Before I had my own children, I was honoured to be asked to support one of my best friends in the delivery room when she had her first baby. Although I had no idea what to expect, I excitedly drove to the hospital on a hot summer day back in June of 2000 equipped with soothing music and peppermint foot rub to ease her through what was sure to be a blissful and life-altering experience. I mean come on – I’d watched enough episodes of “A Baby Story” to know what was going to go down- a few cramps, three or four intense pushes and we’d be gathered around her pink-cheeked bundle of joy in under one hour.
Except it didn’t quite go as planned. The labor lasted all night long. A LONG grueling night watching my friend writhe in agony as intense pain gripped her over and over for hours. The “charming” local hospital where she delivered didn’t have the staff available to administer epidurals so she was told to “bear down” and “ride it out” by an assortment of super helpful nurses. I’m pretty sure at one point she begged me to knock her out with the tube of foot rub (or was that shove it up my ass? I forget…) and it only got worse once she found out the baby was stuck and a variety of forceps and vacuums had to be implemented to get that bundle of joy out of her body. Did I mention there was no epidural?
As a result of that “blissful” experience – I spent the entire 9 months of my first pregnancy scared out of my wits. I mean literally FREAKING OUT. I kept looking at other pregnant woman on the street and had to fight down the urge to grab them by the shoulders and scream into their peaceful faces- “Do you know what is going to happen to you when it’s time for that thing to come out! Stop looking so happy dammit – this is serious!”
But here’s the thing- after months of angsting over the delivery- my own birth experience was quite easy and stress-free. And it was only after my son was born that the reality of being his mom hit me square in the face and I came to a shocking realization: I had been focusing on the wrong damn thing. Instead of preparing myself for life as a brand new mom and all of the changes that come with adjusting to parenthood – I had spent my entire pregnancy fretting about his birth. As challenging as labour and delivery can be for many women (my girlfriend can certainly attest to this) – the REAL hard work comes when you carry that baby-in-a-bucket through your front door and get down to the nitty-gritty business of being a mom.
Reflecting on this experience made me realize how much time I have wasted over the years worrying about things that never happened. And I mean lots of time….I’m thinking years if we added it all up. Those sleepless nights as a young teenager following a short video my grade 9 science teacher showed the class on nuclear war. Yep…I was convinced we were all going to be obliterated at any moment. Didn’t happen. The times I fearfully skipped out on dip in the river thinking I would be eaten by a shark. Didn’t happen. The anxiety I worked up to a frenzy in my brain about failing a French class in university. Didn’t happen. And let’s not even get into how this worrying business just ratcheted up to a whole new level once I had my own children to worry about!
In his book “How To Stop Worrying and Start Living”, Dale Carnegie says to think about the worst possible outcome in any given situation, come to grips with that outcome and then move forward. And let me tell you something Dale – that pisses me off! I know there is a lot of wisdom in that book but that one just doesn’t work for me. I have a very vivid imagination and this particular strategy would have me shivering on the couch in the fetal position imagining brain tumours and kidnapping and ultra-marathons and sharks and a prosecco shortage. Yeesh!
But I have come to realize that Dale was bang on when he said “most of the things that we worry about never happen.” I can certainly attest to that. Yes crappy stuff does happen in life but it’s rarely the things I thought would happen. So why waste time worrying? Sage advice but much easier said than done.
Now, when I notice myself going off the rails with worry I harken back to that summer night in the delivery room with my girlfriend. Although I acknowledge my friend’s struggle, I also remember that after it was all over she held a healthy baby girl in her arms. And get this -she even went on to have 3 more children! She didn’t let that scary night define her life and although all of her deliveries where challenging, she recognized the futility of worrying about them and instead focused on the joy of pregnancy and adventure that would follow with her beautiful family.
Mind you some of this perspective comes with age. And I am by no means an expert in “living in the now” or “turning every negative into a positive”. Sometimes I still get carried beyond the point of sanity with worry. Sometimes life downright sucks. Sometimes a baby gets stuck in your crotch for heaven’s sake!
But I have learned some strategies for reminding myself to slow down and focus on the “right” things. Meditation helps a lot. Taking time each day to be still and just breathe has taught me to recognize when my thoughts are spinning out of control and to pause to refocus. A brisk walk or a glass of wine with a good friend also works wonders. Spending time doing something creative like writing in my journal or on my blog is incredibly therapeutic. And so is a game of Apples To Apples with my family or a groovy dance break to “Bust A Move” in the middle of the living room floor.
I guess the key for me is to push the pause button when the worry takes over. I try to take a breath and to remind myself that worrying will not change the situation, worrying will not help the situation and in most cases – worrying will make the situation worse. And if all else fails I always keep a hefty tube of peppermint foot rub close at hand in case I need to be knocked out ; )