I met my husband when I was 12. We started dating when I was 17. I married him when I was 24. Our families are friends and we come from similar, almost identical, backgrounds of the same faith and values. We are financially stable and live in a house with plenty of rooms for any children that come along. Our families are nearby and we have a good support network around us. Yet, we’ve been married 10 years and it’s still just the two of us and our two dogs.
The fact that we don’t have children yet has confused people for a long time. I want to be sensitive here because I know many people struggle with infertility and loss and I know what a devastating, heartbreaking thing that can be to deal with. But, that isn’t my story. I’m sure many people assumed that it was. After all, why else would we, a stable, happy couple, with family nearby to help, not have a couple of kids by now?
Well, because of fear and because, truthfully, the idea of having kids was wholly unappealing to me for a long time. Here’s why.
After I got married, I suffered what felt like a mental breakdown. Somehow, I was able to function, and by that I mean I was able to go to work and get out of bed in the morning, but I was barely making it through each day. I imagine this is what people who suffer with severe postpartum anxiety and/or depression feel like, only I didn’t just have a baby. So, we’ll call it post-wedding anxiety and it was awful, almost unbearable, and totally unexpected.
Needless to say, it took me a long time to get over. It took years, in fact, about 2 whole years to get over the worst of it and even after that I still struggled with lingering symptoms, doubts, fears, worries.
I wasn’t ready to have kids. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be ready to have kids. I kept thinking that my anxiety would heal completely, and my mindset would change, and I’d be ready, but the years ticked by and I still felt the same.
I believed I couldn’t cope with a pregnancy. I couldn’t cope with delivery, and I definitely couldn’t cope with raising a child. I was too much of a mess myself. That’s what I believed.
I looked back at my track record, the patterns in which my anxiety seemed to peak, and it was always surrounding life changes. So, how on earth, could I manage the massive, life-altering change of bringing a new life into this world? People always tell you how hard raising kids is and if you’ve read any of my other posts, my lack of self confidence plays a big part in my struggle with anxiety. I didn’t believe I could do it. And, if I fell apart, it wouldn’t just be me suffering, but a baby, a child. I didn’t want to be responsible for passing down my issues to any future offspring I might have.
This has been such a heavy burden the past few years. I didn’t worry about it so much in my mid-twenties. I still had time. I kept thinking my feelings would probably change as I got older. But when I turned 29, the pressure to procreate reached a boiling point. I felt it from everyone and everything – from my own biological clock, from others, and from myself.
But, I couldn’t make myself not be afraid. That fear, that paralyzing fear, of the “what-if” stayed with me. What if I couldn’t cope with pregnancy? What if the anxiety got so unmanageable that I couldn’t function? What if my anxiety, the adrenaline and cortisol coursing through my bloodstream, affected the baby? What if I didn’t love my child after it was born? What if there was no bond and I regretted having it? What if I had severe postpartum depression and thoughts of hurting my child? What if I had a baby who grew up to be a sociopathic serial killer?
Yup, these were the terrifying thoughts I would dwell on. I didn’t say they were normal, but this is what anxiety does. It looks for the “what if”, the scariest possibilities that might be lurking around the corner. And I would obsess over them, these mostly irrational thoughts, these “what if” worst-case scenarios.
I haven’t had kids because I was afraid. Afraid of the change, unsure if it’s what I really wanted, afraid of all that parenthood entails. That’s the truth.
In the last year or so, things have started to change. Pretty majorly, in fact. Maybe it’s the fact that because of the global pandemic, I’ve been working remotely for the past 14 months, which has improved my anxiety tremendously. I think it’s allowed my nervous system to take a break, a time-out. I still go into the office a few times a week, but that’s different than being there 40-50 or so hours per week, surrounded by people and meetings that constantly stress me out on a daily basis.
Maybe it’s the fact that I am working out more, getting outside in nature more and taking better care of myself. Maybe, I’m just maturing and healing. Or, real talk, maybe it’s because I finally gave an SSRI medication a try, and it’s finally kicking in.
Maybe it’s simply an answer to prayer. Actually, not maybe, it’s definitely an answer to prayer.
I feel more at peace than I have in a long time. And, slowly, over the past few years, my feelings about having children have changed. I’ve started to worry more about the feeling of regret if I don’t have kids, than the fears that plagued me about having them. I wondered if I’d wake up at 60, filled with an ache inside, wishing I hadn’t been so afraid to try. I started to imagine what a child of mine and Matt’s would be like and I felt a connection, a desire to meet him or her.
The fear of the unknown, the “what if”, is still there. I’m not sure that ever goes away, at least for me. I’m never going to be the type that makes decisions impulsively and I’m never going to be someone who is 100% certain about any course of action I take in my life. It’s just who I am. I think about things, sometimes way too much, to the point of paralyzation.
God has been at work in me for a long time, teaching me to let go, teaching me to be less afraid and more trusting. I can’t control everything that’s going to happen, or everything I’m going to feel, but I’m more confident I’ll get through it. Truthfully, I’ve already experienced the worst my anxiety can do, and I got through it. I don’t want to, but I could do it again if I had to. Plus, I’m better equipped now. I know more about anxiety. It’s talked about more. I’m less ashamed about it. I’ve been taught plenty of techniques and strategies to combat it. And, I have my faith. I have my God to lean on.
Also, when I told my therapist I was afraid I’d screw up my kid with my own issues, she simply said, “Oh, you will.” Maybe that doesn’t sound comforting to you, but it was strangely comforting to me because all parents screw up their kids in some ways. We are imperfect people and we are going to make mistakes. Parenthood doesn’t change that. We try our best, we love our kids, and we plow through life’s struggles as best we can. We pray for them as they grow, that God would help them through their own unique pain, that undoubtedly will come their way, because that’s just life.
So, as I sit here writing this, there’s a little life growing inside of me. It’s the size of an orange right now, but it’s already got brain cells, and facial features, and kidneys. I’m going to have a baby and I’m not anywhere near as terrified as I thought I would be. I thought I’d have an awful pregnancy, full of anxiety and vomiting and feeling miserable. I was sure of it.
Instead, I feel more at peace than I have in a long time. I feel strong and brave and excited. Of course, there’s fear. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never had a baby before. I can’t predict what’s coming but I feel comforted in just resting in the arms of the One who does know everything that’s coming my way.
And, I’m actually amazed at the miracle of life and the wonder of it all. I never was one of those people, by the way. I didn’t get it, not really. I mean, I understood “the miracle of life” on a basic level, I guess, but it wasn’t something I was drawn to experience. I wasn’t one of those people who thought labor and delivery was “beautiful”. I’m still not excited about that part, honestly, but I love reading about the week to week development of this little baby inside of me. It’s incredible!
So, mindsets can change. They really can. Anxiety can heal. It really can. Change is possible.
If you would have told me 5 years ago that I’d be pregnant and not a mess, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was so certain that this wasn’t the course for me. I was so certain that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Yet, here I am. Pregnant. Actually excited to meet this little guy or girl. I’m still scared. I’m not looking forward to the sleepless nights or the lack of free time, but I’m also just more at peace that I’ll get through the hard stuff. I will be ok. I can take it a day at a time.
And, I am full of hope and gratitude.
“See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”