The mixed-feelings exercise

Whenever you are in two minds about a decision in your life, this is telling you something important. Don’t just toss a coin or rush into one of the two options. You must never ignore mixed feelings which often indicate that you are in a transition time, a time when you are gradually changing from one stage of life to another. It’s important to respect this process and go very slowly. The secret of navigating through a transition time is to take small steps and explore each aspect of the dilemma. For example, on a day when you are feeling really clucky and wishing you had a baby, do something small but symbolic, as if you were already pregnant. Perhaps you could:

– Browse in a baby shop.

– Think of names you like and make a list.

– Buy some booties.

– Plan a space in your bedroom where you could put a cot. Then, on a day when you are thinking, ‘No, maybe it’s best I don’t have a child right now’ do something small but symbolic, as if you were not going to become pregnant:

– Go to the beach by yourself.

– Dress up and go out to have afternoon tea in a really elegant place.

– Have a long morning bath.

When you continue to express each side of your ambivalence in this way, it allows for a natural decision to occur. Over a few weeks or even a month or two, it will become evident that you are having many more days of wanting a baby and less of wanting to be independent, or vice versa.

All big decisions are probably best made this way, since they allow us to explore our feelings unconsciously, until we know in our bones that we are doing what we really want. Wiser and older cultures than ours knew how to feel their way into a decision and were not so hung up about being logical or consistent. Logic matters, but your heart must be in on a decision for it to work.

What can you do when you have these swings in your feelings? Perhaps you could try some of the activities in the Activity Box at left — The Mixed-Feelings Exercise was developed by social worker Elizabeth Mellor.

It is useful to share your feelings with your partner and explain what you are doing, so that he is not totally bewildered, especially if he is a logical kind of man who likes things cut and dried. You can help by indicating that your present feelings are temporary — for example: ‘Today, I feel like being the mother of five kids!’ or: ‘Right now, I’m really happy there are just the two of us.’

I vividly recall being in labour with our first child and saying spontaneously: ‘Let’s not have a baby. I think I’d rather wait for a year or two.’ When feelings are expressed like this, they are out and gone. If we suppress our reservations and think: ‘Oh, I shouldn’t feel like that’, we can end up in a tangle of squashed emotions.

Even if you are definite about wanting a baby, talk about it with your partner, so you can express what it is you both actually envisage. Share your dreams (and fears) to discover where they overlap and which can come true for you. Talk about your hopes — the fun, the company of a little person, the challenges and intrigue (what will they be like?), the joys of them maturing into a toddler, school child, teenager and adult. Perhaps your enthusiasms will be for different stages. Each partner may want a child for different reasons. Sometimes a man is keen to have a child he can do things with, while the woman is yearning for a dependent babe.

Talk to your partner also about the negative possibilities — what if we have a baby who cries all the time, won’t sleep, has feeding trouble or is sick? However small and niggling, or ridiculous and fanciful, these thoughts need airing.

Sometimes a man resists having a child because he fears being replaced in his partner’s affections. Or a woman fears losing her attractiveness through birth and breastfeeding. Many of these misgivings are totally unfounded or, if true, can be dealt with.

Some parents have fears about a baby dying, being abnormal or very sick; or birth being difficult. Again, these concerns and their implications are best talked through, as we’ve found that they can actually affect a couple’s fertility. Once they resolve these questions, couples sometimes conceive a child after trying desperately for years.

You can also seek more information — genetic counselling, advice about pregnancy at your age, more realistic information about handicaps and differences in children. By meeting and talking with parents of disabled children, for example, you may realise the preciousness of life in all its variations, and become more comfortable with the potential risks and joys of parenthood.

As a result of exploring your inner feelings, and those of your partner, you will grow a great deal. If you decide you want to go ahead and have a baby, it will be with a real inner peace. You’ll be far less prone to postnatal blues or partnership struggles in the early years, because you have done the preparatory soul-straightening work. There will still be hard times, and good and bad surprises, but somehow on the inside you will be thinking: ‘Yes, this is what we want to be doing.’ A woman who knows what she wants, and why, is a powerful and beautiful being.

Conception to birth ;