Lately, I’ve been thinking about names for our third baby. No, we’re not having a third baby. We’re not pregnant and we have no plans to grow our family. But the names keep popping into my head. First a few girls’ names will start floating around my brain. I’ll imagine what it would be like to have a little girl. I see a smaller version of me (of course) and a world of dresses and dolls and everything that will probably never exist in our house. Then some boys’ names will bounce around my brain for a while. I’ll imagine our lives with three boys that eventually grow up into three young men. I’ll play with the phrase my three sons for a while. And then, just as quickly as the name play entered me, it will disappear and the empty places in my brain will settle on different thoughts.
Again, we’re quite clear that we’re done having kids. There are moments when I fantasize about the third, imagined baby but, while there’s some natural grief at saying no to welcoming another life, my husband and I have closed the door on childbearing. So why the thoughts? It’s the mind’s way of processing a loss. The fantasies arrive in waves and I dip in for a quick swim. I dance around with the imagined baby for a while, and then I let it go. None of this is conscious. My unconscious presents the idea of trying out different baby names and I play with the idea. I try it on. I imagine what it would be like to have another child. And then my unconscious decides that’s enough, and the thoughts are gone. Another layer of letting go has been completed.
It reminds me of the fantasies about ex-boyfriends that so often plague my engaged clients. Nearly every person I’ve worked with shares some version of the following: “I can’t stop thinking about this certain ex. I was so in love with him and we had this great passion. But he could never fully commit to me. There was always that feeling that he had one foot out the door. But why do I keep having dreams about him? Am I making a mistake by marrying my (loving, honest, responsible, adorable, completely and totally present and available) fiance? Should I have married the guy that I thought I was so in love with?” After discussing the difference between an adolescent feeling of love – which we call “being in love” – and real love, we talk about the function that the fantasy mind plays in processing that which we are called to release during transitions. Just as I know that having a third child is not in the highest good of our family, my clients know that this ex would not have been a choice that would have served them well.
A thought is just a thought and a fantasy is just a fantasy. It’s okay to spend time in the fantasy realm and imagine what life would have been if… but rarely are we meant to follow these fantasies into fruition. Transitions activate old losses for the purpose of grieving the areas that need to be released. When we misinterpret their presence and give them unnecessary anxious energy, we impede the letting go that needs to occur. But when we simply allow them the space to exist and watch them curiosity, the grief can move through us and help us accept the life that we’re choosing to live.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998, she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com, and her blog, https://conscious-transitions.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally for all types of transitions.