I’m almost five months pregnant, and I’ve woken up each day of those five months thinking, “Maybe TODAY will be the day I feel excitement.” But no. Now I’m several short months away from giving birth and growing more and more terrified—not just of labor, but of the whole experience of parenting.

The pregnancy was planned, and I’d always assumed I’d be a mother one day, but thinking back on it now I realize I didn’t have a picture of what that life would look like or what it would entail. I love the person I married, and we’ve always talked about starting a family. But it’s one thing to paint a nursery and buy a crib, and it’s completely different to think of being pregnant another four months, going through hell to give birth, and then becoming a parent for the rest of my life.

I’m terrified. My spouse is jumping-up-and-down excited, and not very sympathetic to my fears and pessimism at all. Though that could be because, to be honest, I haven’t opened up much about my feelings. It just seems so wrong to dread this experience that seems to bring everyone else on the planet so much joy and happiness. I don’t want to admit I don’t feel the same way.

Can I expect my feelings to change? Will I ever embrace motherhood? Is that something that has to come naturally, or can it be learned? —Swollen Ankles, Cold Feet

Dear Swollen,

First, I’d like to thank you for writing in and sharing your experience. There are so many women who experience ambivalence, fear, anxiety, and depression during their pregnancies, and even into motherhood. Yet, it still seems taboo to speak openly about it. Feeling too ashamed to speak up only makes the thoughts and feelings seem bigger and more unmanageable.

There are so many women who experience ambivalence, fear, anxiety, and depression during their pregnancies, and even into motherhood. Yet, it still seems taboo to speak openly about it.

Becoming a mother is permanent and life changing in a way that nothing else really is. Many other major life events, such as taking a new job, getting married, or moving to another place, can be changed or undone if they don’t work out. Becoming a parent is forever, and it’s impossible to imagine what that life will look like before you are living it. Given all of this, it is normal to feel a full range of emotions, including terror and dread.

I wonder if you would feel safe talking about this with your spouse, a close friend, and/or a trusted family member? I think it could be very helpful for you to talk about how you are feeling with people who will be supportive and nonjudgmental. It sounds like right now you are feeling really scared about what lies ahead, and especially about whether you will like it. It also sounds like you are feeling quite alone and guilty about these feelings. Perhaps your spouse is also having some of the same feelings? I wonder if people you know who have children would be willing to talk about some of their fears leading up to becoming parents. Hearing that others have had, or are having, a similar experience could be helpful in alleviating the isolated and guilty feelings.

If it feels too scary to think about disclosing your feelings with people you know, consider scheduling a session with a therapist. My sense is keeping all of this inside is only making it worse. Unburden yourself—let it out and get support. You might be surprised at how much it helps.

Best wishes,

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