The Fear of Motherhood

Though often unspoken, for many women there are very deep and real fears when it comes to entering motherhood. Questions of “readiness” and what the future may hold can be overwhelming, but ultimately, we’re called to trust that God is good and He is in control.

Topics: Fear | Motherhood

I think about the possibility of motherhood every day, of what it might mean to be a “mother.” My husband and I began talking about it more than a year ago, and he is ready to be a parent. But for me, the canvas of motherhood is a scary landscape, accompanied by a never-ceasing cycle of anxious thoughts and scenarios.

I did not grow up dreaming of being a mother. It was a possibility, even a probability, but I didn’t think of it much beyond a blurred image far into the future. It was as imaginary to me as Harry Potter or Narnia: the mysterious Land of Motherhood. Even after I married my husband, I thought, “Sure, in the next few years, just not now.”

A few years passed, and I still didn’t feel “ready.” By “ready,” I don’t mean being financially stable, or owning a home, or at a good place with my career, or having a support system in place or some other concrete form of preparedness. What I was waiting for was more intangible, a kind of “deep knowing from within.” I imagined waking up one day and being engulfed by the desire for motherhood. I would step over the invisible line from “I can’t picture being a mother,” to “How could I not be a mother?” After all, I had heard it from so many of my friends and other women in the church: “I can’t wait to be a mom.” “I’ve always wanted to have children.” “I just knew I was ready to start trying.” And it seemed evident in their lives. These women loved children and wanted to be around them. They didn’t hesitate to hold newborns. They babysat approximately 117 children in their teen years. They were adoring aunts and dedicated Little Village volunteers. They were, in my eyes, inevitable mothers.

The canvas of motherhood is a scary landscape, accompanied by a never-ceasing cycle of anxious thoughts and scenarios.

“Motherly” wasn’t a word people used to describe me. From about age 16 on, people told me they didn’t think I liked kids or would be good with kids. I’m not sure we realize how dangerous the narratives we speak over others’ lives can be. Those statements, combined with a dysfunctional upbringing, marked me in ways I’m still trying to trace. After so many years, hearing how I wasn’t very nurturing or affectionate or emotive or “good with kids” became something I believed.

So I waited. And kept waiting. My husband and I continued our lives together, moving to an apartment we loved, celebrating our friends’ marriages and, eventually, their babies. We pursued our Great Student Loan Payoff goal. But the “ready,” the knowing, never came.

I began to feel uneasy about my lack of desire. At church and at work, I felt like every woman I knew was either pregnant or trying to get pregnant. I heard story after heartbreaking story about miscarriages, infertility and the hopes for couples wanting a child. My unease turned to shame. What was wrong with me? If the Bible talks about women like Sarah, Rebekah and Hannah earnestly wanting children, and if the Psalms describe children as a blessing from the Lord, then why didn’t I desire them? What was broken inside me?

The thought slithered into my mind: Something is missing or broken inside me making me incapable of being a mother. Every day, I considered the subject of motherhood, and every day, the thought haunted me.

I have never heard a Christian share about the desire to not have children or heard a sermon address what it might mean. It doesn’t seem to be a common topic in churches. I’ve heard stories of couples who can’t have children due to infertility or those who decide to adopt rather than have biological children or couples who choose not to have children because one of them or another family member is very ill. I didn’t talk about it to many people because I was afraid of how it might be received—how I might be perceived.

One day, I scrolled through Instagram and saw a post from a woman I knew as an acquaintance from church. She has one young child and often posts lovely pictures with even more lovely musings on life. She seemed like a natural mother, at ease in the role. But her post described fears she’d once had about becoming a mother and how, eventually, she just decided to make the choice to walk into those fears rather than around them.

For the first time, I didn’t feel as alone in my fear as I realized other women think those thoughts, too. I sought her out at church the next week and let her know what her words meant to me, how I felt seen by them. From our conversation, I began to think my “ready” would never come, at least not in the way I expected. One day, I would have to make the decision to step over the line.

Not long ago, my husband and I had another talk about having kids, ending with both of us feeling hurt and frustrated. I realized my husband felt disappointed by not moving forward, while I had thought we were on the same page. As we went to sleep, I cried my tears in the dark, feeling both upset that he didn’t understand why I was afraid and like a cruel wife for not recognizing his hurt earlier. Across our bed, he stretched out a hand to lay on my back, saying nothing.

The next day, traveling in the car together, we continued the conversation. I decided to let him in on all my fears, the “what ifs” twisting daily in my head. I rattled them off in one shaky breath, afraid to stop once I’d started:

What if there is something missing or broken inside me?

What if I get pregnant immediately?

What if I’m never pregnant?

What if our child dies before they’re born?

What if I die giving birth?

What if they die when they’re 6? 18? 40?

What if they never know the Lord?

What if they hate us as adults?

What if we make all the same mistakes our parents made?

What if we make all the mistakes our parents didn’t make?

What if I’m so sick during pregnancy I can’t function at my job?

What if I have to quit my job?

What if I can’t handle staying at home?

What if I get depressed?

What if my anxiety reaches a new height and never comes down?

What if I lose my mind?

What if a baby destroys our marriage?

What if a baby destroys my sense of self?

What if I become a different person?

What if I become a worse person?

What if I am just not enough?

I had more questions, but my husband stopped me. He acknowledged what I said and understood why I would have those fears—because they’re scary. But he also asked if I thought all those fears would go away before I could decide to have kids. “No,” I answered, that would be impossible. We continued to unravel the narratives in my head, and just talking about it out loud gave me relief.

My feelings, my “readiness” for motherhood have not altered, but my perspective is beginning to tilt. My fear of being a mother had become greater than my belief that the Lord could sustain me. I have to put my trust in God, not in me and not in my circumstances. My fear is not the kind rooted in a reverence of the Lord, the kind Psalm 110 says leads to wisdom. It is fear twisted, rooted in doubts about Him that I have to contend with every day: God is not good. God is not in control. I don’t believe it, but at the same time, I do. I have to teach myself truth: He is good. He is sovereign. He knows best. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t have the ability to change my own heart.

So I say to you now, if you’re where I am with fear: You are not alone. God is good. God is in control. Don’t let your fear become bigger than your God. Don’t let fear be the reason. Examine yourself closely. Get as close to your fear as you can. Don’t surrender to it; open your hands. Open up. Speak your fear out loud. Make the hard decision to be vulnerable. Trust God to take you where you can’t see.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be a mother. I don’t know what’s next. I can’t predict tomorrow or a year from now or 15 years from now. I can only trust God as my good, sovereign Father, keeper of all my days and all the days of those I love, believing He’ll sustain me in whatever comes. Am I there yet? Not entirely. But I’d like to be.