We all have those moments. The ones where things aren’t going as planned. Or things happen that are totally out of your control and impact your life in ways that are really uncomfortable or difficult. And in those moments you find yourself frustrated, maybe even feeling a sense of despair. And then you think to yourself, or perhaps even mutter the words, “I didn’t sign-up for this.”
That was a pervasive thought for me last year. I felt like my husband’s past relationship - a very angry and antagonistic ex - were getting in the way of our future plans. Sure, when we fell in love I knew that life with him might mean dealing with one of the more challenging co-parenting dynamics out there. But I was head over heels in love and full of hope, so I decided to look past this concern.
And then we found ourselves under attack. It came when we were in the throws of wedding planning and celebrating the very welcomed surprise of our pregnancy. We got hit from every angle by his ex, in ways we could have never imagined, and to a degree that was frightening. So I got scared. Then angry. And then really, really resentful and I thought to myself, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
I didn’t express this feeling to my husband at the time, and instead expressed it in all sorts of unhelpful passive aggressive and flat out aggressive ways. He saw me struggling and wanted to help, but I rejected any attempt and for several days decided to swim in anger and resentment until I was pretty much consumed with despair.
And then I opened Facebook and on the top of my newsfeed I saw on update from a family whose story has captivated me and moved me to tears on more than one occasion. Melissa Carlton, an amazing and generous woman was preparing to become a first time mom, just months before me, and discovered a brain tumor. Before the tumor could be removed, she fell into a coma and for 10 weeks struggled to keep herself and her unborn child alive and against all odds, delivered a healthy baby boy while essentially “asleep”. Although she has now come out of her coma, she and her family are beginning a very long rehabilitation journey.
Melissa didn’t sign up for her tumor. She didn’t sign-up for being in a coma for the birth of her child, or asleep for the first few months of his life, and she certainly didn’t sign-up for years of fighting to regain the basic motor skills that we take for granted each day.
None of us sign-up for the hard moments in our relationships. We embark on the adventure of partnership and parenting because of the amazing moments we hope to have. Sure, we tell ourselves there will be hard moments. We put them in our wedding vows, but we say them without really knowing what they hell we’re talking about. So when something really challenging happens, and it is greater than anything we might have imagined and we feel like we have no control at all, that’s when “I didn’t sign-up for this” creeps in.
And while I would love to say that those words and thoughts don’t creep into my mind anymore, they still do from time to time. But now, when they do, I try to think of Melissa. Or the other amazing people I know who have had some really shitty things happen to them that they certainly didn’t sign-up for. And I remember that I DID sign-up for this. I signed-up for all of it. I said the words “for better AND for worse” – not just “for better only, please!” I didn’t choose my husband because I thought he would give me a picture perfect life. I chose him because I knew that with him by my side, the better moments would be sweeter than with another else. More importantly, I chose him because there is no one I would rather face the worse moments with than him.
What I know now – and continue to learn – is that the “worse moments” can be teaching moments. And when you actually let them in, can help you grow and ultimately, (I believe) bring more richness and meaning to our lives.
So as a sit here, over a year after the “I didn’t sign up for this” thoughts consumed me, I feel a sense of gratitude. For the journey that led me to a more peaceful place in my heart and mind. For the empathy I have been able to embrace, in moments when I didn’t think I could. For the deeper connection it fostered between my husband and I. And for the new awareness and compassion it has given me as a new mom and stepmom.
So yes, I did sign up for this. All of it. And I am grateful that I did.