We very rarely, if ever, get to make a major life decision and live with it as reality – before it is undone. We often wish we could “try decisions on” and then turn back the clock if we change our minds.
Why? Because it’s one thing to talk about a choice and quite another to actually DO IT.
This is a rather personal story about what it’s like to feel a real decision and then have it unmade.
In 2011, I found out I was pregnant. It was completely unexpected, as I just happened to go to the doctor for my annual physical and told him I was late. “Let’s run a pregnancy test to be sure.”
I half-listened to the doctor’s voicemail, knowing it would be negative. “Your test came back positive. You’re very early, about 5 weeks, I’d say, but congratulations. Let’s talk about next steps.”
You must understand the current state of affairs. My husband and I had talked about kids but were not even close to a final decision. I’d had a major health crisis a few years prior and, in the aftermath, we leaned toward no kids. Still, I always wondered what it would be like. Sweet cuddles and fun adventures balanced with sleep-deprivation and no more freedom to take off at a moment’s notice.
But there was no way to predict how I would actually feel if/when it happened.
Until it was real.
I vividly remember driving to lunch to meet a friend that day with a new found sense of safety to do the speed limit. And wondering, “How do I do this? Who do I tell first?”
Mind you, I had left my husband a message that I had something to talk to him about at home. But no way was I going to drop this bomb over voicemail.
At lunch, it felt weird to tell my good friend, but good to share it with someone. Me. A pregnant woman?! Between our shock, we giggled.
As the excruciating hours passed before my husband got home, I settled into the idea. No more imagining. This was happening. How did I feel? I sat with my emotions in this new reality for about 8 hours before my husband knew anything. Panic. Excitement. Shock. But the overwhelming emotion? Joy. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Then later that afternoon…
Some light bleeding. Maybe this decision was being undone right before my eyes? Fear. Dread.
My husband came home and I told him. But with a caveat that “this might all be going south.” He reeled from the shock but also expressed concern about me.
And then….it all unraveled. Light bleeding turned to heavy turned to emergency doctor calls and then finally, that last callback where a total stranger, the on-call doctor, said out loud what I dreaded to hear.
Two days later, an exam at the doctor’s confirmed it. There had been a very early pregnancy but it was over now. No baby.
The decision had been undone.
But it gave me what I needed to be sure about my choice. And now we have a beautiful almost 5 year old boy.
This story is not just about the 48 hour pregnancy. It’s about how we make decisions.
And what we really want when we have to make especially tough ones is to understand how our final choice will make us feel. (TWEET THIS!)
We rarely get visceral certainty. We can only speculate with what we know right now. We really wish we could marry that guy, start that business or take that job and get a taste of it before we truly commit.
We often cannot.
We have to examine both choices from two angles:
- How will I feel if I do make that choice?
- How will I feel if I don’t make that choice?
You don’t often get the luxury of emotionally and physically stepping into that reality before you decide. So you have to do your best to imagine. But even that can trick your brain, because I’m telling you, the emotions I felt that day were not even close to what I imagined.
So what can we do? Short of being able to go back in time…
Here are 7 ideas for how to make a tough decision:
- Gather the right information. Get enough data to make a balanced, informed choice… but then stop. There comes a point where you start simply seeking data that confirms what you already want to do!
- Use pro and con lists wisely. Such lists are okay as inputs, but they’re not a useful decisioning tool, so say Chip and Dan Heath in their book Decisive. We often construct those lists with an existing bias. And sometimes that one pro is worth way more than all of those cons (or vice versa!)
- Get a similar perspective. Talk to people who’ve been through it and probe about their before and after. Especially if they possess a similar worldview to yours. But remember, they are not you. You are not them.
- Trust your gut on how you may react if it happens….and if it does not. When you tell yourself “This is happening” or “This is not happening” take note of your physiology and mood. Sometimes, you actually already know!
- Ask others to notice for you: When you describe the dilemma, ask your friends to notice how you talk: voice pitch, facial expressions, body language They may tell you that you are already pointing out all the negatives of one option, or that your face lights up for the other.
- Make all things equal. Great for deciding between two options. Ask yourself what you would do if most things were equal. For example, when faced with two different kindergartens for our son, one close to our house, one 20 minutes away. I asked myself, “Which would I choose if the commute were not a factor?” When put in those terms, I didn’t even hesitate, which told me what I needed to know. We made the decision to put up with the longer commute.
- Take the leap. Or don’t. At a certain point, just decide. You only know what you know right now, so stop trying to predict the future. While it is true that we often regret more of the things we did not do, than those we did do, you just need to make a call. Often, we can adapt to whatever decisions we make.
P.S. While this post is about making decisions, if the topic brought up anything difficult for you around miscarriage, please find some resources right here:
For those in the UK, this may help.
Emotional support after miscarriage.
After a miscarriage: Surviving Emotionally from the American Pregnancy Association