Looking for perspective – sorry, very long

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    I’m pregnant with me and my husband’s first baby – not long to go now. I’m apprehensive, terrified and excited for the new challenge it will bring to our family.

    I am struggling with anxiety about being a good parent, whether I’ll cope, if I can do it. I’m afraid of failing – the unknown, how our lives will change. I’m afraid of not bonding with the baby. These feelings make me sad. I’ve spoken to my husband about them.

    I think being pregnant has brought up a lot of feelings about my own childhood. Whilst I remember feeling loved as a child, my childhood was unsettled. My dad wasn’t present – at least not emotionally. He was unreliable in terms of providing for the family, so my mum had to spend all of her time working to ensure we had what we needed. As a result, she wasn’t around much when we were growing up and my dad was inconsistent with his attention. We did what he wanted to do, which was generally adult focused activities like waiting at his work until he’d finished, tagging along to his amateur football matches or going to the pub. He stayed in bed late at weekends. Most significantly, he had affairs, and I remember multiple occasions when I witnessed him being with other women. This caused us to move away from our stable home surrounded by grandparents, and we moved house many more times thereafter. My parents stayed together until I was a teenager and they eventually got a divorce. My mum told me about the infidelities when I was older; I’ve never spoken to my dad about it. My mum kept so much from us when we were growing up, but as I got older I sensed things were going on at the time. I’m very close to my mum, but have a inconsistent relationship with my dad.

    I’ve recently started therapy, and this has brought up issues with self-esteem, people pleasing and setting poor boundaries, which seems to have stemmed from childhood experiences.

    Moving on to my relationship with my husband. We’ve been together for 13 years, married for 2. We got together young and spent university together. We were infatuated with each other – perhaps me more so than him. We spent all of our time together. It was tumultuous – we argued frequently about goodness knows what now, and had rather poor communication. I remember he broke up with me during that time, it was all very dramatic but we were back together by the end of the day.

    When we left university, things changed significantly. We were living apart and saw each other infrequently, maybe twice a month. He got a full time job whilst I continued studying. His job introduced him to a large group of people of similar age, and he spent a lot of time going out. We wanted different things – I wanted to settle down, he wasn’t ready. He didn’t want to rent, only wanted to buy a property, which was a long way off. I just wanted to live together however that looked.

    He unexpectedly ended things with me about a year after we left university and immediately started seeing another girl – but didn’t tell me this bit. I say it was unexpected – it felt that way but things weren’t normal for a while. As we were long distance, he did this over the phone. I was heartbroken. My memory is hazy over this time, but I was coming towards the end of my studying and this kept me busy. I wanted a clean break, he wanted to be friends. I was really quick to ‘fill the void’ with someone else – I remember telling people I’d go on dating apps to make myself feel more attractive. I started talking to people and went on a few dates, got close to one person in particular. Looking back with hindsight, I know I was doing this for attention under the weight of poor self esteem. It was a terribly short lived relationship really, and I was always crying and talking about my ex.

    After a few months, my now husband called me and told me he wanted to get back together, he’d made a terrible mistake. He told me about the girl he’d been seeing. We agreed to meet to talk. Long story short, we got back together.

    Nothing really changed in the next few years. He still didn’t want to move in together and didn’t like talking about the future, whereas it’s all I wanted to do. His goal at the time was to get on the property ladder, but this wasn’t as important to me. He looked at buying a flat on his own, which was also very upsetting – all I wanted to was live together. We were living long distance still. I got on with starting a career. We were living separate lives.

    Since getting back together, I started seeking male attention to validate myself and make myself feel good. This never escalated in to anything, just made me feel better about myself. I wasn’t like this before we broke up.

    I started working in hospitality to make a bit of money whilst studying – everyone that worked there was young and it was so much fun. They became my main friendship group. We all spent time together outside of work, mainly drinking alcohol and going out. There was a younger employee who I knew had a crush on me, and I welcomed the attention. We got on well and had a laugh together, and flirted with each other. One night, when I was very drunk, we kissed. The next day, for a split second I wondered if this person could give me the life I wanted – living together, settling down, security. This was short lived and realised that my now husband was who I wanted to be with. I loved him so much, and we’d been through so much together. I felt awful for the betrayal, deservedly.

    I reinforced to the other person that this was a mistake and wouldn’t happen again.

