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Pregnancy's Emotional Roller Coaster

Pregnancy's Emotional Rollercoaster

WebMD Feature

C'mon, admit it. You have some "Pleasantville"-like images of pregnancy. We all do. You know, cheeks and hearts glowing (even if our stomachs aren't). Reveling in the months, and inches, of our ever-expanding bellies without a worry or doubt. Invariably you even know somebody who seems to fit the bill.

The truth is, women often experience a range of emotions during pregnancy, even if they and their partners are excited about the baby and planned it from the get-go. They might have mood swings. They might be worried about their babies' health, uncertain about the changes in their bodies, their relationships, their abilities to be mothers -- the list goes on and on.

How could that be, if you're apparently so happy about that tiny life growing inside you? Duh, experts say (although they won't be that blunt). It's because moms-to-be are teetering on the brink of something really big.

"Motherhood is such a permanent transformation," says Deborah Issokson, a licensed psychologist in Boston who specializes in perinatal mental health. "I don't know any life event so permanent and transforming that wouldn't come with some anxiety, worry, regret, ambivalence or wondering. It's the nature of the beast, the enormity of the journey you're on."

Unfortunately, these less-than-glowing feelings are also among life's best-kept secrets. Everyone thinks on some level that they're not supposed to feel these things, and if they do, something must be wrong with them.

"You look in the baby magazines, and there's the picture of the woman who's beautiful and happy and she's setting up this incredibly expensive nursery. ... We look at all of that and wonder why we don't fit in," says Jennifer Louden, author of "The Pregnant Woman's Comfort Book."

For women who have experienced infertility or miscarriage, such guilt or disillusionment can be worse, because they may not think they deserve any doubts. "They don't dare voice their ambivalence or wonderings, because people would just say, 'You should just be grateful you're pregnant,'" Issokson says.

But take a deep breath and relax. These feelings aren't necessarily a reflection of how badly you want your baby or how good a parent you'll be. In fact, Issokson worries more about couples who don't feel any of these things. "To me that means they're a little bit in denial about how enormous this change really is."

Here's a look at some women, and men, who were thrust onto the emotional roller coaster of pregnancy and some tips on how to still enjoy the ride.

Honey, I'm Home

Simon D'Arcy, a management consultant in Santa Barbara, Calif., clearly remembers his wife Sharon's pregnancies. "The mood shifts were pretty amazing. There were times when I'd call before leaving work and say, 'How was your day? How are you feeling? Did you feel the baby kick?' She'd say, 'Fine, honey. I can't wait for you to come home.' Ten minutes later I'd walk in the house and get it with both barrels."

D'Arcy even started tiptoeing in and peeking around the corner first "just so I could see what the mood in the house was. I thought, Should I go into my office? Do I come in with my hat in my hand? Do I go back out and get flowers? I was floored." Sometimes he could pinpoint a cause for her sudden angst. Other times he didn't have a clue.

So are the range of emotions during pregnancy simply a case of hormones run amok? Not necessarily, doctors say. Some women may react to the increased levels of hormones; others may not. And even if they do experience moodiness, hormones certainly aren't the only cause.

"Emotions are triggered by so many sources other than hormones," says Dr. Frank Ling, professor and chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee. Even the physical discomforts of pregnancy, such as morning sickness, breast tenderness or constipation, can play a role, since you'd naturally feel down when you're uncomfortable.

"What I tell patients ahead of time is, 'Look, you're not going to feel the same during pregnancy as you did before, so you and your spouse have to recognize that how you respond to a circumstance when you're pregnant may be different from how you responded before,'" Ling says.