A baby-shaped hole in my heart

Posted by on May 31, 2011 in Pregnancy | 42 comments

Last night, after I got up to visit the bathroom for the third time, the baby woke up and started squirming. Then he got the hiccups. I lay there in the dark with my hand on my belly – feeling those small, rhythmic twitches just underneath my fingertips – and thought about how it was impossible now to forget, even for a minute, that I am pregnant.

Twenty years ago I remember wondering why miscarriages were quite such a big deal. After all, my teenaged self puzzled, the baby hadn’t even been born yet. How could you grieve over something that never was?

It was, I now know, an epic failure of imagination.

I am not one of these women who has wanted to be a mother from the time that she was twelve years old. At times during this last decade I have said that I wanted children, but this was mostly an intellectual and theoretical desire not an emotional longing. Even now, ten weeks from giving birth, I am ambivalent about being pregnant.

This is one thing that has baffled Mike. After I wrote the blog post announcing my pregnancy Mike asked me whether I really was as ambivalent as I’d made myself out to be, or whether I was just being a drama queen.

“I’m totally ambivalent,” I said, surprised. “You’re not?”

“No,” he said. “You’re pregnant, the switch is flicked, I’m 100% on board. It’s great!”

Yeah, it’s great. It really is. I am happy, I am content, and I am grateful.

And, yet.

I am also anxious about labour and delivery. I am worried about how my life will change, how I’ll juggle the different identities that are important to me – writer, psychologist, wife, friend, and now mother. I am mourning the upcoming loss of long, lazy dinner conversations with Mike and of quiet and time that has, before now, been mostly mine to use to work, create, or connect as I pleased. My horizon feels as if it’s narrowing.


As I’ve grown physically this last seven months so has the baby – this baby who hasn’t even been born yet – been creating space for himself in my heart and mind. I still can’t fully imagine what motherhood will be. What I may be losing still often feels more concrete than the new experiences and joys that may be coming my way. But, slowly, that balance is shifting. As the little boy inside me wriggles, twists, and stretches he’s not just enlarging the boundaries of my belly, he’s also fashioning a baby-shaped hole in my heart.

I now understand what my 15-year-old self could not – that a baby can be a vital, living, tangible presence in hopes and dreams and visions of the future long before it even comes close to being born. For even as I get bigger and more uncomfortable every day I am starting to catch glimpses of a brand new horizon as it’s opening up in front of me. And, sometimes, that new vista even looks as a little like the view from the back deck did last night when the clouds parted and sun poured through, drenching the sugar cane fields nestled between the river and the sea in gold.

Related posts:

Ten things that have surprised me about pregnancy (#1-4)
The curse of too much choice
Writing Wednesday and the Tale of Book Baby


  1. You look stunning.

  2. Dang woman…you are glowing with beauty!
    Having had 2 miscarriages, and knowing the agony and heartbreak that occurred with each one, it is something I would not wish on anyone…even my worst enemy (I don’t think I have a worst enemy that could carry a child now that I think of it…oh well).
    Enjoy these times of reflection – and look forward to being totally captured by the joy of the little one when he arrives!

    • Thanks, Margie. It is nice and quiet and peaceful up here for the most part. A great place to spend the last ten weeks pre baby.

  3. Ahhhh you do have the pregnancy glow!! Enjoy, and it will all fall into place one day at a time 🙂

    • Today’s pregnancy glow proudly brought to you by MAC makeup :). Thinking of you guys today.

  4. So beautifully said. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Andrea.

  5. Hi, Lisa — Thanks so much for sharing these musings. You take me back to my own first pregnancy and how concerned I was about delivering, wondering what it would feel like to be a mother, how could I work, parent etc., etc. and still have any time left for myself and my then husband. Well, somehow it all worked out. By the time I had the second one, it was just routine. These are precious times for you. I am so happy that you are home with your mom and that you have time to just be with your unborn son and to feel your feelings. Much love, Donna

    • Thanks, Donna. Yeah, it is a precious time, and I’m enjoying it! I do, of course, miss Mike, but that’s not stopping me from soaking in this time (most moments, anyway). Stay well!

  6. Well. This is just about the most beautiful thing ever written.

    PS – you do look amazing. AH-MAZE- ING.

  7. I’m glad you’re sharing these thoughts, because it helps to know I’m not the only female who thinks like this, about juggling different identities and narrowing horizons. Many of my friends talk and dream about settling down and starting families, and I’m not sure I want that (for the reasons that make you ambivalent). Thanks for sharing!

    Also, that photo of you is beautiful. Pregnancy suits you. 🙂

    • Thanks, Heidi. Yeah, I know many other women don’t struggle with the opportunity cost of kids as much as I have (and do). But everyone’s path is slightly different, hey. At risk of sounding patronizing rather than encouraging (which I would hate to do!), you’ve got time on your side on this one at the moment. That’s a great thing.

