How Will I Know?

Posted by on Oct 17, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Marriage & Family, Mental Health | 0 comments

How Will I Know?

“How will I know, if he really loves me? I say a prayer with every heartbeat. I fall in love whenever we meet. I’m asking you what you know about these things.”

Please don’t tell me I’m the only one old enough for that song to conjure up images of dancing around with my middle school friends, belting out the lyrics alongside Whitney into our hairbrushes, daydreaming about “the one” and all the ways we would know he really loved us.

Fast forward to our adult selves. We found “the one.” We realize that it doesn’t look a lot like the Whitney Houston song in real life, but it’s still great in its own real-life way. Now the question has changed from “How will I know if he really loves me?” to “How will I know if I’m ready to have a baby?” It never became a hit song, but I bet that question weighs even heavier on the minds of women contemplating starting a family than the question of love weighs on the hearts of dreamy preteen girls.

After Husband and I were married a couple of years, we started talking and dreaming about adding a baby to our family. We had enjoyed some time of adjusting to marriage, traveling, and just being together. We knew we wanted to have children. We were financially stable (at the time, anyway). We certainly weren’t getting any younger. Everything seemed to line up and point to it being the right time and the right plan. Except there was just a bit of nagging doubt on the inside of me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have children, it was just that becoming a mother seemed like the most life-changing, earth-shattering, death-to-self kind of thing I could ever choose to do – and somewhere along the way, I picked up this notion that to have a child, one must be completely prepared, totally sure, perfectly equipped, and fully without doubts.

Husband was feeling really ready to move full speed ahead into parenthood, but with my mixed feelings and ambivalence about it all, I started asking around among the mothers that I knew. I asked a loved and respected mentor at my church who had adult children (and looked to be the poster mama for family life perfection) how she had known she was ready to start a family. Her own story of ambivalence prior to having children, and even after her first was born, shocked me. I asked a professional colleague with two school-age children if she had experienced any doubts about getting pregnant and having a baby. Again, I was surprised to learn that she had questioned whether she really wanted to have children at all. I asked close girlfriends with very young children how they had felt before having a baby, and the answer was that they were unsure and full of doubts. Absolutely every woman I talked to expressed the same mixed feelings about having a baby, the same doubts about their readiness and ability to be a mother, the same nervousness at giving up so much of themselves to care for another. Each of these women decided in the end that the desire to have a baby trumped all of the questions and doubts, and each became an incredibly attentive, committed, amazing mother.

Knowing that my doubts and mixed feelings were normal and did not disqualify me entirely from motherhood, we took the plunge and added sweet Bug to our family, then two years later our beloved Bear. In the years since I had my own children, a great number of friends have come to me with the same concerns in their early stages of contemplating motherhood. They ask the same questions – How did I know? Was I sure I wanted a baby? Did I struggle with feeling like I wouldn’t be a good mother? Did I feel nervous at the thought of the lifestyle change that having a baby would bring? My answers were much like those given to me when I asked the same questions of any mother I could find – I didn’t know for sure, but I knew enough. I struggled greatly with the feeling that maybe I didn’t have what it took to be a good mother, but I knew I would do my absolute best for the children entrusted to my care. I was terrified at the death to self that I knew would come from giving up my body for pregnancy and nursing, sacrificing my familiar life for something I could not in any way comprehend, relinquishing my freedom to focus on myself and my own needs in the interest of someone else completely dependent upon me, but I knew that it was worth it to experience creating a life that was a little combination of my self and Husband’s self.

I’m not saying that this is the experience of every woman, but I do think it’s a far more common experience than anyone really talks about openly. As a result, we are left feeling like motherhood is all black and white – either we know and commit completely with no doubts whatsoever and we’re meant to be mothers, or we have questions and doubts that mean we probably don’t have what it takes. In reality, ambivalence is such a normal state of motherhood, from pre-conception, to pregnancy, to birth, and through childhood, that I think were we not to feel so ashamed and afraid of it as mothers, we would get more comfortable just accepting it as a part of the job description.

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