    I regrettably chose not to tell my partner at the time. I did this because I didn’t feel secure in what we had and felt this would destroy what we’d built back up. I wanted to fully make a go of it with him, and didn’t feel that this piece of information would help. I knew nothing more would happen. Equally, I wasn’t ready to give up spending time with the friends I had made and so greatly enjoyed spending time with. Genuinely this group were the only friends I had that lived near me.

    Skip forward a few years – we bought a flat together, got engaged. I kept seeing the group of friends, including the other person, but nothing further happened.

    It was when we got engaged that I felt fully secure in our relationship, fully committed to. Seeking male validation stopped.

    Our relationship has gone from strength to strength since we got engaged. We have both matured, begun to share the same values and have a genuinely emotionally secure relationship.  We are each other’s rocks. I have never been happier, and I love our life together. However, my self esteem issues and fear of abandonment continue. When we got married, we both took this commitment very seriously, and rightly so. Afterwards, I was wracked with guilt about the incident of (then) 5 years ago (now 7 years ago). My husband asked me one day if I’d ever cheated on him – we were talking about another couple’s incidence of this. So I told him about the drunken night. He was very shocked and couldn’t believe it.

    In the moment, I decided to tell him that I didn’t know the person it happened with, that it was a stranger. I believe I did this for the following reasons. I didn’t want him to try to understand my reasoning for continuing to see this person (in a group) after it happened. Although nothing more happened, I didn’t want him to go through the thoughts that it might have, or unfairly put him through those thoughts. I also feel that I was extremely ashamed of my behaviour, as this behaviour came from an ‘old version’ of me, and was in no way reflective of our current relationship.

    My husband forgave me for this incident, reflected that we’d overcome so much together, and were in a different place then after the break up, and asked that we draw a line underneath it. He was upset that I didn’t tell him more than the incident itself. I still can’t believe I did something like that when I think of our relationship now.

    I suspect the pregnancy has now brought up all those feelings of guilt to the surface – about not telling him the full truth. I’m really trying to work on myself and address my long standing issues regarding self esteem and fear of abandonment. I have done so much self reflection that I know I would not act in the same way again. I fear that telling him now will dredge all the old feelings up for no reason. He would wonder why I was bringing it back up at all – was there more to the story at the time? Did something else happen? It feels like a catch 22 situation. For clarity – I don’t see these friends anymore. I have not and will never lie to my husband again.

    I don’t want to hurt the person that I love most in the world, and we are starting a family. I feel horrible everyday, and unworthy of him.

    With my therapist, I have talked about self sabotaging behaviour. As the stakes get higher (marriage, pregnancy) I do my best to sabotage what I have so that I don’t get hurt (abandoned). I also have a great sense of feeling unworthy of love and that I don’t deserve happiness. I have perfectionist traits, and hold myself to incredibly high standards – I’m very unforgiving to myself, and struggle to recognise my own human fallibility. We are also exploring me having OCD tendencies.

    Not sure what I’m hoping for here, just wanted to gain a bit of perspective. I’m working towards living my values, but am beating myself up so much that it’s hard to give myself any grace at the moment. I’m so committed to improving myself and growing as a person. This long post is in no way an excuse for my behaviour, I just truly believe that there are explanations for how we act. 


    Hi Positivea

    Wow! 13 years is a long time to be with someone. It’s incredible that you guys saw each other mature over the years. You’ve both been through so much together. I’m glad that you ended up settled and happy together. It’s no easy feat!

    Congratulations on the baby! I’m sorry to hear that you’re experiencing some anxiety during the pregnancy. It’s definitely a thought provoking time. Which trimester are you in? How are you finding the symptoms physically?

    I’m sorry to hear about the difficulties with your father that you experienced during childhood. It’s not an easy thing when all of these memories surface during pregnancy.

    All of this part of the process of you coming to terms with being a mother and figuring out how you want to parent. Honestly, it is a lot and hormones don’t make things any easier. I’m glad that your husband is being supportive while you’re going through this.

    Do you think that all of these memories are related to the fears around being a failure and not bonding with the baby?

    For example, it could be argued that your father was a failure as a parent and didn’t bond with you. And even your mom had difficulty because of the situation with your father as she was working and supporting your family. Perhaps this other memory of the kiss is a memory where you felt like you failed? Perhaps it also links into your father’s infidelity slightly? Though it was in no way shape or form the same thing.

