When Life Feels Out of Control, Here's The One Thing You Can Do

Today I have some wonderful news to share: My husband and I are expecting a baby girl in May!

We are so excited.

I’ve always wanted kids, so this is a long awaited, dream-come-true. I still can’t quite believe that it’s really happening and soon I'll hold my daughter in my arms.

As we get closer to the Big Day – that day when everyone tells you that your life will change forever – it’s probably shouldn’t be any surprise that I’ve been starting to feel some big time Fear.

Lately, that fear has been focused on two things.

The first is about labor. The pain. Will I be able to handle it all? What about all the things that could go wrong?

The second source of fear is more broadly about parenthood. Goodbye old life, hello something totally new. Will we survive? Will we regret losing how things were before? Will it all be worth it?

I know that all these fears are normal for mothers-to-be, and it’s okay. But what hasn't been okay is that I noticed my fears were starting to push me toward an unhealthy place.

Maybe you’re familiar too with this place where unchecked fear leads us. It’s a place where we start brooding, where we feel drowned and helpless, without any visible way out. We lose sight of ourselves, only seeing our fears.

Fortunately, over the last handful of years, I’ve learned how to get out of this place more quickly and easily. Here’s what it takes: 

1. Awareness: The presence of mind to catch yourself when you’re headed to, or already in, the Big Fear place and hit "pause."

2. Compassion: Enough self-love to say it’s okay that you have these fears, and the honesty with yourself to name the fears and see them clearly.

3. Intention: The recognition that in every situation even when you are largely out of control you have a choice about what ideal outcome you want to aim for, and how you want to be in this situation.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Riding Life’s Waves

This last week as I started reading Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning surf memoir, it occurred to me that navigating major life events (like impending parenthood, taking on a huge professional challenge or moving on from a tragic loss) is a lot like riding the ocean's big waves.

You’ve swum out into the ocean and found that the waves out here are much bigger than you expected. You feel your heart begin to pound as you watch a wave gather unexpected power as it heads toward you.

In the face of that wave, you can let fear overtake you, clouding your mind and freezing your body and will.

What happens then, when the wave sweeps you up in its momentum? Who can say? Maybe you get lucky and in a flash it deposits you unharmed on the beach. Or maybe it crests directly on top of you, pounding you down and spinning you underwater in a terrible churn of white water and sand, until you’re no longer certain which way is up.

Or, as that wave approaches and your fear mounts you decide to face it with intention.

This doesn’t change anything about your physical situation. You’re still out in the ocean, vulnerable to forces much greater than you, with only yourself to rely on, and you’re scared and yet now, you have done something that will make all the difference: You’ve realized that even in a largely out-of-control situation, you still have choice in how you want to deal with it.

You set your intention that you’re going to do everything in your power to arrive back safely at the beach.

You decide to keep a cool head and gauge the wave’s size and speed and distance. You start taking quick swim strokes to better position yourself so you can catch it before it breaks. You take a deep breath and turn to face the beach, calming and readying yourself to ride this wave as best as you can.

This last week, as I was starting to get sucked into my own wave of panic, I was grateful to remember that I still had so much choice in everything that is about to happen even when so much of it will largely be out of my control.

I realized that I could set some intentions about how I want to be at the birth and as a mother.

As soon as I started setting even a few small intentions for the birth that I wanted to be calm and remember that I was strong and supported by my husband it was incredible how swiftly my fear lessened its grasp on me and a sense of peace and empowerment began to take its place.

We always have this opportunity to decide how we want to be in any situation, no matter what comes our way.

We always have the chance to tap into our faith in ourselves that we can try to do the best we can, and that even if things don’t work out as we hoped, that we can be strong and self-compassionate and learn along the way.

At this point, I’m definitely not getting on a surfboard anytime soon, but looks like I’ll still be practicing how to ride these big waves.