Around the sixth month of my pregnancy with my second son, my hip locked up to the point of debilitating pain. I had experienced something similar in my first pregnancy, but the second time was more extreme and I knew I needed help. I booked an appointment with a bodyworker and hobbled my way to his office. He asked if I was enjoying my pregnancy and I said, “I love that I’m pregnant but I hate being pregnant.”
He laughed and said that when his wife was miserably pregnant he conducted an informal poll asking pregnant women everywhere if they enjoyed it. He was working in the prenatal unit at the hospital at the time so he was in contact with hundreds of pregnant women each week. According to his poll, only about 10% said they loved being pregnant. He didn’t do much for my hip but my psyche was lifted by this reminder that I wasn’t alone.
Having grown up with a mother who had gushed about her three fabulous pregnancies, I had always thought I would love being pregnant. This illusion was shattered within weeks of conception. After nine weeks of debilitating sickness, months of painful hips, and a weight gain of fifty pounds which left walking from the car to my front door a chore, I proceeded to have a forty-two hour labor with four hours of pushing. Fun? Not exactly!
While we’re all aware of morning sickness and other challenges of pregnancy, this isn’t the picture that our culture paints and the expectations that are created, and so many women expect to love it from start to finish. And when the reality clashes with our fantasies and expectations, it’s easy to wonder, “What’s wrong with me? If I don’t like being pregnant, does that mean I won’t enjoy being a mother?”
Last week, I worked with a woman who has felt guilty for almost twelve years because of a thought she had the moment she found out she was pregnant. Because of her tumultuous relationship with her mother and a variety of other circumstances, she had felt ambivalent about having children. But her husband was passionate about the idea and convinced her to move forward. They tried for a year, then conceived. The thought she had when she saw the positive result was, “Oh my god, my life is over.”
Her son is almost eleven and she’s been an extraordinary mother. Despite her ambivalence, she connected to her growing fetus and fell in love with her baby the moment he arrived. But that first thought of motherhood has contributed to her sense of self-doubt and left her feeling unnecessarily guilty. Because of our cultural expectations, she’s lived with a lie for far too long.
Whether we’re getting married, having a baby, moving to a new house or city, or changing jobs, we’re culturally conditioned to believe that we’re supposed to feel unilaterally happy about these changes. We live in a culture that doesn’t allow room for ambivalence. We have a hard time metabolizing the concept that joy and sorrow that live in the same experience. We can experience joy around a death and loss around a wedding. The daily duality we endure as humans is magnified around transitions. Instead of annihilating this experience, we would benefit greatly by understanding it and welcoming it in.
The transmission of this cultural belief of “transition joy” is particularly acute around becoming a parent. Every image propagated by our mainstream media communicates the precept that you’re supposed to be blissed out around every stage of this transition – from seeing the positive purple line on the pregnancy test to giving birth. For many women, nothing could be further from the truth. When we’re on the threshold of a major life change – and it doesn’t get bigger than having a baby – not only may we feel ambivalent, but we’ll span the spectrum of every human emotion, from bliss and excitement to fear and regret. The fear that may set in immediately after the positive pregnancy test are normal and natural. With a confirmation of life, the opposite force often arises will equal intensity.
When I told my client that the thought she had was normal, she started to cry from relief. Furthermore, I shared with her that the thought originated from her alignment with the archetypal elements of her transition where a part of her life was ending with the confirmation of her pregnancy: in that moment, her identity as non-mother died as her identity as mother was being born. This is a highly sensitive woman who has been beautifully aligned with her instincts throughout her life as a mother. It didn’t surprise me that her first thought in that life-changing moment reflected her attunement with the painful reality that part of her life was ending.
The more we reveal the lies and replace them with the truth, the more we can accept the range of emotions that present themselves around transitions and begin each new stage of our lives on a healthy foundation.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide via her private practice, her e-courses and programs, her books, and her website, http://conscious-transitions.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Her home study course for pregnant women and new mothers, Birthing a New Mother: A Roadmap from Preconception Through the First Year to Calm Your Anxiety, Prepare Your Marriage, and Become the Mother you Want to Be, can be found at http://birthinganewmother.com. She lives in Boulder, Colorado where she and her husband homeschool their two sons.