    You were younger and going through a lot at the time and in the grand scheme of things a kiss is a very small thing. It’s good that you shared that experience with your husband and he forgave you. What do you think it would take to forgive yourself?

    You sound like a good person! Being concerned about being a good mother shows your good character. Perhaps it would be helpful to reframe the fears and plan how you do want to parent? I’m sure that you will approach parenthood with the same love and patience that you showed your husband.

    Wishing you and your family all the best! 🙏


    Dear Helecat,

    Thank you very much for your reply, I appreciate your kindness.

    I’m currently in my third trimester, physically the symptoms have been ok, it’s just really taking its toll mentally.
    <p style=”text-align: left;”>I think you’re right – I do feel like I’ve failed my husband and I think it’s effecting how I feel I can be a mother. It all feels a bit too good to be true and that I don’t deserve this happiness because of my previous actions – specifically because I wasn’t forthcoming with the whole truth for reasons explained previously.</p>
    Self forgiveness is really difficult for me but it’s something I hope to work on in therapy. I like the idea of reframing my fears and thinking about how that makes me want to parent. I’m thinking now that I would just like the baby to arrive so that I know a bit more about what I’m dealing with, and it’s not so uncertain.

    Thank you very much again for your response.


    Dear positivite:

    “I do feel like I’ve failed my husband”- he failed you many times before, didn’t he? Every person makes mistakes, every person fails himself/ herself and others.

    Every couple therefore fails each other at one time or another. No one is perfect.

    “It feels a bit too good to be true”- it is/ will not be too good to be true: there will be difficulties and challenges. To make your life better, apply empathy for yourself (not judgement)- no less empathy than what you extend to your husband, and soon, to your child.




    Hi Positivitea

    I’m glad that the physical symptoms of the third trimester are okay, it sucks that it’s taking a toll on your mental health though. I would recommend doing your best to take care of yourself and lower your stress levels if possible.

    I learned recently that there is a reason for these mental health symptoms! You may have heard of stress hormones such as cortisol before? Throughout your second and specifically your third trimester these stress hormones build in your system to 3 times the normal amount to protect the pregnancy and prepare your body for labour. It is distressing to experience, but it is also part of the process.

    I don’t think you have failed your husband. You have some very high standards for yourself. What happened was a small thing and when you asked you told him the situation without all of the details. You were honest, you may not have told him the whole truth. But I believe that you did so out of empathy to protect his feelings and your relationship. You didn’t want to cause your husband any unnecessary anxiety. You just wanted to be honest, do the right thing and let him know what happened.

    You deserve empathy for the situation with the kiss when you were younger. In the past, you went through some difficult times in your relationship. I think that causes doubts sometimes and it sounds like the kiss was you exploring those feelings. After it happened you immediately understood that it wasn’t helpful and what was important to you. You actually figured out what you wanted and how to get through the situation with your now husband as a result. And boy did you make it! You ended up with the future you dreamed of with him.

    One thing that helped me with forgiveness is practicing empathy and understanding towards myself. What would you say to a good friend going through a similar situation?

    I think because of your high standards and values you will be an excellent mother. You care so much! You just have to dial it back a couple of notches to pull back from the self-punishing thoughts.

    Remember that this stage of pregnancy exaggerates your feelings. It can make things seem worse than they are.

    You could even tell your husband the details of the situation if it would help put your mind at ease. But I also don’t want you to deal with any more stress than you are already going through.

    I can understand the uncertainty over raising your first child. A bad parent wouldn’t care. You do care, a lot!

    Do you have everything you need prepared for the baby being born?


    Dear Anita,

    Thank you for your reply. You make a good point in that ‘no one is perfect’ – this is something I am trying to process for myself. I think applying empathy to myself is something I must work on during my therapy sessions.

    Many thanks for taking the time to respond


    Hi Helcat,

    Thank you for replying again.

    Thankfully, for the pregnancy, the high levels of anxiety have reduced now and I am feeling less stressed. It’s interesting what you say about cortisol – this makes a lot of sense. I’m doing more research about giving birth and parenting, which is helping me feel less overwhelmed.

    Thank you for your kind words about empathy in the situation – I’m trying to apply this to myself and trying to see that it felt as though I was a completely different person then. I’m trying to show kindness to the previous versions of myself – after all, they effectively got me where I am now. I would be far kinder to a friend if they were going through a similar situation. I don’t want to drag up old feelings for my husband in bringing this up again.

