I’d been anxiously anticipating the arrival of The Star Child tarot deck for over a month and now I was holding it in my hands! I’d resisted opening it all day in order to create some time that evening to go through the ritual of cleansing the cards and connecting with their energies.
I smudged them with sage, spoke my intentions, and anointed my hands with essential oils of grapefruit, lime, and sage before touching each card.
Suddenly I felt a bit panicked. Was it okay to use essential oils while pregnant? There seemed to be so many rules and I really wasn’t sure about this one.
I started Googling and quickly felt the cold hand of fear gripping my chest. Amongst the oils listed as unsafe for pregnancy were sage and clary sage. They were thought to bring on contractions and potentially cause miscarriages in early pregnancy.
I felt wracked with worry and guilt, thinking I could have hurt our tiny baby.
That’s been the worst pregnancy symptom: the fear. I probably should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.
Perhaps it’s because I’m among the first of my friends to get pregnant. Or that I’ve always been too wrapped up in my own stuff to give it much thought. The fact that society practically insists we don’t talk about our pregnancy during the first trimester was definitely a factor. I felt so alone in my overwhelming fear, without realizing this was all a necessary part of the initiation.
I knew that the risk of miscarriage was heightened during the first trimester but I hadn’t been prepared for every article and book I read to be tinged with a “Don’t get your hopes up yet” undertone, even as they insisted I book a doctor’s appointment, change my diet, and start taking a prenatal vitamin.
It felt as if I didn’t have permission to even feel pregnant yet.
I was afraid that I’d eat the wrong thing or drink the wrong herbal tea and lose the baby.
I felt almost certain that my body would prove incapable of sustaining a pregnancy, somehow unable to produce the necessary hormones to complete this task.
Every time I took a bite or made a move it was done so with the cautious uncertainty of whether it was okay for the baby.
I checked for blood every time I went to the bathroom (truthfully, I’m still checking for blood every time).
Even though I knew that most first trimester miscarriages are due to severe fetal abnormalities and can’t be avoided, I was still petrified that I’d do something wrong and hurt this tiny life that was growing inside of me.
Those were the fears I could have expected but their severity and pervasiveness nearly knocked me over. And then other worries began to rise to the surface and they’ve continued to as my pregnancy progresses.
I worry that I should have written my book before getting pregnant and that somehow this will stop me from ever finishing it (as if no mother or pregnant woman has ever written a book).
I stay awake into the night panicked that my mental health challenges will make me a terrible parent, terrifying my children with my meltdowns or rendering me incapable of caring for them for weeks at a time.
I have visions of my body breaking down, completely unable to bear the sleep deprivation and demands of breastfeeding.
I become anxious that parenthood will create a rift between my husband and I, pushing us further and further apart.
I’m afraid that I haven’t made enough progress in my sexual liberation journey and that now my healing will be halted throughout the pregnancy, that having a baby will mean never having sex again, that I’ll be frigid forever.
I wonder if we’ll ever be able to afford to take our family to Disney World and then I began tallying up how much it must have cost for my parents to take us to the fair every year, buy our Christmas presents, clothe us for school…
I convinced myself that what I really wanted was a baby not a child and that I won’t be able to love them when they aren’t small anymore.
I stew over the fact that beginning this journey means being afraid forever now that I have another being to keep safe.
I sat with most of this fear alone. I’d share with my husband when some particularly bad cramping had me worried and he always had something sympathetic and comforting to say. But I couldn’t quite express the full-on, paranoid chaos that was wreaking havoc in my brain.
The energy of the first trimester is one of constant feeling, releasing, shedding. It felt like a constant, uncomfortable invitation to fully feel these fears and surrender to the lack of control we have over this ancient, primal process.
This is a process no one can go through for us but I wish it wasn’t one that women were going through on their own. By almost insisting that women keep their pregnancies secret from all but the closest family for the first three months (a recommendation I chose not to take), we make these experiences a taboo. We keep women alone in them, rather than initiating each other into the medicine and being honest about how normal all of these feelings are.
It’s an incredibly personal decision whether you want to talk about your pregnancy in those early months. The risk of miscarriage is higher than the second and third trimesters but personally, I didn’t understand why – if such a horrible tragedy should happen – we are meant to be alone in our grief.
I know that if my father had recently passed away, I would tell my friends. I would let them know I was not okay. I’d lean on them for support. Why is the expectation so different with pregnancy?
Luckily, the more I shared these fears with other women the more “me too!” moments I experienced. The feelings are still incredibly uncomfortable but it’s hugely healing and powerful to know I’m not alone in this. That it’s all normal.
Fear is a tricky bugger. Many self-help and spiritual teachings would tell us that we need to “choose love instead,” or “smash through it,” or “pour light in our wounds.”
Just like we’re encouraged to stay alone in our grief, we’re told at every turn not to feel our fear. That it’s too “low vibe.” That it keeps us from our dreams.
This is not just bullshit, it’s dangerous.
Fear is a necessary, evolutionary response designed to keep us safe.
The difficult part is that evolution hasn’t quite caught up to the fact that we’re no longer running away from large-toothed predators so a fear of losing our job creates the same reaction as though we’re running away from a tiger.
That doesn’t mean we don’t need to feel it. Our feelings have a life cycle that allow us to fully process our feelings, including our fear, but we have to feel them. Otherwise, the energy of these feelings gets stuck in our bodies creating trauma and wreaking havoc on our lives (this is something I’m writing a lot about in my book).
So there’s this tricky balance to walk of feeling our fear and learning what it is there to teach us:
Is our fear actually an intuitive, gut reaction that something just isn’t right for us?
Are we living out of alignment with our natural cycles and this fear is an indicator that our adrenals are under too much stress?
Is this fear pointing to an emotional wound that is in need of your attention?
Does this fear point to a symptom of your physical health?
Has this fear highlighted that you’re running up against the side of your comfort zone and that you’re ready to stretch in new ways?
On the other side of this balance is not taking our fear too seriously. Recognizing that there is no tiger chasing us, that this isn’t going to kills us, and thus it doesn’t get to rule our lives. There are ways that we can honour our fear (by feeling it, by listening to it, by expressing it), without letting it dictate our actions or decisions.
I’m learning that pregnancy is a powerful teacher and healer. She offers potent medicine in forms of feelings that demand to be felt, that are too strong to be turned away from. And through that process I’m able to integrate and heal.
It’s incredibly uncomfortable and not at all glamourous but I think it’s medicine we all need. Whether it’s from hormones or old patterns, let’s allow fear to teach us what it can and stop inflicting trauma on our bodies by turning away from it.
This post was originally posted on my blog at SarahStarrs.com on January 23, 2017.