Ready or Not
by Patty Born Selly
An hour after I found out I was pregnant with Lucy's sibling, I lay on the kitchen floor, crying.
I had peed on a home pregnancy test earlier that morning, and after the result had emerged loud and clear, I made a beeline for the kitchen trash and buried the thing at the bottom. Incredulous that the test read positive, I went back upstairs to the bathroom and peed on another stick, figuring there had to be something wrong with the first one. When two little lines appeared in the window, I stomped down to the kitchen, jerked the garbage can out from under the sink and crammed the test to the bottom along with the first. For a good twenty minutes, I fretted: pacing around the living room, wringing my hands, chewing on the inside of my cheek. Finally, frantic, I dug the two tests out of the garbage can. When they both still read positive, I lay down, curled into a ball, my forehead on the floor. I squeezed my eyes shut, hard. Tears came pouring out anyway. All the pastel-hued thoughts I had been entertaining for months were suddenly black and gray.
Months ago, Dominic and I had decided we were ready to start trying for Another Baby. Parenting has been the single best adventure we have ever undertaken together. We thrilled at the idea of growing our family. We imagined our family vacations, holidays, and the humdrum of everyday life would be made even richer, more delightful with one more child. We pictured Lucy and Another Baby growing up together, delighting in all the things children cherish, sharing a familial bond that is more like a friendship. We couldn't wait to see our family grow and had been "trying" for a couple of months.
But there I lay, floored by the reality of the news: pregnant. Yes, we were trying. Yes, I want this baby. But for some reason, neither of these facts was relevant anymore. Suddenly, all I could think was, How will this baby change things? I was just getting used to this! What were we thinking, going for another baby?? I'm not ready!
There I lay, while the reality of it all settled onto me like a wet wool blanket, heavy and thick: sometime within the next nine months, there will be a baby. Someone who can cry louder than Lucy, whose needs will be more immediate and visceral, who will take my time and attention away from her. Someone who will need to be held, cuddled, to fall asleep in my arms. Someone who will nurse constantly, who will need me intensely—just as Lucy did. How will I possibly love another baby? How could I do this to Lucy? This new baby is going to take me away from the baby I already have!! I was sickened by my guilt and shame. I couldn't bear the thought of any of my attention or love being divvied up between Lucy and Another Baby. I felt as if I were cheating on her.
Although Dominic was thrilled at the news, the shock and grief I felt didn't let up. I just want more time with Lucy, I thought. I want a little more time, just the two of us. I've been home with Lucy full time since her birth a year and a half ago, and the fact that our little twosome was coming to an end was a smoldering sense of grief that was hot in my throat. I'd be going about my business: grocery shopping, eating, when The News would trickle back into my mind: Oh, shit, that's right, I'd remember, I'm pregnant. Then tears would start to creep down my face while Lucy would look at me quizzically. I'd hug her or try to reassure her that everything was okay, and this only made me feel more like a traitor.
When I'd put Lucy to sleep at night, I'd skulk off to bed and cry under the covers, in the dark. I hated myself for what I was doing to our world. I resented the baby for intruding on our perfect life. I worried about what my negative feelings were doing to the baby. I was deeply ashamed of my feelings and kept them largely hidden from Dominic, who was elated. I couldn't admit to him how terrified and sad I was because I didn't want to admit it to myself.
More than anything, I wanted to be happy about it. I was furious with myself and addled with guilt over not being happy. Months earlier, two weeks earlier—Hell, a week earlier, if you had asked me—I would have told you I was sure I was ready. Back when we were "trying," it never crossed my mind that I'd feel anything but joy upon becoming pregnant. But now, here I was, pregnant—and I felt horrible. It never crossed my mind that I'd feel fear, remorse, and such intense anxiety. I was surprised at my feelings, I felt alone, and I had no idea how to sort through it all, to find my footing again.
I tried to find my inner Über-Mother who felt ready for this, who had been eager to have another baby. Where was the strong, confident woman who knew what she was doing?? I couldn't find her anywhere. And I missed her. I needed her. I figured she was in there somewhere, buried under the panic and fear and grief. And denying my feelings only made me more anxious and more separate from her.
The days that I tried to deny I felt sad were the worst. The normal flow of my day would shift suddenly, with no warning, and I'd be overwhelmed with grief. Looking around my house, I'd try to somehow make permanent in my mind the everyday details of our life: the particular assortment of Lucy's toys scattered across the living room floor, the three of us having a snack of goldfish crackers and raisins on the couch. These mundane moments would bring me to tears. It was all just a reminder that everything was about to change. I felt sick. And I felt deep sorrow at letting it go. "It's all going to be wonderful, Love, you'll see" Dominic would tell me, holding me. "You just have to trust this." How could I trust this? It was such a huge unknown.
And how could I trust the unknown territory of my intense, huge feelings? If I let myself feel scared, did that mean I didn't want this baby? If I let myself worry, did that mean I regretted it? Why did I feel so afraid? Would I ever feel good about this? Most days I was so exhausted from trying to mash down these feelings, that by the time evening came, I had no choice but to just let go and cry. By accident, I discovered that when I allowed myself a little time and space to do this crying, worrying and fretting, I felt a little bit lighter the next day, like a small part of me could handle it. I started to begrudgingly give myself the space to feel those ugly things. The more I just let myself just cry, be scared, wonder how things would change, and grieve the end of our threesome, the more these feelings have begun to loosen their hold on me.
I have to let myself be afraid and panicked and unsure—because to deny those feelings is to deny part of what my experience is as a mother to Lucy, and a mother to Another Baby. Being a mother has inspired feelings that I never knew I had within me and surprised me with their intensity and power. This time was no exception.
But, really, when does it start to get easier? I talk with friends who have more than one child and many of them guiltily confess to having had similar feelings upon learning they were pregnant with their second. What did you do about it? I ask, When do these feelings fade? How long until I can look at my sweet daughter and not feel pangs of guilt over what's about to happen, this inevitable splitting of my attention, energy, and time? Can my body somehow just make enough love for all of us, as it made enough milk for Lucy to thrive all those months I nursed her? No one can answer me. The usual response is a vague, "Oh, that all changes once you're holding that new baby." No one can really tell me how they got through the unknown, scary territory I found myself in.
But there's something about mothering, isn't there, that just forces us to trust the unknown? Whether we like it or not, everything's an unknown, and we can either trust it, or not. Accept it, or not. Struggle, or not.
Ready, or not.
Patty Born Selly resides in Minneapolis MN with her husband Dominic, daughter Lucy, now 2 1/2, and 6-month old son Julian. Everyone seems to be settling in quite well to life as a family of four. Patty is happy to report that the vague reassurances from her husband and friends were right on—having two babies IS as wonderful as everyone promised, it is all working out beautifully, and she is hopelessly, completely in love with her baby boy. Patty's inner Über-Mother makes guest appearances in her life from time to time.
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