In the last month of my pregnancy, there were two questions that people asked me everywhere I went. From friends and family to complete strangers at church or in Target, everyone wanted to know two things:
- Are you excited?
- Are you ready?
Most of the time, I would say, “Yes! So excited!!” and, “As ready as we can be!” But despite the fully furnished nursery and the hospital bag that I’d packed a full month in advance, I had never felt less ready for this baby or less excited about the process of getting her out. So, those questions had a way of forcing me to put on a smile when that’s maybe the last thing I was feeling.
Instead of asking a pregnant friend or co-worker if she’s ready and excited, there are better ways to engage her experience, or share your own. Convinced I couldn’t be the only one who felt so completely unprepared and terrified during pregnancy, I took to
the streets Instagram to find out what other women found helpful in those last weeks leading up to motherhood.
Many of the moms I talked to shared their own rehearsed responses to these well-meaning inquiries. Some answered by asking the real question: “Is anyone ever truly ready?” Others had an answer I think we can all get behind: “I’m ready to not be pregnant anymore!”
But what do we say instead? How do we share our joy for new mothers while also making room for the fear and uncertainty that is universal to the experience of becoming a mother?
Share in the wonder
There’s no combination of words that can illustrate the moment when a squirmy, screaming baby is placed on a mother’s chest for the first time. It’s a moment that cannot be fully understood until it is lived, and those of us who have experienced it are filled with excitement for those who are about to.
There will be time to commiserate with a new mom about labor, sleep deprivation, chapped nipples, and recovery. Speaking to a pregnant woman is not that time. If you’re a parent, reminisce about those first, sweet, sacred moments with your babies. Now is the time to try and fail to express the all-consuming love of a mother and father for their baby. Now is the time to share the highlights of your birth and postpartum experience. Tell her what was easier than you expected, what wasn’t nearly as impossible as everyone said it would be. Chances are good that her mind is full of worst-case scenarios and what-ifs. She needs a happy ending.
Many of the moms I talked to used the word “terrified” to describe the final countdown to baby day. We’re terrified of the unpredictability and potential complications of giving birth, of not bonding with our baby, of losing our identity, of how this new baby’s arrival will impact the family dynamics, of never sleeping again, of never feeling at home in our skin, of something happening to our baby or to us.
We’re also grieving. We’re grieving our freedom, our old life, our old body, and our sense of control. And yet, in the midst of our darkest fears, we are simultaneously filled with hope for what the future has in store, and your stories help us to anticipate the arrival of this tiny new person with a sense of joy and wonder.
Instead of reverting one of those Stupid Questions, Jill suggests asking “How are you feeling?” — a question that invites honesty, creates a deeper connection, and normalizes a full range of emotions.
Lend her your confidence
Kelsie compared her experience of anticipating her daughter’s arrival to an all-important summer rite of passage: it’s like being thrown into the deep end when you’re a kid. A pregnant woman is more ready than she knows and definitely more ready than she feels, but she doesn’t and won’t understand that until she‘s broken the surface and tasted the summer air, heart pounding, exhilarated.
I remember the moment our doctor pulled my daughter from my belly by the scruff of her neck, all tiny animal wail and flailing limbs. What I remember even more clearly is the silence that fell over the room the moment they laid her on my chest. She and I and my husband were the only three people who existed. She was my whole world and I hers. I was her home and that was enough. The details no longer mattered, the what-ifs faded from my mind. Come what may, we would be okay.
Instead of asking the expectant mother in your life if she feels ready, remind her of how capable she is to endure labor, delivery, and recovery, how strong she is in mind, body, and soul. Tell her she can do it. Tell her she was made to be this baby’s mama and there’s no one who could do the job better than she will.
You know this, and soon she will, too. But for now, make it your mission to lend her your confidence when she’s overwhelmed with fear and self-doubt in the coming days, weeks, and months. Above all, remind her of your presence in her life and that of her family. Show up in her inbox with encouragement and at her front door with coffee or her favorite take-out.