Q&A: having a baby worries

LB writes:

"I'm a pre-mommy who needs some advice from wise already-mommies! Myhusband and I are gearing up to start trying for a baby next month. We have discussed this for *years*. I think I'm ready, but I am still having a LOT of baby anxiety. I'm worried about if I can manage the pregnancy/birth well, how I can possibly work full time with an hour commute one way while breastfeeding, about being a bad mother, and about all the awful things I might do to screw up a child. Then there are all the selfish worries, like will I have to give up my identity and life, can my husband and I maintain a good relationship, what is this going to do to my body, am I going to have to give up caring about my career, can I still keep my hobbies, will my husband and I have to be broke forever, etc. Eep.

Still, my heart keeps returning to the idea that I DO want a family and feel somewhat ready. I was talking to a friend of mine (a mother) about all this, and she said if I was having these fears I obviously wasn't ready to have a baby. She said she knew being a mom was right for her and didn't look back. And then my sister-in-law has had a really easy time with her 5 month old, and keeps saying that things are going so smoothly because she was so prepared. (Of course, she's also working part time, has a husband who can work from home often, and has work/daycare 5 minutes from home when she does work.)

Now, my smart, aware side (the side of me that reads your blog!) knows these are probably exceptions to the rules, but the pre-mommy doubt is creeping in. I guess I just need to know how other people felt before having their babies or what advice they might give, because right now I'm feeling like a lonely, messed up, selfish loser who never deserves to be a mom. :("

You know, if only people who "deserved" to be parents became parents, then the human race would have died off a long time ago. I'm happy for your friends that they both were super-sure they were ready, but, honestly, I think they're the exception. I also think that the mom of the 5-month-old might be telling a different story when the 9-month sleep regression hits...

You know, the more I think about this, the more I think your friends are giving you bad information. There is a ton of stuff that comes up in parenting that you have NO CONTROL over, so to imply that people who are "prepared" (and what does that mean, anyway?) are going to have an easier time with parenting is magical thinking. You can read every book, take every class, buy every product available, and be super-positive that motherhood is going to be the apex of self-actualization, and your kid might come out colicky or with reflux or with delays or trouble latching or high-intensity or any other thing that makes parenting super-challenging.

Honestly, it makes me a little angry that someone thinks everything's going so well for her because of something she did! That basically means that she thinks that people who have problems with their babies are having problems because they haven't done things the right way. That's insulting, misogynistic, and ridiculous.

And this idea that not being positive you want to be a mom means you won't be a good one is just plain wrong. I can still remember staring at that stick with the two lines and thinking, "What the hell have I done???" And, you know what? I'm a really good mother. And for the most part, I've enjoyed parenting immensely. The stretch marks, notsomuch, but the personal growth has been outstanding. Plus, I have these two awesome people in my life that make everything so much richer. There are an awful lot of us out there who were scared but are overjoyed to have our kids in our lives.

I think there are very, very few people who felt absolutely ready to have a baby. Or maybe they felt ready until they were actually pregnant, or maybe they were completely ready for a baby but having a toddler terrified them. But the secret to parenting is that you just show up. Every morning you get out of bed and do whatever needs to be done. And you don't actually have to like it or be particularly good at it--you just do it.

It's really not this binary thing: Ready/not ready. Worthy/not worthy. Good mother/bad mother. Prepared/unprepared. You are a work in progress. Parenting is wonderful and horrible and makes you stretch and beats you down. Your body grows another person! But then you don't sleep for 14 months straight. And that person smiles at you! And then poops all over your favorite shirt. And you know you're forming this amazing bond! But you feel like you're never really concentrating on your kid *or* your job anymore.

I think the trick is to stay in touch with whatever feelings you're having, and don't feel guilty about them. NO ONE likes being a parent all the time. (Of course now that I've typed that, someone's going to comment that she loves every second of it, even the time her kid puked into her mouth or wiped buttery fingers on her power suit as she was walking out the door to litigate an important case.) And knowing that and being OK with that, and with yourself, is what makes it all possible.

So don't worry about being absolutely sure. And don't worry about whether you're supposed to want a child or not. If you're feeling misgivings, think about them, and talk about them (although not with those two friends!). Maybe you'll start trying to get pregnant, and you'll make it through like the rest of us do, fears and apprehensions and all. Or maybe you'll feel like the idea of parenthood stresses you out too much and you're going to table the idea of kids for another 6 months or year or two. Or maybe you'll decide not to have kids at all, and that will be OK.

Oh, and the answer to your questions: Yes, an hour long commute each way is going to kill you. No, you won't feel like yourself for awhile. Yes, your marriage will probably survive but you'll need to be conscious about being kind to each other. Your hobbies will go on indefinite hiatus but you won't care. You will absolutely and completely mourn your old body, so show it off now while you still can. And you will screw up your kid in an infinite number of ways, but probably not any that are irreparable. Your life will get more confusing, harder, and way richer than it is now. Some minutes you'll regret it, but most weeks you won't. It will change your life.

Readers? Did anyone out there get pregnant accidentally and end up being a better parent than you thought you'd be? Or even get pregnant on purpose but then get completely !@#$%^ing terrified during the pregnancy and still end up being a good-to-great parent? Or did you think you'd be good at one aspect of parenting but end up being good at something completely different? Or think you'd love it but instead you're just hanging in there until your kid is older and more of a conversationalist?

Oh, and while you're at it, how did your life change in ways you predicted, and in ways you didn't?