When I think about fear, I think about a feeling of being out of control; helpless. As a typical "Type A" personality, any situation I don't have some amount of control over elicits a shortness of breath and a feeling of being trapped. In walks the unplanned pregnancy.
At approximately 100 weeks pregnant at this point and truly hoping this child decides to meet the world sooner rather than later, I feel I can say with confidence that there are few things in the world more frightening than pregnancy and parenting. Why? Because there is just no room in pregnancy for the word control. The unborn aren't exactly on our schedule to say the least.
Prior to that fateful day of urinating on a stick, I considered myself a pretty fearless person. I've climbed mountains, raced cars, drank milk past it's expiration date. Courage was my middle name. Until two teeny-tiny pink lines changed my life. Immediately, I was overwhelmed with "what-ifs" and "oh-nos!"
A look back at my check-ins on Foursquare for the month before I knew I was with child was certainly an eye opener as to just how much one might drink during the summer with friends. My immediate thought was that I may have unknowingly ruined my child's entire life and given it any number of disorders located on the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum. I had only known I was pregnant for five minutes and I was already the worst mother in the world. How could I go back and fix this? Oh, that's right, I couldn't.
As my pregnancy progressed, so did the level of fear. Suddenly, the world (and my refrigerator) seemed like a very dangerous place to be. I'm a reader and a researcher, and I like to be well-informed. This drives my boyfriend crazy, especially with pregnancy. Everything you read tells you there is something else you can't do or have to be careful for. You can't spend too much time in the sun and have to watch your body temperature. You can't drink alcohol, eat cold cuts (unless they're heated), and certain fish are a no-no. You have to watch your sugar intake (I learned the hard way just how much it sucks to have to take the three-hour glucose test because of "failing" the first). No hot tubs. Or coffee. Or certain types of tea. Basically, pregnancy is a big long list of everything you can't do for nine months. To be fair, some medical professionals are pretty lenient with these recommendations and now say that a cup of coffee here and there won't hurt anything. But, as a researcher (I am my own worst enemy) I can say that there are a lot of studies I've seen that link caffeine to an increase in miscarriage. To me, that's reason enough to have a juice box in the morning instead.
I became obsessed. Much to my boyfriend's dismay, I discovered the Environmental Working Group's website. Did you know that you can put in almost any cosmetic or hygiene product on their site and get a rating based on the level of toxicity of that item? I can safely say that I have spent a total of probably two full days of my life (not all at once) using this website. And just like that, almost everything we got as shower gifts related to hygiene went back to the store: well-known diaper cremes, shampoo, baby wash, etc. with ingredients that are linked to cancer and other major issues. I just kept thinking, "How can they continue to make this stuff and recommend that we put it on our babies?" Overnight, I became a strictly organic girl. Our house is now full of 100 percent natural/organic wipes, diapers, hand sanitizer, dryer sheets, diaper creme, baby lip balm, etc. Even our nursery sheets and a great deal of the baby's clothes are organic.
My first reaction was to tell myself, "Get a grip, girl!" No one researched things like this when we were growing up and I turned out just fine! And then I remember that my sister and I also used to ride in the bed of my dad's pickup truck for fun. Just because we survived didn't mean it was safe. Why should cosmetic/hygiene products or what we wear on our skin (our largest organ) be any different? So many times, doctors have no idea what caused someone to get cancer. Isn't using the information that's out there to our advantage and, at the very least, lowering our risks a good thing?
Most of all, my biggest fears in pregnancy were much simpler, though. I want what every expecting parent wants: a healthy baby. And a great deal of that is 100 percent out of my control. I can't control whether or not my child is born with a birth defect or the "right" number of fingers and toes. I can't control whether or not he or she will have proper eyesight or hearing. My biggest fear? I couldn't even control whether or not my baby would survive in utero and make it to this point. It's all just out of our control. While we can certainly educate ourselves and lower our risks by eating healthy, exercising and getting appropriate prenatal care, at the end of the day, sometimes things just go wrong. We can do everything right and still have a pregnancy that just doesn't make it to term, or a baby that is born with a medical complication, serious illness or any number of problems. That is something I never in my wildest dreams imagined would be so incredibly difficult to accept. This is my child. It is my job from day one to protect him or her. And I can't. Not completely. That's a fear I could never have anticipated or fully understood until having to go through it.
The thing with fear is this: There's no such thing as being fearless. We are all afraid of something, that's part of being human. It's what we do with that fear that gives us the right to stand up and say that we are becoming fearless. Sometimes staring fear in the face and going skydiving or learning to snowboard isn't what it takes to be brave. It can be as simple as educating ourselves, using that knowledge to improve ourselves and perhaps the world around us. And, sometimes, it's just admitting that life is often out of our control and we have to let go.
There is a saying: "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." While pregnancy has been full of surprises and some scary moments, it is also full of beauty. No, not "the glow." That's from throwing up all night. And day. But there is just nothing in the world that compares to feeling your child kick for the first time, or in response to a favorite book that you read out loud almost every day. Seeing your child grow on the sonograms is both beautiful and incredibly humbling. And when I hold my baby in my arms for the first time, whether or not he or she has all the "right" fingers and toes, I know it will all be worth it. That's the thing with fear. The most beautiful experiences in the world are lying at the end of that fear rainbow. We just have to be willing to climb to the top, let go, and let ourselves slide down to the end.
Facing my fears? Been there, done that and bought the maternity T-shirt. Now it's on to parenting! (Deep breaths!)
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