Thursday, February 12, 2015

Too Afraid for Joy

On Saturday, I was thrown a lovely, lovely baby shower by the ladies in my family and extended church family. It was beautiful. I was surrounded all day by those who love me and are so very excited for Husband and I, and the collective wisdom and generosity of women who have been sisters, daughters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, and even great-grandmothers were palpable to me as we talked and laughed.

Feeling very full but tired, I came home late on Saturday with a carload of things to make our lives with the baby easier, which all went into the nursery. Sunday I worked all day, and when Monday afternoon came, I started trying to make a master thank-you list and setting up the nursery. I managed to make the list, but I couldn't bring myself to open anything that we had been given. Cognitively, I know the clothes and blankets need to be washed, the closet organized, the furniture set-up, the curtains hung. And cognitively, I know that everything is going to be fine, in just a few weeks we'll be bringing home a baby girl, who will need all of these things, and we will need them to be ready, not scattered around the nursery in their boxes. Far better to start the process now and keep working at it over a few weeks than to do it after the baby arrives.

But I realized after having to go in there on Monday, that I've been avoiding the nursery since we designated that room the nursery. I haven't set anything up, I haven't been able to cut the tags off of the cute little outfits that have been accumulating from friends, I haven't been able to commit to a paint color. And on Monday, I realized why.

I'm afraid. Actually, I'm really afraid.

I'm afraid about what happens if I set it all up, and our hearts are broken. I'm afraid of trying to return things that we don't need, knowing that everything can be lost in an instant, or over the cruel progression of weeks or months in the NICU. I'm just plain old scared, even though as I write this I'm getting kicked by a healthy daughter, who at thirty-three weeks is not just fine, but feisty. And this fear that's been ruling this pregnancy, at least since we moved and it got real, has been blocking me from getting excited about becoming a mother and meeting her. Even more than that, this fear has sucked the joy out being where we are now. Everyone around me seems to feel joy for us; but while I wait in fear for the other shoe to drop, I can't feel that joy myself.

Brene Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection that the opposite of joy isn't sadness, but fear. Being afraid of losing what we have closes down the ability to be grateful, right now, for what we do have. And the practice of gratitude, Brown points out, is a prerequisite for joy. The presence of fear drives away gratitude, and as such, fear drives away joy.

What I realized, standing in that nursery full of baby socks in packs and cloth diapers still in the plastic, was that unless I do something now, I'm always going to be too afraid for joy. A healthy delivery means I'll be afraid of measles and SIDS. Reaching a year will mean I'll be afraid of her choking on something that fits inside a paper towel roll, and when she's beyond that, I'll still be afraid of leukemia, car accidents, drowning, school shootings, sports-related concussions, and rare side effects of communicable diseases. There will always be something more to fear.

So, tomorrow, I'm taking a tiny baby step and cutting the tags off of everything, seven weeks early. I'll wash what needs to be washed, assemble the mobile and the bouncer seat, rearrange the furniture, and work on being grateful that we are where we are today.


  1. Thanks, Becky. This speaks to my condition, for sure!

  2. Thank you for sharing something so deep and personal. Though I'm realizing that I'm not dealing with the uncertainty and risk of having a child in the same way. For me I want to do as much as possible to control the situation- hence reading a lot of books on pregnancy/labor/parenting and the baby clothes inventory spreadsheet I created in Excel. If I know everything and have everything organized, nothing can go wrong, right? It's just as potentially joy deigning as your way of dealing with the fear, and I've got to keep myself from busying myself out of a sense of wonder and happiness.

  3. Sorry to say...worry is a waste of time. Enjoy today. God will take care of tomorrow.
    No matter what the future holds, He'll be there all the way.

  4. Oops, I found myself worrying this morning...bad. Then I read, you may have read it too. It's from 2/15/15 Day by Day:
    "My friend...talked about being afraid before her open-heart surgery. Her priest assured her, ' your fear right now is a part of you. Don't try to get rid of it. Hold it, and you with your fear----sink into Jesus.'"
    Much better than what I said 2 days ago

  5. Dear Becky,

    I have thought of you and prayed for you often since reading this. I'm a grandmother - the mother of two mostly healthy children and two mostly healthy grandchildren. There have been easy parts and hard parts, restful parts and terrifying parts, but we have lurched along all right so far. I wish the same for you, and my prayer for you is: May joy attend your journey.
    Pamela Grenfell Smith
    Bloomington, Indiana