When you’re pregnant, the word “excited” comes up about 70 times a day. It’s almost reflexive in conversations.
“You’re pregnant? How exciting!”
“Yes, we’re excited.”
“How far along are you?...You must be excited.”
“It’s a girl! I bet you are so excited.”
“Oh, you’re starting to dilate. EXCITING!”
I’ve been reciting the exciting chorus while struggling with a dark secret: Here, at the halfway point of my second pregnancy, I’m not excited.
For months, I’ve been on the verge of tears at every moment. We are finishing our basement, and, normally, I’d be tearing through Pottery Barn catalogs, pinning color schemes, researching fixtures. I can’t do it. I can’t think. I’m struggling at work. I can’t sleep. I’ve had trouble considering names and haven’t thought about nursery furnishings. I don’t want to leave my house. I don’t want to read. I don’t want to talk about any of it. Even my usually comfortable and comforting yoga practice feels like a stranger. I’m just surviving.
And every mention of excitement adds a layer of guilt.
Maybe it’s that I’ve been through this before, and I know that as wonderful as the baby will be, she will be accompanied by an unmatchable level of fatigue. There will be sweetness and love and joy, yes, but also sitting on frozen peas post-labor, the stress of pumping at work, poop explosions. All of it is worth it (and, you know, blah blah blah—I really wish we could just allow parents space to be honest without the retrospective moralizing. Admitting that it is hard does not diminish my ultimate gratitude for the privilege of parenting)—but all of it is A LOT.
Or maybe it’s that I know adding a child to the family will necessary change our dynamic. Or maybe it’s that I fear the physical uphill climb after the baby is born. Or that I know the next couple of years will be a blur and that it will be very hard to make major changes in our lives for a long while. Whatever it is, it’s paralyzing me emotionally.
I told my mother some of this and expressed my concern that I’m depressed. Mom listened for a few minutes and said, “I don’t think you’re depressed. I think you’re overwhelmed.”
It’s been helpful to have that label, which I think is accurate. It’s also really daunting. “Overwhelmed” is not a word that has come up much for me. I have, in many ways, defined myself by my ability to not feel overwhelmed. I stay calm. I juggle. I keep things in perspective. And now that I’m not doing any of those things, I don’t know what or who I am.
Also? It makes me mad that I feel this way. Objectively, my life is good. I’m blessed with loving people, all that I need and more, meaningful work, great opportunity. People around me suffer real tragedy all the time. It feels wrong and ungrateful, privileged in the worst way to cry because my maternity jeans don’t fit right.
It makes me mad, and it feels cliché, and that makes me madder. Being a hormonal wreck seems so…sitcom-esque. I’m not interested in bringing the mommy mayhem. I want to be She-Who-Has-Her-Stuff-Together-Always. But I decidedly do not have my stuff together today. Now what?
Fortunately, I have a Zen master in my life in the form of my four-year-old daughter.
In our quietest moments together, the ones when I’m fighting tears for no reason at all, she looks at me so intently. She reminds me that I don’t get to just be overwhelmed; I am, intentionally or not, teaching her how to handle being overwhelmed. How do I want her to behave? How do I want her to move forward? More importantly, how do I want her to feel? I don’t know the answers to those questions, except that I want her to accept the emotion. I want her to give herself permission to feel what she feels without judging herself for feeling it.
So, I’m required to model that, which is also overwhelming. I’m trying to just be where I am. That means sometimes allowing myself to sob in the middle of dinner. It means admitting that I need an 8 p.m. bedtime or a nap in the middle of the day or a very long shower or a few hours alone. It means canceling appointments and losing my temper over stupid Internet comments and saying out loud that I feel disrespected or unappreciated or foolish or inadequate. It means asking for help and asking for hugs and asking for Thai takeout because I just can’t face the chicken breasts that I had planned to turn into dinner.
All of this is so painful to me. But as I watch myself do it, I realize it might be the healthiest example I’ve ever set for her. It might mean that when I get past overwhelmed, and I will, I’ll carry a little less pressure to stay calm and juggle and keep perspective. It might mean that I’ll be able to introduce my new daughter to a much more honest version of her mother than has previously existed.
I can find a way to be excited about that.
Beth is a mom, wife, sister, friend, and HR executive. She's also on a journey to become a yoga teacher. She likes watermelon, reality television, and politics.