My husband and I got married in November and in January we learned that we were expecting. Our hearts were filled with joy and gratitude. Soon we shared the wonderful news with our loved ones. Again, moments of joy and excitement that could barely be contained. However, as the weeks went by, something in my heart changed. I suddenly found myself overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. I could not help but think about all that could possibly go wrong. I couldn’t believe how quickly joy gave way to fear. The fear of loss was crippling! I was really struggling and for a while I could not bear to share that struggle with anyone. I also found it very difficult to turn to God. So I tried to push those feelings away but that did not help. All it did was raise up walls in my heart and I found myself emotionally detached from my pregnancy.
Perspective is Everything
One evening, we were watching an early episode of the sitcom, Frasier, he describes Daphne saying “The woman is like an artichoke. You just peel away one astounding leaf after another.” This statement resonated with me and I later thought, “Trauma is like an artichoke”. I was unexpectedly reminded that the hard work of dealing with trauma does not end when the nightmares are gone and the panic attacks subside. It’s a lifelong healing process. As my life changes and new triggers emerge, a new layer of the pain is exposed and I have the opportunity to experience healing at a deeper level.
Re-framing my perspective on what I was feeling and why I was feeling it made a world of difference! I suddenly moved past the immobilizing thoughts of “I must not be ready to be a mom again” and “I don’t have enough faith” to feeling motivated to deal with what I was experiencing and to get the help I needed.
Talking About It
I finally started addressing my feelings in therapy and sharing my struggles with the people closest to me, starting with my husband. I also talked to the women in my small group at church and asked for prayer regarding this particular situation. There were two main reasons I was reluctant to talk about what I was experiencing. The first reason was shame and guilt. I felt so disconnected from my pregnancy during the first couple of months and started to believe that maybe I was not capable of loving this child as I did my first. The second and equally powerful reason was superstition. I was afraid that by talking about my fears out loud I would somehow contribute to them coming true. My silence was my attempt at feeling in control. I wanted to believe that somehow I could do something to protect my child. Talking about my fears and anxiety was liberating! Through these conversations I was better able to distinguish between the concerns that were real (i.e. possibility of experiencing post-partum depression) and the ones that were imagined (i.e. not being capable of loving my child). The imagined fears started to lose grip, giving me greater clarity to handle my other concerns.
Praying About It
I remember meeting a friend for lunch and sharing that I was really struggling to pray and seek God. I said something like, “I don’t feel a desire to pray or read the Bible” and her quick response jolted me into focus: “You do it anyway, even if you don’t feel like”. She also suggested trying different ways to connect with God (praying through worship songs, contemplative walks, using an audio Bible app, etc.) to see what may work best for me during this particular season. These suggestions were extremely helpful! The conversation reminded me that spiritual disciplines are important no matter what I’m feeling. It is during those seasons when “I don’t feel like it”, that I desperately need to seek God in order to stay grounded in Truth.
Growing Through It: Vulnerability and Dependence
As a Christian, I cannot live as if “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul”. I believe in a sovereign God who is in control of all things, including every detail of my life. However, my nature is to want to be master and captain; my nature is to want to be in control. I believe that these desires are especially insidious when it comes to parenting. We want the best possible outcome for our children and we often believe we know what is best. We often also believe that by doing all the right things we can somehow orchestrate our vision for what is best. During pregnancy however, it is not easy to be that confident. Being pregnant is a constant and poignant reminder that so much is not in our control. All the unknowns related to pregnancy, and the vulnerability that comes along with it, bring up very real concerns for expecting parents, even Christian ones. However, because I am a Christian, I am called to respond to those concerns differently. Working through the fears and anxiety of the first months of my pregnancy taught me that being vulnerable does not have to mean living in anxiety. Instead, I can choose to take these especially fragile days to learn to live in greater dependence of God. It is one thing to know that I can depend on God but living in dependence is a whole different story. Knowing something to be true rationally is a helpful start but knowing something to be true experientially is life changing! By turning to God in our experiences, we are able to grow and learn through those experiences.
I have learned so much about myself these last few months. For example, being pregnant has brought to the surface some subconscious assumptions I have about God. I realized that I am more inclined to accept that God is sovereign but subconsciously I struggle to accept that He is good. I know that my difficulty stems from catastrophic thinking related to trauma but it also sheds light into my need to know this aspect of God character at a deeper level. A simple step I’m taking is to dedicate time to focus on studying this attribute of God. Intentionally reading Scripture to learn truth that reflects God’s goodness will help me have the psychological and spiritual resources I need when life circumstances would have me doubt Him.
After the emotionally bumpy first few weeks of being pregnant, I have been able to the experience the joy that comes with this wonderful expectation. I could not get to this place by convincing myself that everything will be 100% perfect. I just had to work through the fears and come to a great dependence on God. I know, from experience, that no matter what life looks like at any particular season, as His children, we are always cared and provided for.