My husband and I are expecting our first child in just about a week (which means he could come any day or he could wait a couple weeks). Since about my 30th week, I’ve felt all kinds of emotions: awe (I mean, I have a life growing inside of my body, and that life lets me know he’s there by moving around all the time!), anticipation, fear, worry. The fear and worry have less to do with the experience of childbirth and more to do with what happens when the nurses send us home from the hospital. I have never been much of a “baby person.” Newborns seem so fragile, and so I’ve never been prone to want to hold them. But soon I will have a newborn of my own. He will be my responsibility (and my husband’s) to feed, clothe, bathe and nurture. Am I up to the vocation? Is my husband?
From what I have heard from friends and family, anxiety prior to the birth of your firstborn is normal. And it makes sense – life is about to drastically change, at least for a double-income, no-kids couple like my husband and me. My question these last 10 weeks has been: How do I cope with the anxiety, so that it doesn’t paralyze me or prevent me from accepting this new life that I purposefully chose?
Several things have helped: Expressing my fears to my friends and having them normalize the emotions I’m feeling put things into perspective. I’m not a weirdo for being scared. Our learning curve as new parents will be steep. But that doesn’t mean we won’t learn or won’t care well for our newborn son.
Recognizing that God is present with us in the changes has also helped. As a Christian, I believe God is active in our world and cares about the little details of our individual lives, including what happens to me in labor and delivery and what happens to our son when we take him home from the hospital. It’s comforting to me to know that the God of the universe loves me enough to be present by the Holy Spirit wherever I go, no matter what pain I might find myself in, no matter the sleep-deprived confusion and frustration that may arise in the first months of parenthood. And the God of the universe loves my son, too.
The last two nights of dreaming have included a recurring theme that has shaped my perspective of this life change. I’ve found myself in darkened houses, late at night; houses that are unfamiliar to me, so it’s hard to navigate them. One night I dreamed that my husband and I sold our home to a young couple and moved across the street into a different home. When I left our old home with the young couple late at night and unlocked the door to my new home, I couldn’t get the lights to come on. It was difficult and a little annoying to negotiate walking around a darkened house. But, I wasn’t afraid.
This is what I think the anticipation of parenthood is like: My husband and I successively navigated the early years of our marriage, which included becoming settled in our ministry vocations. We liked that “house” – we knew our way around it. Parenthood is a different story. We don’t know this house yet; we don’t even really know what to expect when our son is born. Sure, we’ve heard about sleep deprivation and becoming adept with car seats and diapers. But, it’s different to experience something than to hear about it. So, the house is dark right now. I imagine in the first weeks and months of our son’s life, we will stub our toes or hit our shins on unseen doorframes and new furniture.
Still, I believe the lights will gradually come on – during those first hours of recovery in the hospital, when we bring our son home, as we become adept at feeding, diapering, bathing, playing. My confidence that the lights will indeed come on gives me confidence and courage as I think about parenthood and the changes it will bring.
Rachel Young is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.