"I'm expecting" is a grand open-ended statement of two little words loaded with hope. As a mom of four, I have lots of experience saying them, sometimes with excitement and sometimes with exhaustion. Each time I've been waiting for the baby, other expectations weren't so obvious. The dream of fulfillment, or unconditional love, or a stronger connection to my husband. They were unique expectations based on my distinct mess of personality and life experiences. What I was "expecting" with my fourth pregnancy was much different than my first, because I knew more about motherhood and I'd grown as a woman.
Though we associate the phrase "I'm expecting" with pregnancy, we could just as easily use it for engagement. Because we all bring both spoken and unspoken expectations to the altar on our wedding days. I even brought plenty I wasn't aware of. In the moment I couldn't have articulated the expectations if I'd tried, because I didn't know they were there until I was living in the context of a real marriage.
Having grown up with a single mother my entire childhood, my expectation for marriage felt pretty open. I didn't have a good or bad marriage to use as my model. It was simply void, like white, the absence of color; I suffered from the absence of marriage. I did have a few fantasies—at the time I would have described them as hopes. That I would be happier, more fulfilled, with my husband. In a sense, that he would "complete me."
And then real life happened. We lived on a shoestring budget with my paycheck from supporting migrant high school students for Catholic Charities. My husband was a full-time graduate student. Despite the fact that we lived in rainy Portland, Oregon, our apartment was beyond hot for six months of the year. Dinners didn't magically appear and the dishes didn't magically disappear. The reality of the "work" involved to maintain life, not to mention our relationship, was a letdown. Why was I still wanting more when I had what I wanted: a loving, stable, supportive husband?
It wasn't until a year into my marriage that I had the epiphany. I was putting expectations on my husband that no human could fulfill. When I had dreamed of what marriage would offer, I had dreamed of emotional fulfillment, filling the empty places that existed in my heart. For so long I'd thought, "When I'm married … then I'll be happy." Because I thought marriage was the answer to my heartache.