Beyond the Egg Timer

An insider's guide to having children in your thirties and forties.

Stressful Preconceptions

What if you’re more anxious than happy over a planned pregnancy?

We recently got a really thoughtful comment on our blog. It touches on a lot of issues, but here’s an excerpt:

I am 34 and just recently found out that I'm pregnant after being married 5+ years. I only recently made a decision to stop birth control to allow for that to happen, and it didn't take long after that to conceive…I've always known that I want to someday be a mom…but I came to the decision (to stop contraception) very reluctantly because I have a lot of mixed feelings about it, which is why I put it off as long as I did. Something to do with the fact that although I love kids, I'm not really a baby person. They say it's different when they're yours, and I hope it proves true. But I still haven't told very many people about the pregnancy, and to be honest I am dreading it because of the expectation that I ought to be overjoyed and ecstatic about it. It makes me feel guilty that I don't feel those things, at least not yet. I know I can't be the only one out there who struggles with these things. Not every woman in the world, even those who want to experience motherhood, goes to mush over the thought of an infant. For me…it takes a 4 year old to do that…and that's a long time away!!

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What she is experiencing is quite normal and common, although not often discussed because it is a taboo for mothers to talk about this after their children are born. One reason is that they do not want their children to feel unwanted. Another is that mothers’ feelings change after the birth, and they forget how uncertain they were beforehand. 

One of the women we interviewed for our book, Colleen, had similar reservations. She shared this anecdote:

One of my older relatives at one point said to me, “Never trust a man who doesn’t like children, dogs and old people.” And I remember saying, “Hmm, well, I don’t really like any of those things either, so maybe we’d get along fine.”

Once, Colleen stopped taking birth control pills but felt so panicked about it that she started taking them again. More than the lack of affinity for babies, she knew that being a working mom was tremendously hard, and she was afraid of how that pressure would change her lifestyle and her relationship with her husband.

Some women who are participating in our book project have talked about being afraid of how hard it would be to juggle work and motherhood, and this was one factor that led to them having children later. One friend recently talked about waiting to try to conceive until things were “perfectish”.  This sort of anxiety is no surprise, given the valid but intimidating popular culture dialogue about moms who can’t have it all  or are maxed out, or are trying ignite a moms’ popular uprising. Our beloved Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery is authentic about motherhood in a way that is hilarious to moms but possibly frightening to childless women. Meanwhile, kids just won’t Go the F**k to Sleep.  

As our commenter mentions, women who express doubts are told that they will feel differently about their own child. Colleen found this experience to be true for her:

I never had this affinity toward children, but once I had [my daughter], it’s like a whole nother world. I just feel completely different about her, and I never would have expected that. Knowing what we know now, about how great it’s been to have her, about how much we laughed, and how she’s brought us closer together, I probably would have done it sooner.

Clearly, your sex life takes a dip when there’s a 19-month-old lying in between you.

But I look at [my husband] differently because I see him and how much he loves her. I see him as a different person. And I think he feels the same way. I just see him as a more of a nurturing, loving person and have a connection to them that’s very different now. So, I think it’s something that’s actually been great for our marriage.

And then to look at her and say, “Oh my God, she’s got your eyes.” And every now and then we’ll lay in bed at night and look at each other and say, like, “Hey, we’ve got a kid, did you know that? There’s a kid in that other room, and she belongs to us. Is that weird or what? But she’s ours. Like, half your genes and half my genes, and she’s sleeping in that room over there.”

So, I think it’s been cool. It’s been a great thing.

The other thing is, although it’s hard, it’s not as hard as I made it out to be. I think you just reprioritize your life. You do have to make room, but you just tick things off. Things become less important to you. You know, where my house was in perfect order all the time before, it’s not so much anymore, but it’s ok. You know, it doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would bother me. You just change your priorities. It’s hard working full-time and rushing out of work to try to get home, and dealing with traffic and the whole time thinking, “I’m going to be late I’m going to be late I’m going to be late.” But then there she is, and she comes running at me, and it’s all worth it.

Many women feel uncertain about becoming a mother for various reasons, especially before becoming pregnant or in the early stages of pregnancy, before you can sense the fetus’ presence inside you. If you are worried about how hard it will be to enjoy an infant, it might help to read some infant development books to make sure you have a realistic vision of what they are like. (Everyone knows that two-year-olds are very challenging, but do you know that most also sleep 12 hours per day?) If you are worried about being a harried mom and want to simplify your life pre-baby, the Internet is full of resources for that. The Art of Simple and zenhabits are two places to start.  Overall, just remind yourself that it’s unrealistic to expect that happy anticipation is the only emotion of pregnancy.

 

 

Sharon I. Praissman is an adult (medical) and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Emma Williams is a public health researcher and writer.

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