How the last few weeks of pregnancy are teaching me to embrace unpredictability

I’ve found the last few weeks of my pregnancy to be the hardest.

Physically, I’m feeling pretty good. I have some aches and pains, and sleep is getting harder to come by, but I still have energy to go on walks every afternoon and work full days. I’ve found it really difficult, though, to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have any say over when Madelyn arrives.

Troy and I at a wedding last weekend. At 37.5 weeks, I still managed to dance for a couple hours!
Troy and I at a wedding last weekend. At 37.5 weeks, I still managed to do a lot of dancing!

Every morning, I wake up wondering, Will I go into labor today? … What will it feel like? … When will Madelyn arrive?  Every cramp, every tiny change in my body, leaves me wondering if today will be the day.

People like peering into the proverbial crystal ball and sharing predictions. “February babies are the best, so I think she’s going to wait until then.” … “I have a feeling you’re going to deliver early.” … “Statistically, first babies arrive late, so you won’t give birth until at least the second week of February…” Others have asked: What was your mom’s pregnancy and labor like? And when do the women in your family typically deliver? The truth is, I don’t know. My mom died when I was 11, and I never got to ask her these questions. I never got to ask my Gramz, either.

Madelyn is due in exactly two weeks — on Wednesday, February 3. Only about 5% of babies are actually born on their due date, so “the big day” is more or less a guesstimate. Madelyn could be here tomorrow or three weeks from now. Three weeks is such a short amount of time, but to me it feels like an eternity.

I’m a planner. I plan a lot for work and like knowing when and where big events are going to take place. I’ve done as much planning as I can leading up to Madelyn’s birth. I finished her nursery three months before her due date, and my hospital bag has been packed since early December. I’ve washed all of her clothes and organized them by size; I’ve read pregnancy books galore; I’ve taken childbirth, carseat, and infant CPR classes; I’ve created detailed plans outlining how work will get taken care of while I’m on maternity leave; and I had even found a nanny to take care of Madelyn once I return to work. My plans haven’t worked out lately, though, and I’ve been reminded that sometimes life tests our ability to figure out a Plan B, to surrender control.

Surrendering control has been especially hard professionally, as I get ready to take my maternity leave. Work is such a big part of my identity. Thinking about letting go of that for 11 weeks and taking on a new identity as a mom is both exciting and scary. There’s a certain sense of loss that comes with handing over something you’ve overseen and nurtured, even if it’s a temporary hand-off. You can’t help but wonder: Will those projects and labors of love still be there when I get back? What will change while I’m gone? What will these changes mean for me once I return? Fortunately, the work will be in good hands while I’m away. It’ll get done, and what doesn’t get done can wait.

I’m grateful to have nearly three months to care for Madelyn — to get to know this little being that Troy and I have created. I realize that being a mom is going to be the ultimate lesson in learning how to let go. Madelyn is going to sleep when she wants to sleep and wake up when she wants to wake up. Some nights, she’s going to start crying just as my head hits the pillow after a long day. She’s going to poop her pants and throw a tantrum right when we’re about to meet a friend for lunch, or in the middle of church.

But she’s also going to make me giggly and giddy when she looks up at me and smiles. She’s going to warm my heart when her tiny hand grabs mine. She’s going to remind me that motherhood — with all of its unpredictabilities — is going to be the most rewarding and challenging role I’ll ever take on.

My dad recently sent me this photo, which I had never seen before. It was taken at my Gramz's house in the late 80s. I love how playful my mom and I look.
My dad recently sent me this photo, which I had never seen before. It was taken at my Gramz’s house in the late 80s. I don’t know what Mom and I were doing, but I love how playful we look.

I suspect motherhood will remind me that unplanned moments often end up being the most beautiful ones. When you try to follow a detailed schedule, you can develop preconceived notions and set yourself up for disappointment when things don’t go according to plan. Unplanned moments allow room for serendipity, laughter, and new discoveries. And they make for the best stories and life lessons.

Ever since my mom died, I’ve tried to avoid unplanned moments. My mom had a long battle with breast cancer, which spread to her bone-marrow, her liver, and her brain. As a little girl, I didn’t realize how sick she really was. I believed what my mom and everyone else told me — that she was going to survive and everything was going to be ok. Until it wasn’t. When my mom passed away, I felt like I had lost all control. I sought it in other ways — by controlling what I ate and how much I weighed. This yearning for control led to a long struggle with anorexia and disordered eating. Ironically, the more I tried to control my food intake, the more out of control I felt.

I love this photo, which I recently came across. This was my mom's last Christmas, two months before she died. I look so happy to be in her arms!
This was my mom’s last Christmas, two months before she died. She hugged me after opening a gift I gave her. I look so happy to be in her arms!

Births and deaths are two life events that we can’t ever really control. We may know they’re coming, but we don’t know exactly when. As I think about my mom and my own entrance into motherhood, I can’t help but think about the fact that Madelyn’s due date is just a few days before the 19th anniversary of my mom’s death. I’ve found that when one life ends, another often emerges to help ease the pain and fill the void. Any day now, I’m going to give birth to my very own daughter, my mother’s granddaughter. When I do, I’ll remember my own mom and grandmothers — the women who made me who I am today.

There’s an array of feelings that come with knowing you’re about to bring a child into this world — a tiny being who will be totally dependent on you for its care and well-being. This reality seems simultaneously real and surreal. I can’t control what day Madelyn will arrive, hard as I try. What I can do is find comfort in knowing that life will be infinitely more beautiful with her in it.


Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at

2 thoughts on “How the last few weeks of pregnancy are teaching me to embrace unpredictability

  1. I completely understand feeling totally out of control before birth. Kids surprise us often with uncontrollable moments. I’ve recently started coming to terms with a new level of non-control: teenage children. We are constantly learning as parents. Hang in there!


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