“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
At the core of transition anxiety is our discomfort with the unknown. We, as a culture, are very attached to the definites and tangible of life: we want a date, a time, a number, a checklist, an answer. For the vast majority of my clients, their engagement or motherhood anxiety is relieved once the wedding or birth comes to pass. It’s in the anticipation that the anxiety overwhelms us, the state of “not-knowing” that defines the liminal stage of transitions, and once we’re on the solid ground of knowing, a significant chunk of the anxiety is relieved. Until the next transition…
I see this need to move out of the unknown most clearly during the wedding and motherhood transitions, but it can certainly manifest any time. With the wedding the questions that can’t be answered are: Will our marriage last? Will something happen to one of us? Will one of us have an affair? Am I making a mistake? With the transition into parenthood the questions are: Will my baby be healthy? Will I survive labor? Will I enjoy being a mother or father? Will I fall in love with my baby? Again, once the wedding date or birth date have passed, some of the questions find answers and anxiety is lessened. But we would be well served to learn how to make peace with the unknown instead of needing to push to find the answers as life is perpetually presenting us with situations that are inherently unknown and often permanently unknowable.
One of the most challenging times for an impending mother is the final weeks of her pregnancy. Full of the expectancy of meeting her child and becoming a mother, she lives in a constant state of questions. This state of uncertainty is amplified by the fact that she has no idea when she will go into labor as it’s her baby, not her, that decides when the birth process will begin. This reminds me of another of my favorite quotes, a poem by Emily Dickinson:
If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.
If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.
If only centuries delayed,
I’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.
If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.
But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.
For some women, this state of now-knowing is intolerable and, sadly, leads them to schedule a C-section. While I understand that sometimes C-sections are medically necessary and am grateful that the possibility exists, when a woman chooses an unnecessary C-section she’s truncating one of nature’s most powerful opportunities for growth. Still, as she’ll quickly learn in her life a mother, controlling when her baby is born is probably the last thing she’ll be able to control. Life with kids is an endless string of days where we must, if we’re to retain our sanity, come to some sort of peace with living and loving the questions.
Last week, I found myself wishing for a definite answer regarding when my cat would die. I immediately recognized how painful and uncomfortable it was to sit in this realm of not-knowing: How many more days would she be here? How much longer would we be talking to Everest about Mocha’s inevitable death? How much longer would we be cleaning up her drool and messes? The part of me that wanted to know and wrap up this phase in a tidy way was tempted to schedule her death. But as I had already done that twice and cancelled twice, I remained committed to my intention to honor her natural life cycle and trusted that, if we needed to bring someone into our home to assist with her dying, the decision would arise from clarity instead of discomfort or impatience. Instead, I took that deep breath of surrender that I encourage my clients to take and continued to practice loving and living the questions, reminding myself that once this is “wrapped up”, another sea of questions would arrive on the waves of this fundamentally unknowable life.