I take the test, pull the bathroom door shut behind me, and head to the kitchen to do dishes. I douse the sponge in blue soap as I think feverishly about the results. A few minutes later, I rush to the bathroom and peer at the countertop. “A pink line? What does a pink line mean?” Startled, I read the instructions for the fifth time. Then all of a sudden it hits me. A solid pink line indicates pregnant.
“Is this for real?” Chills fill my entire body. “Oh my gosh, finally! We are going to be parents!” Seconds later, I catch myself pacing across the bathroom floor. “Parents? Holy crap, we are going to be parents! Are we ready for this?” The rush of thoughts continues, “Oh no, I rode my mountain bike twenty hard miles yesterday, is the baby okay?”
Thirty weeks later, I’m flooded with a similar mixture of thoughts and feelings. On the one hand, I’m overjoyed at the thought of meeting our baby boy. There is nothing sweeter than the feeling of his little body fluttering around in my belly. But I’d only be telling half the truth if I didn’t also mention that I’m worried about all the changes that are about to ensue. I wonder if I’m ready to be a mom. I wonder how our family will adjust to life with a newborn. I wonder how I’ll juggle a career I love with raising a child.
As many of you know, the transition to parenthood is filled with times of great vulnerability. Then again, isn’t life? Haven’t we all encountered times of vulnerability, where we’re susceptible to fear, hurt, or confusion? For instance, you may decide to change careers after doing the same thing for twenty years or start over in a relationship after separating from the person you thought you’d be with forever.
Vulnerability: Where there’s Pain, there’s Joy
Navigating vulnerability is no easy feat. When we’re unsure of next steps or unable to control an outcome, we may feel overwhelmed, even terrified. Have you noticed how easy it is put up your defenses when you feel vulnerable? Maybe you try with all your might to make the pain go away by throwing yourself into something, anything to not have to deal. Or you pour your energy into controlling everyday minutiae just to give yourself some semblance of control. Sometimes this is exactly what’s needed. But we also need to understand there is an inherent cost when we resist feeling vulnerable.
Brene Brown, a social scientist from the University of Houston, has conducted extensive research on vulnerability. Her main finding is that vulnerability is at the heart of living a deeply fulfilling and connected life. In other words, those people who are willing to love with their whole hearts or do something even when there’s no guarantee it will yield positive results are more apt to be buoyed by joy, connection and meaning in the throes of everyday life.
Furthermore, Brene’s research has shown that we can’t selectively turn off feelings we don’t want to feel, such as fear or sadness, without simultaneously numbing feelings of joy, wonder, love and belonging. In some respects, vulnerability is the birthplace of being fully alive. It is a place where we are most ourselves and at the same time, most like everyone else.
How to Navigate Vulnerability
All of us will continue to face times of vulnerability. My wonder is, how do we embrace it? How do we step into uncertain, frightening situations with openness, trust and honesty?
As a starting point, we can choose to believe that vulnerability is a necessary component of being wholly alive. We can trust that by shedding our cocoons to experience pain, we are opening ourselves to deeper experiences of joy, love and meaning.
We can also acknowledge feelings of vulnerability when they’re present. In fact, starting with small moments can prepare us to deal with larger moments. For example, maybe you feel vulnerable when you lead a meeting or need to talk to someone about a complicated issue. Practice noticing what you truly feel, even if you encounter things you “shouldn’t” feel, such as fear, sadness, or shame. We don’t have to shield ourselves from these feelings. They are, after all, what make us human.
Then, if it feels safe, grow curious about physical sensations. You may notice tightness in the shoulders or “gut-wrenching” pain. Give yourself lots of room to feel exactly what you feel.
Finally, breathe into these sensations. Slowly inhale right into the area you feel tension or pain, and then on a long, slow exhale, see if there may be an opportunity to let some of the tightness go. Don’t force anything, just be really gentle with yourself as you continue to breathe long and slow right into physical sensations.
Allowing ourselves to experience vulnerability can help us get to know the courageous, resilient people we truly are. For me, setting the simple intention to welcome vulnerability into my life has helped me make peace with the many unknowns that lie ahead. I trust there will be many uncertain moments in parenting, and I’m happy to get in a little practice beforehand! For all of us, training our hearts and minds to say “yes” to vulnerability is equivalent to spending a little extra time in the batting cages before game time. With each pitch, we learn that we are capable of navigating vulnerable times, and we discover just how powerful we are when we let down our guards and live the life we always wanted.