The last time I remember feeling this way, I was sitting atop a launch pad, 40 feet up a tree, harnessed to a zip line. It was up to me to jump. No one was going to push me off, and no one was going to let me come down. But I was paralyzed. I couldn’t let myself climb back down. I couldn’t jump off. I sat there for what felt like an eternity, trying to will myself one direction or the other. One direction–failure and humiliation. The other direction–utter uncertainty.
I had climbed up there out of a feeling of obligation–either to my family who thought of me as weak in spirit, or to my best friend who I wanted to be like, or to God who needed me to prove myself, or to the camp staff who thought all kids should try one ropes course station. Somebody somewhere needed me to go down the zip line, but as far as I knew, that person was not me. So I went.
A sense of nobly fulfilling obligation to somebody somewhere pushed my legs up the tree, but once I found myself sitting on the launching pad, feeling the gaping distance between my dangling legs and the ground below, all of a sudden no voices were present at all. It was just me. And a horrible choice. One direction–failure plus humiliation. The other, a fear worse than death: utter uncertainty.
I saw grass, dirt, and pine needles below me. I saw trees and sky ahead of me. I saw the cord racing forward into the distance. I couldn’t see where it landed.
I remember what I was feeling/thinking right before I jumped. A gaping sense of nothing. I had to shut off my brain to make the jump. An MRI would’ve shown me to be dead, except for one last brain wave to tell my hands to push down and my bottom to push forward. All other activity was nonexistent.
I think I closed my eyes and kept myself in nothing mode at first. I think I didn’t want to feel death if it got me. But then death didn’t get me, and I opened my eyes, and instead I was just coursing smoothly forward, wind’s breath in my face, trees lining either side. I don’t remember landing or any other part of the ride.
And maybe that’s what motherhood will be like. Maybe my brain will shut off for a moment just long enough to not hear my cell phone alarm, not reach into my purse, and not pull out a tiny white pill from a blue holder. And maybe my brain will shut off just long enough to last until the day I get pregnant. And maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of a memory on the way there, but I won’t remember landing, and then I will not remember life before pregnancy, and then later, life before motherhood.
Because I can’t consciously make this decision. I also can’t consciously make the opposite decision. One direction, failure and humiliation. The other, fear worse than death: utter uncertainty. Which translates to utter possibility of utter failure.
So I’m sitting for a little longer, legs dangling. Waiting for rescue, or waiting for a push, or waiting for my brain to shut off. There seem to be no other ways out.
There is one major difference between me on the zip line and me before motherhood. On the launch pad, there was barely room for the launcher and one adult whose sole duty was to safely send them down. I did not have someone to talk to. If my best friend had been up there, I could’ve worried out all my fears to her, listened quietly to her reassurances, and then made the jump with complete acceptance of the decision, with complete faith that on the other side was a positive-balanced outcome.
In marriage, I have my husband. I can worry out all my fears to him. What’s unfortunate and makes it not quite work is that he’s as afraid as I am, for different reasons. So he can’t reassure me that everything is going to be okay anymore than I can reassure him the same.
In my life, there’s God. But when I worry to God, sometimes I feel as alone as if I were just worrying to myself. I don’t hear or feel him quietly reassuring me. I’ve talked with other mothers a little, even mothers my own age (including my best friend). But I need more of those conversations than I have access to. When your sole motivation for talking to people about something is a deeply rooted utter fear of failure, it’s a little hard to find someone you’d trust exposing that nerve to.