Every transition holds the possibility of healing a layer of fear/anxiety/terror or denying that such feelings exist by distracting oneself with the tangible aspects of the transition, thereby calcifying the fear more deeply. When we leave home for the first time, for example, we can become so involved with packing, preparing for classes, buying new clothes, and shopping for a new bedspread for our new futon that we push down the grief of saying goodbye to our parents and the comfort of our childhood home and the fear of the unknown that the next phase of life holds. Likewise, when we get married, we can become so consumed with planning the “perfect” wedding that we avoid feeling the loss that single life is ending, the grief about the changes that will occur in family of origin relationships, and the terror that standing on the precipice of marriage – with its cavernous unknowns and jutting rocks of questions – naturally engenders.
The threshold of becoming a mother carries its own maelstrom of “things” that “need” to be accomplished before the baby arrives. As several of my clients and friends are in their third trimester of pregnancy, I feel compelled to write about the tendency to focus on “stuff” during this time. For one couple, it’s the renovation that’s occupying their mental space. For another, it’s the focus on buying the perfect car seat. And for yet another woman, it’s finding the right day care and pediatrician amidst closing on a new house.
It’s frightfully easy to focus on the “stuff” to the exclusion of the inner world but, as with all transitions, if we occupy every free moment with our search for the perfect baby stroller and just the right color green to paint the baby’s room, we leave no time and internal space to allow the necessary fear and grief to bubble to the surface. The result? Fear and grief will hit full force in the first months of motherhood, when there is nothing left to do – when there’s nothing you should do – but be with your new baby. In those vast, elongated hours, when day and night converge into one seamless realm, when the straight lines of your life have been replaced with round curves and soft edges, terror knocks on the door of your mind and grief threatens to explode your heart. Just when your new baby needs you to be present, available, and clear, the new mother is consumed with her own emotional overwhelm. It’s so much better to address the emotions, as much as possible, ahead of time.
But the stuff… oh, the cuteness of those onesies! Oh, the decision to use cloth or disposable diapers! The car seats! The strollers! So many to choose from! A woman could spend her entire pregnancy researching car seats and strollers so that she makes the best possible decision. My friend, Sarah, who I interviewed for my research on Conscious Motherhood, talked about her thoughts on the “stuff” overwhelm:
“I definitely felt panicked to get everything in my third trimester but I didn’t have any energy to research. There are two hundred and eighty thousand strollers and I didn’t know where to start. So I sent an email out to everyone I knew and asked them for their advice. I let other people decide for me what I was going to get. I wasn’t going to go to Babies R Us and try out eleven different car seats and strollers. I was too tired for that. And it was overwhelming. When you go to those baby registries they show a huge list of the things you need – and half the things you never even end up using. Big businesses are geniuses; they hit us where we’re vulnerable. They convince you that you have to get all this crap.
“I think in the last trimester you’re on a roller coaster and you’re going up – slowly slowly your body is opening, the baby is descending, you can feel a little elbow and knee, it’s so real at that point that it’s absolutely horrifying if you don’t know how to prepare for it spiritually. And it’s easier to pad yourself with three cases of diapers and “gotta get that cup holder for the stroller” – I see it with pregnant women – then to dive into the uncertain spiritual realm. Women think that the only way to feel in control of this terrifying thing that’s about to happen is to think that they’re in control of all this stuff. But there really is no way to control it. You’re on the ride, it’s happening, and only thing you can do is surrender.”
The bottom-line, no-nonsense, sobering truth is that there are only three things you need before your baby arrives: an infant car seat, some diapers (which, unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you can easily send someone out to buy at the last minute), and your breast. Everything else you can accumulate along the way as you see what makes sense for the lifestyle and needs of your new family. There’s nothing inherently harmful in buying fun baby accessories and one more adorable pair of impossibly tiny socks, but if you find yourself compulsively researching and shopping, that’s the time to stop, go home, turn off the computer, pull out your journal and ask yourself how you’re really feeling about becoming a mother in a few short weeks. It will be the best preparation you can do in terms of giving your baby the only thing he or she truly needs: a present and available mother.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., pioneered the field of bridal counseling in 1998. She has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” and her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com. She’s regarded as the international expert on the transitions and 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.