  8. Beautiful post, Lisa. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts once the little guy arrives. You are truly gifted at expressing your thoughts, and as I wrote to Mike, it’s wonderful to still have insight into your lives through the blog. Glad everything is going well. It sounds like you might even get to an unambivilent point by the time the baby arrives! Hilary

    • Thanks Hil. Yeah, I fully enjoyed reading that exchange between you guys and Mike. We do miss you and I’m glad to know things are going well for you. As for reaching unambivalent by the time baby gets here, we’ll see. I’ll be happy if I’m at the 90% mark. 90% is pretty darn good for me :).

  9. You look just wonderful and so happy. You will figure this all out just like we all do. Once you hold that baby in your arms everything changes and you won’t be able to remember a time before he was born. Labor and delivery is not a good time of course, but once that is over the discomfort is forgotten. If it really was that bad, who would have a second baby ?

    • Thanks, Sue. Yeah, everyone says you forget a lot of what goes on in labour and delivery. I suspect that’s why people have siblings. We’ll see how that squares with my normally good memory for dialogue and experiences. Hope you’re well.

  10. My own two are now five and three, and we’re finding that the things that got pushed aside or taken over or restructured (like long, lazy dinner conversations with each other or longer patches of creative time) are already sneaking and creeping back. It’s not so much that you’ll lose those things as possible see them transformed. God is good. He makes all things new. :). I am so excited for you! The goodness of a three year old son trying to mock-eat your face until you tickle him into submission … This too may one day be yours as it was just mine! Squeeeeeeeeee!

    • Thanks, Erica. Yeah, good reminder that this time, like every stage in life, is and will be temporary. Glad to hear you’re all well and happy.

  11. Hey Lisa,
    we met in Laos when I was there with Mikes friend Gai last year. Anyway, your post made me think of this quote. No idea who wrote it…
    ‘to have a child, is to have your heart walking forever outside your body’
    enjoy your pregnancy.
    I try to explain how I feel towards my future child, but it is a bit harder. because we are adopting so there is no movement under my skin to connect with, yet I feel so connected… very hard to explain.
    much love xx Zoe

    • Hi Zoe, lovely to hear from you. And fun to browse your blog a bit. Your recent dog sleepover DOES sound like good practice for future little ones. Hope all is proceeding really well on the adoption front!!

  12. I understand how you are feeling–I felt much the same way. I never was much of a baby person–they were nice and cute, but I never felt any great urge to have one of my one. I remember the appalled reaction of the wife of our Graduate Fellowship leader when I stated I didn’t believe it was a Biblical imperative to be a mother just because you were married and that my husband and I weren’t sure if we would decide to have kids. I still don’t understand that viewpoint (that a women must have kids to be fulfilled), although I do know many women who do feel that strong drive for motherhood.

    Yet, three kids later (2 bio and 1 adopted) I love mine passionately and they are very much parts of my heart walking around outside of my body. It didn’t happen immediately, though. It was a gradual growing in love with them and accepting the life changes during pregnancy and babyhood. And for us, 8 years later (after daughter #1) we still haven’t gotten our lives back, though long walks (just hubby and me) are becoming more of a possibility now.

    • Thanks, Pamela. I’m very glad to hear you’ve fallen passionately in love with your kiddos. I’m trusting I’ll do the same. I’m less glad to hear about life for you and hubby still being squeezed – though not surprised. Thanks for visiting, and sharing.

      • Part of that is our choice on where we spend money and not being willing to spend too much on babysitting. That’s one of the drawbacks of being back in the US. When we lived in Singapore, we had a live-in nanny and life was much more flexible then.

        I still find it hard to juggle identities–even though since returning to the US I haven’t worked much (I used to teach university). I do want to go back to work, but the nature of our family life now ties us down to a limited area and university jobs aren’t easy to come by. I mourn that (perhaps permanant) loss and it is a struggle to trust God what may come next. I guess part of what I am learning is to try to center more of my identity in God and less in what I do. In all of that, however, there is so much unexpected joy in life.

        • Thanks for sharing Pamela – I’m a bit behind you on this journey, but I really identify with that sense of opportunity cost that comes with kids and losing identities (even when both options are good ones, it can still feel like significant loss to focus mostly in one direction, I reckon).

  13. For this non-baby person, the biggest surprise of my life was how thoroughly and completely I fell in love with my daughter (and her younger sister). It wasn’t an easy adjustment for the first one (I won’t lie), but wow, has it been worth it. Give yourself permission to feel however you need to feel after your baby is born. Some people fall in love right away, but for others (like me), it can take several months. Just go along for the ride and see what happens.

    • Thanks, Meggles. It is quite a ride, isn’t it. Huge changes! And more on the way in the next three months. Thanks for visiting.

  14. I came over via Rachel’s “Sunday Superlatives.” Congratulations on your pregnancy! You look beautiful and you are in for the adventure of a lifetime. Parenthood is like nothing else – indescribable love, joy, and purpose.