    I read something very similar recently about how a bad parent wouldn’t be so worried about being a good parent, and that did provide some comfort –  thanks for reiterating this!

    We have most things we need in preparation for the baby – it’s feeling very real 🙂



    Dear Positivitea:

    You are welcome. Whenever you make a mistake, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, correct what you need to correct, and let go of guilt,  don’t allow it to linger. Switch to empathy for the person who is trying so hard and is doing her best (you!)



    Hi Positivitea

    I’m glad to hear that the high levels of anxiety have reduced and you’re feeling less stressed.

    It sounds like you’re doing a good job preparing for the baby! It’s good that you have everything that you need and that researching and labour and parenting is making you feel less overwhelmed.

    I love the way you put it, how you’re processing everything with past versions of you being so different from who you are now and who you were lead to you being who you are now. I’m glad that you’re doing your best to give the younger versions of yourself empathy.

    That’s a beautiful and very mature perspective!

    It’s strange how we can be harsher towards ourselves than other people sometimes.

    I hope that the rest of your pregnancy progresses smoothly. I hope that your labour goes well and that your baby is born healthy!

    Wishing you and your family all the best! 🙏


    *researching about


    How are you, Positivitea, and how is applying empathy for yourself working out?



    Thank you Anita and Helcat for your encouraging responses, I appreciate it.

    In answer to your question, Anita, I’m doing a little better thank you. Applying empathy to myself continues to be very difficult, however – especially during times of feeling more anxious. Do you have any tips to applying empathy to oneself? Generally, I don’t feel deserving of empathy in light of mistakes – even though I would certainly show empathy to a friend!

    I’m also finding it hard to get my head round how negatively people in the media are treated having made mistakes, and feel that if they are being judged and treated so harshly, I too deserve the same ‘punishment’. We live in a very judgemental society these days, I feel.


    Dear Positivitea:

    You are welcome!

    Generally, I don’t feel deserving of empathy in light of mistakes – even though I would certainly show empathy to a friend!“- the book Healing the Shame that Binds you by John Bradshaw comes to mind. Paraphrasing part of it, it says that when people suffer from toxic shame (as opposed to healthy shame) they try to make NO mistakes = to be MORE than human; or they don’t care anymore and make mistakes carelessly = being LESS than human. I know a person of the first kind, very anxious in general: it’s very difficult to live with the pressure of being more than human. I used to be the second kind, at least in a certain context. The healthy way: none of these two extremes.

    Applying empathy to myself continues to be very difficult, however – especially during times of feeling more anxious“- that was true to me too and the origin of this difficulty: when I made mistakes as a child (including what were not really mistakes),  my mother did not respond to me with empathy (while gently guiding me to do better next time), but with condemnation, which caused me a lot of anxiety in regard to the next time I will make a mistake. Fast forward, as an adult,  I responded this way to myself when I made real or suspected mistakes: a mix of self-condemnation and heightened anxiety.

    Do you have any tips to applying empathy to oneself?“- it takes Noticing when you are judging yourself negatively for having made a mistake, then Pause (take a time out from the judging), then Address the situation (did I make a mistake? What was the mistake? Is there something I need to say or do as a result of having made this or that mistake?). Next, Respond (say or do that something), or not. Finally Redirect (place your attention elsewhere). I call it the NPARR strategy: Notice, Pause, Address, Respond-or-not, Redirect.

    It will be helpful to address the origin of your personal toxic shame (which is behind your feeling that you do not deserve empathy in light of making mistakes, but other people do) and resolve it (easier said than done, of course).

    I’m also finding it hard to get my head round how negatively people in the media are treated having made mistakes, and feel that if they are being judged and treated so harshly, I too deserve the same ‘punishment’. We live in a very judgmental society these days, I feel.“- I agree. Growing up, my own home was a judgmental society orchestrated by my mother: when she did not shame me directly for real (or imagined) mistakes, she shamed other people for mistakes and imperfections while gossiping about them, which I overheard a lot. This 2nd hand shaming, together with the .. 1st hand shaming, affected me very negatively.  It made me very self-conscious and very anxious.

    Watching other people being shamed in the media is that kind of 2nd hand, indirect (yet effective) shaming, isn’t it?


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