the pain that can go hand-in-hand with big change.
So here's what I want to tell women, regardless of where they fall on the “Do I Want a Baby?" spectrum: It's okay if you don't know. It's okay if you are pregnant and you're not excited about it yet, or ever. It's okay if you hated being pregnant, but you love the end result—your child.
You're allowed to experience a wide spectrum of emotions when it comes to the profound prospect of bringing another human being into the world, whatever that may look like for you.
And when it comes to motherhood, you have permission to speak freely about your highs and lows, your joys and sorrows, your losses and lessons without fear of judgment that you're doing it wrong or should be doing it differently.
I can't wait to meet my baby and, in the same breath, I grieve the life I had before his or her arrival. Both truths will remain close to my heart as I let go of how I think my life should be, and instead embrace how it actually is.
Originally published by Julia Dellitt on theveerygirl.com.