Two years ago, late on a Saturday night, my now-husband and I were dozing off in our bed when we heard a strange noise coming from downstairs. We tiptoed down to investigate, feeling stupid, whispering “It’s nothing, it’s nothing, it’s probably nothing.”
It turned out that no, a PCP-addled maniac was actually trying to break into our house.
Two months ago, I got pregnant by accident. My period was three hours late -- yes, old Utero is usually just that reliable -- so I decided it would a great idea to “calm myself down” with a pregnancy test from Rite Aid. My boss heard the news before pretty much anyone except my husband, because there was no other way to explain why I ran out the door weeping at 1 pm and didn’t come back.
These events had two things in common. First, both were my worst nightmares come true. (Another nightmare: my child finding this article on Google someday. Hi honey! Mommy loves you. Please read this through until the end.)
I can’t tell you how many times I’d lain awake at night through the years, imagining the horror of a late-night intruder or an unexpected pregnancy and what I would do if one of those things ever happened to me. My best guess had been that I would survive, but only as a grim and resentful shell of my former self, my joy in living chewed up and spat out by the merciless maw of Fate.
Those of you who’ve actually survived shit are probably rolling your eyes right now. I know. I was obnoxious. But the truth is, before these two things happened to me, I’d never really had to face much in the way of serious life developments. I worried and worried about them because I had no clue what I could handle.
Which brings me to the second thing these events had in common: They both surprised me, and not just in the sense that I hadn’t expected them. I was caught off guard by how awesome they made me feel. I therefore advise you to get knocked up and burglarized ASAP. Just kidding.
I turned out to be quite lucky in both circumstances. That’s a big reason why I’m able to view them in a positive light today.
The PCP-addled maniac was no criminal mastermind -- just a tweaked-out loser trying to run away from the cops. All he had the mental capacity to do was smash a bunch of windshields on my block, throw himself at my door, jimmy my doorknob, and then run around screaming in circles until the cops caught up with him and tackled him to the ground.
As for the pregnancy: I’m 27, married, and financially stable. Having children might not have been a part of my three-year plan, but keeping this baby wasn’t a terribly brave or even difficult decision.
Nevertheless, I suspect that one or two of you is a sheltered worrywart like me. For that reason, I think it’s important to share with you the good news that it can be a wonderful emotional experience when your worst fears come true. Even if your brain chemistry likes to fuck around with you from time to time, there’s a good chance it will not mess when you have to face life’s big challenges.
I’d read something to this effect about years ago in Gavin de Becker’s book "Protecting the Gift," but I’d never quite believed what he was saying.
“When dreaded outcomes are actually imminent, we don’t worry about them, we take action,” he writes. “Seeing lava from down the local volcano make its way down the street doesn’t cause worry, it causes running.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about until my own private Mauna Loa started erupting. When I realized that the noise in my living room was a person trying to break into my house -- and again, later, when I saw that “pregnant” in the digital window of that pee stick -- I felt not terror, but a sudden wave of clarity and confidence. I was ready to take action. Conquer. Rule. Thrive. Adapt.
When that happened, I was chemically incapable of worry. It was like my body had spontaneously produced its own Adderall. And it was amazing.
In the case of Mr. PCP, I went outside and watched in fascination as the cops tackled him to the ground. “Why? Why?” he screamed. My horrified husband hissed at me to get back in the house.
In retrospect, going outside really was a bad idea -- what if he’d had a gun? -- but my point isn’t that I became invincible or brilliant. It’s just that I stopped worrying. At that moment, the very act of worrying seemed pointless and stupid.
As for the baby: the moment I found out I was pregnant -- sitting on the toilet in my office bathroom -- I looked down at my nether regions, looked back up at the test, looked back down, and blurted out: “OH GOD I AM SO SORRY ABOUT ALL THE VYVANSE AND ALCOHOL.”
To my great surprise and relief, I was happy. Not even a small part of me quailed from the task at hand. I was going to have a baby, my baby, and it was my job to love and protect it from this moment forward. I knew I was up to the task, even though I would have laughed in your face if you'd suggested as much five minutes before.
“It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.” That’s a quote from CS Lewis -- a writer with lots of problems, writing in a problematic context -- but he’s correct on that one point. Thus far, all of my life’s-consuming worries have been about things that have never actually happened. They are not the result of living, but of holding myself back from life.
As calm as I am about this unexpected pregnancy, I was a total wreck during my engagement last year. Back then, I had room to torture myself with what-ifs: What if I’m making the wrong decision? What if I’m not cut out for long-term commitment? What if there are better people out there for me and Matt and we’re selling ourselves short?
As soon as I actually got married, and my marriage became an immutable fact of my life, my worries evaporated. Life is so much easier to deal with when it’s real.
Next week, I’m scheduled to go to the OB/GYN for my 12-week ultrasound. This is the one where they check for life-threatening abnormalities as well as conditions such as Down’s Syndrome and trisomy. I have to admit, the worries are bubbling up again: What will I do if the news isn't good?
But I know enough to stop myself now. If there's a complication with the pregnancy, God forbid, I know I will not be afraid in the moment, and I know every part of my brain and body will be there to support me. In the mean time, there is nothing worthwhile to do but live.