Confronting the Panicky Truths of Impending Motherhood


I feel very mortal. I am overwhelmed. Elated.

I feel surreally capable of my body’s ability to deliver my son. And yet I haven’t slept in three days because, at the same time, I know I will panic and want to turn back.

I know I will feel out of control — or, at least, that it is one of two equally possible routes I can take.

One, proud and confident, I will give birth standing up, looking like Medicine Woman, and I will grab by son from beneath me to hold him up in the air like Simba in The Lion King. The other, hysterical and afraid, I will scream, “I can’t do this” while my child enters the world and instantly judges me for my weakness with his shifty, baby eyes.

I have never leaned into the gravity of anything. Throughout my life, I have been found mocking the very ground every meaningful moment stood on. I am the type to spit out a spurt of laughter at a funeral or undermine the weight of days like my wedding or college graduation with a tacky joke or two.

But I can’t run from the weight of this.

This is unmistakably real. Now, 32 weeks in the oven, my son kicks and squirms against my organs and the front of my belly for several hours of every day. With each movement, I picture my husband holding an infant — I have never had a doubt that he will be a near-perfect father. I think of little drawings in crayon, taking a toddler to the zoo, and I have the most vivid image of the tiniest hand wrapping itself around my forefinger and giving its first squeeze.

And at other times, I can be reminded of the triviality of procreation — as mammals. It isn’t just the few newly sprouted, sporadic hairs popping up in unexpected places from the hormones — I can really see myself as a talking monkey. It feels animalistically necessary to have a child.

I am very aware of my total lack of choice in the whole matter at times. And others, it feels profoundly evolved to think of having a child, to open yourself up to that kind of purpose.

But selfishly, I spend a lot of time thinking that I need to be thought of as brave after this is all over. I need my son to hear a certain kind of story about me. It feels a bit manipulative, in a way, to purposely try to react or create a story based on how you want to be perceived. But I have spent my whole life to this point never really caring what another person has thought of me. I have been known to callously snap at close friends sometimes. I am capable of being rather classless at others. I have never really cared if people thought I was foolish.

But I do care about what my son will think of me. I care what my husband will see in me — what kind of person will I be while experiencing the worst pain I have ever encountered?

Will I reveal some ugly truth about myself? Will I be weak? Will my son know I spent months being afraid of his arrival? What will it feel like the first time my son sees a less-than-admirable quality in me?

And if we don’t try to aim to be the best versions of ourselves, how we can be expected to get anywhere close? If we aren’t willing to say we feel brave even when we feel scared, how are we ever meant to learn to embrace one feeling over another? Can’t a human choose what type of person they want to be, even if, at first, it starts with an optimistic lie?

So I started weeks ago, saying to myself out loud, “You are brave. You are well and will be well.”

And then I barely believed it. But as we get closer, it’s starting to sound possible.

3 Responses to “Confronting the Panicky Truths of Impending Motherhood”

  1. You will be wonderful. Remember that labor and birth is pretty much instinctual. You just know what to do because it has been happening for millions of years.

    While I love being a mom and it is the most amazing job I have ever had, it reminds you daily about how short life actually is. You are watching a little person of yours grow and learn before your very eyes. It’s amazing but you also realize that while this is also happening you are growing too…older that is.


  2. lena says:

    It’s so interesting–I never thought about the way my own parents told the story of my birth through the lens of her bravery and accomplishment. She didn’t use an epidural, and my father would brag that her screams had every other woman in the delivery wing calling for the anesthesiologist, but she was brave and even dominant during my baby brother’s birth (not all that different from a Simba scene, the way they tell it…). It never occurred to me that reality may have been a bit different, and how important it must have been to tell that narrative.

    So hey–don’t worry, because he won’t remember it and you can craft the story any way you’d like!

  3. I love this perspective and it reminds me of many of the feelings I had just over 10 years ago when I had my twins. I was brave and completely terrified at the same time. Much like Jess, you’ll quickly learn that it’s all instinct. Lamaze classes that I never got around to taking didn’t matter. In fact, all that pain I anticipated is now not even a memory in my mind. All I remember is the exact moment my son was born and I could not tear my eyes off him. My first words to my husband were, “I am quitting my job and never working again!” His reply, “focus, you have another baby to push out.”

    So much for cool labor stories. :)

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