    Can’t wait for you to experience the miracle of birth.

    • Hi Stephanie, thanks for coming to visit and for your encouraging words.

  15. Hi, I came over from Rachel’s blog too. Great thoughts, and glad to see you are exploring them ahead of time! My journey was kind of the reverse of this – I wanted children and with one miscarriage in four years of trying, after I turned 32 I started to despair of ever having them. So when I was pregnant I was ecstatically happy – only to crash back down when the reality hit. You see, I’d never quite realized the impact that having a baby would have on my professional and social life – or how much I would resent it in the early days.

    The opportunity cost was *much* higher than I had ever thought – I hated staying home with a very young baby, and at the time it felt like forever! My first was premature and we had some health issues as well. I can completely understand how IVF pregnancies are related to a higher rate of post-natal depression! This “wonderful event” means that everything else is sacrificed – for a short time at least.

    My girls are now 3.5 yrs and 18 months and I am back at work 3 days a week and don’t want more. I’m not sure when that happened, but now I like the balance of both work and home. I still get a bit of cabin fever if I’m home all the time, but I don’t want to work full time either. I guess there’s a new balance point, in a slightly different spot from where I expected, but I’m sure you will find yours too – you sound much better prepared than I was!

    • Hi Elizabby, thanks for visiting, and for sharing your story. It’s so interesting to me how everyone’s journey’s are slightly (or a lot) different but there’s so much interesting common ground in there anyway!

  16. Brava! Now, can’t wait to read the transition from this to mom-hood! And don’t forget the Dartian baby pics 🙂 Be well, Lisa.

    • Thanks Nonoy, and never fear, there are bound to be pictures.

  17. Hey Lisa, read the ‘Mask of Motherhood’ – it is very good, and challenges the idea that us women don’t lose anything through childbirth and childrearing. The fact is, we do! And it is hard damn work – the most confronting I have ever done. But I do have to say -I have also learnt so much about myself in the mean time, but the reality is, it does change us – and we must change. How we tackle the change is up to us. I am here girl – to whinge, and bitch with when you need to. My 3 boys will attest to the fact that I do that very well!! It makes me an even better mother to accept motherhood ‘warts and all’. I love my boys, and mothehood, and would never change it for the world – it is amazing, but a challenge!

    • Thanks, Cait! I’ll put the mask of motherhood on my “check it out” list. And, yeah, opportunity cost… it was so encouraging to listen to you talk about motherhood when we were together in Bangkok though. You sounded like you do here – loving it but not glossing over the hard parts.

  18. BTW – ditto on the dartian photos – our first ‘baby Dartian’. Yippee!!!!!

  19. Probably the first guy to comment here, and a father of a 7 month old boy, I can attest that yes you will lose sleep, time, energy. Having said that, I also wants to assure you that the joy that each achievement of your baby brings to your life will be immense. When he gives you the first smile, when he starts babbling, when he holds your finger, when he crawls, and tries to stand up; all those things will melt your heart where you will realize that all sleeplessness, tiredness is worth that toothy smily baby.
    The important thing is, to have a supportive partner. Things may seem that they arent going your way, thats when your husband should step in and take him from you, and vice versa. Sometimes, just a break of 15 minutes is enough to energize you.
    Good Luck!

    • Thanks Cameron. Gosh, yes, that supportive partner thing is so HUGE isn’t it? I was completely overwhelmed after the baby was born at the thought that people did this BY THEMSELVES. Thanks for leaving a comment. Hope you and yours are all well and smiling!

  20. Lisa,

    I just read this post after seeing the article on CNN. I’m 37 and 6 months pregnant with my first child. We planned the pregnancy and couldn’t be happier, but still I haven’t been able to shake the very same feelings you mention-especially losing/changing my identity I have worked to build my whole adult life. I have tried to explain them to my husband, but he doesn’t understand because he’s not having any of these thoughts. I pretty much just keep my fears to myself. So, I can’t tell you how nice it was to hear that you had them as well. I was afraid deep-down that these thoughts are my first step towards being a bad mom.

    So, thank you for a bringing a breath of fresh air into my day! Hope you are well!


    • Oh, Sarah. You’re so welcome. I’m glad it spoke to you. And now, from the vantage point of 15 months post birth, I can say with total confidence that they’re not the prelude to being a bad mum. I’m a fabulous mum (well, a good portion of the time, anyway). I love him completely, even though I still continue to think sometimes of the trade-offs that come with motherhood and to long for more time, and more sleep. Congratulations on your pregnancy!! Hope the last trimester goes really well and the motherhood adventures begin smoothly!!

    • Oh, and Mike just reminded me of this post, which he thought you might like to see as well. http://www.lisamckaywriting.com/love-the-feeling-love-the-action/. Cheers, Lisa