Two years ago I was losing my mind. Fifteen years of dreading my (limited) role in the labor process and exponential fear about parenthood culminated in an evening when we wife walked into our bedroom at midnight and told me, “It’s starting.”
“Dear God, help me,” was about all I could pray as I writhed in the grips of an anxiety attack. My chest tightened and I puffed out my breaths, the prospect of sleep all but gone at that point.
This moment was the culmination of many, many anxiety attacks and public faintings.
Learning about the birth process in college?
Out cold in my desk.
Talking about having a baby four years ago?
Going to Bradley birth class with my pregnant wife?
Infant CPR class?
Thinking about birth?
I nearly lost my mind anticipating the birth of Ethan. It was nine months of living in fear of what I wanted the most. I really wanted to have a child. I was just terrified of the labor process and of being a parent to a helpless little baby.
The fears kept invading my mind:
I was going to drop the baby, suffocate the baby, or expose the baby to innumerable dangers. I would surely do something to hurt our child.
And even if our child managed to survive my incompetence, I could also be a terrible father. Here’s the thing: I get bored around other people’s kids. I mean, they’re great. We interact and play. It’s a great time for 30, even 60 minutes. But could I survive an entire day of attentiveness to my own child? Would I just end up praying for him to leave me alone or take a nap or something?
My pounding heart aside, we couldn’t stop labor.
So this is what happened, we took a lot of walks. I tried to control my anxiety, and when things got totally insane and my wife went through transition in the car on the way to the hospital, I got my head in the game, guiding her through a calming breathing procedure that calmed myself as well.
We were in this amazing rhythm and kept it going on the way up the elevator to the delivery floor even as a nurse chided me for not “encouraging” her.
It was otherworldly to think that a baby would soon come out of my wife. I was relatively calm, and I had to keep telling myself that I wasn’t the one actually in labor. In fact, it helped to remember that I had a role to play as support for Julie.
The closer we got to the actual birth, the calmer I became, more focused, more aware of the moment. Anxiety didn’t have any space in my head to inject worst case scenarios. Soon we had a little baby snuggled against my wife’s chest as she said, “Oh sweetheart, sweetheart!”
When the nurses weighed him, I stood by his side and let him grip my finger, rubbing his head and belly.
Everything in the past two years has been wonderful and exhausting. Having my own child was completely different. It’s always a wonder to see your own child develop and change from day to day, learning and experimenting, improvising in his own ways.
You never know what he’s going to put in one of the pots in our kitchen. He may just as likely help me stir an egg as plunge his hand into the bowl. Some days he’ll throw a ball right to me and other days he’ll turn away from me and throw the ball as hard as he can.
You wonder, what is he thinking?
We’re anticipating our next son any day now. He’s due on July 22nd, but my wife has already had a few strong contractions that ended after she sat down for a while. On Monday she was exhausted and had a few contractions, and the old anxiety returned. I could barely focus on my work all morning.
What brought on the anxiety?
I’m not sure. I didn’t really have any concrete fears that morning. Just the waves of anxiety rolling in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps I feared change and the unknown. Perhaps I had no good reason for all of the anxiety.
I thought of Ethan and how wonderful the past two years have been.
He’s had his bumps and bruises that no parent could prevent. He’s stolen hours and hours of sleep. He pooped on me once. That’s about it. Generally speaking, there most likely isn’t anything to fear at all. It’s just one big unknown cliff I’m jumping off, and I don’t get to say when the leap begins.
When you leap into the unknowns of parenthood, you fall into the wonder of praying over your child and finding that it connects you with the heart of God like nothing else. It’s like getting baptized in the Holy Spirit every time for me. I’ve fallen into the joys of watching him play in his pool where he dumps after from one boat to another, seeing him build train tracks and push his trains around for hours, and reading books together that he later picks up to “read” on his own with crossed legs.
There are many unknown blessings that you land on if you leap into parenthood.
I know that my wife is healthy, the baby is in great shape for a safe delivery, and friends will care for Ethan’s every need. We don’t have much to fear.
Two years ago our life changed forever. Besides the lost sleep and the pooped-on t-shirt I threw out, I learned that the majority of my anxiety has no basis in reality. It’s just an exercise in my mind shadow-boxing, flailing against the impossibility of controlling the future.
After my anxiety attack this past Monday, I stepped back and saw all that has been wonderful and joyful about parenting Ethan. I saw that anxiety may come, but it doesn’t have to stay.
It took the arrival of a beautiful little boy two years ago with a perfect head of hair to show me that fear of the unknown cannot compare with the ever-expanding love of parents for their children.