I’m Days Away From Giving Birth and Terrified

From what I understand, when the majority of pregnant women nest, they are inclined to clean maniacally — to set up for the imminent new life slated to enter their homes, and to do it quickly. My experience with nesting, however, has felt more metaphoric. I’ve cleaned out my iPhoto library, cleared off my desktop and deleted feckless iPhone notes. While going through these notes sometime last month, I came across one that contained a single sentence, dated April 13th, 2015. It read: “Can you love your life but hate yourself?”

I don’t remember exactly where I was when I wrote it, whether I ever tried to answer that question, what triggered it that day or if I shared it with anyone. But I remember distinctly how it felt — how it feels — to be wrapped up in a whirlwind of guilt and shame, but also gratitude. Everything seems good, but you’re stuck in a very dark cave where no one can see you, not even yourself, wondering if you’ll ever get out.

The good news is that you will get out, whether or not you do the work on yourself, because as I have mentioned before, no state of existence — whether jubilance or misery — is permanent.

The bad news, though, is that if you’ve ever fallen into this cave, you are predisposed to fall again.

Last Friday night, I had dinner at my parents’ apartment on the Upper East Side. My mom asked what I thought of the freshly cleaned parquet wood floors, but I couldn’t even tell they’d been cleaned. It was a lovely dinner. The food was delicious and I drank a sip of Abie’s wine. We spoke about Netflix and our summer plans, how our weeks had been, and I laughed recklessly with my brothers like we were kids again.

Out of the cave, I thought, I have definitely been.

At the end of the night, after we got up to leave and stood by the entryway, concluding family big talk (we are not a group of small-talkers), I felt a small rush of liquid drip down my leg. A small rush became a full-blown gush and before long, I was standing in a puddle about the size of a hula hoop.

My brothers, dad and I cracked up while my mom and my husband knelt to inspect the puddle I’d created. Was this it? Had my water broken? It appeared that way given its consistency and lack of smell. So we did what we had been instructed to do if something like this were to happen and went to the hospital.

On the way, I saw the life I had known flash before me. I thought about how all the plans I had set for the weekend would be no longer, how the next time I went home, my single self would be three people, all for whom I would forever be responsible.

Can people change? Will my selfishness go away?

An hour and two speculum exams later, our theory about both the fluid’s consistency and smell were proven false. What I had done, really, was pee a grand pee on the freshly cleaned floors of my parents’ apartment.

We were home by 11:30 p.m., babies still in utero, and by 11:50, we were in bed. I could feel Abie’s body growing still. He was about to doze off when I let out a thick cry. It was the kind of cry that shakes your entire body. Fluid leaked out of every orifice on my face and my sobs were so pronounced, distilled in such a patchy cadence that I could barely speak. Why was I crying? What was wrong? And then it all came out.

First, fear, because I have no idea what the hell to expect. Am I even capable of being a good mother? I am such a selfish person. Will my selfishness go away? Can people really change?

Second, nostalgia, for my life before babies. The quiet Saturday mornings drinking coffee at the kitchen table with Abie, overlooking a sea of newspapers. The ability to leave home on a whim without thinking even once about staying back — why would I? The spontaneity, the maintenance of so little responsibility even when my responsibilities felt so huge.

Nostalgia, also, for the time I’ve spent with these children alone. The fact that all I’ve had to do to take care of them is take care of myself — to eat well, rub my stomach, sing to them and promise that even though I can never protect them from the hurricane of a full life, I will always do my best to remind them that I am their home, and that home will never deceive or fail them.

I felt gratitude, third, the heart-wrenching kind, because my body proved it could do this even after I was so sure it couldn’t.

Fourth, guilt. I blamed my inability to conceive on my career, but now all I can think about is how much I cherish my work, how badly I suspect I will need it and how bullish I must be about succeeding in it.

And finally, there was shame — so much shame, because I have wanted this so badly for so long, yet here I am, petrified to become a mother. Sometimes I wake up and wonder to myself, What if the routine of it all downright depresses me? What if I fall back into the cave and just can’t … get … out?

The final days of pregnancy have felt like an impassioned tornado. I’ve been forced to hold multiple conflicting emotions in a single place and resolve them, one by one, as if necklaces tangled in knots. Only, that premise is flawed — conflicting emotions are always wrapped up in each other. That tornado is actually discomfort manufactured by anxiety, which just can’t handle this level of uncertainty.

Before you make a big decision that will fundamentally change your life, you’ll often find a weird, lukewarm pit at the bottom of your belly that feels like an identity crisis. Do I really want this? you might ask. You were so sure you did, but now you don’t know.

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you might think. But there’s a thing about that, too, because if it ain’t broke right now, invariably, it will break. And if it doesn’t, it’s still broken, because the only thing that needs repair more than an imminent shatter is one’s addiction to a comfort zone — stasis.

You cling to the past, and the various familiarities that may have heretofore defined you, because they’re safe and you know them. They’re nothing like The Future — the ominous, the treacherous, the unexplained and the unexplored. This is how I felt before I got married, like I’d been begging the earth to make Abie fall in love with me again, but once he did, I was too scared to walk down the aisle.

I couldn’t understand why no one spoke about this, but once we were actually married, I got it: When you’re lucky, you forget quickly. The future, now present, totally shits on the past. Soon, the present becomes the past, a bank of burgeoning memories and a new life. It is intoxicating.

So here I am. Still pregnant and clenching my butt cheeks, biting my nails and racking my brain to figure out if I’m a masochist with no idea of who I am and what I want because of the fear and shame and guilt and nostalgia. But by now, I should know better — I have to surrender, unclench my butt cheeks and, you know, let the fluid flow.

Collage by Emily Zirimis.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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