Pregnancy's Emotional Roller Coaster (cont.)
When Debra Sherman was pregnant, the typically unemotional Chicago business journalist would burst into tears at the slightest provocation, even a TV newscast she watched about a dog killed in an accident. "It could be anything -- happy or sad," she says.
Sometimes she had no idea why; other times she knew exactly, like the time she and her husband were looking at graphic books on childbirth at a bookstore. "That was fear. I was crying because I didn't think I could do it," says Sherman, who gave birth to 8-pound, 15-ounce Alex on May 5.
Sherman's experiences are common. "Part of it is that you're just in such an open, raw state," Issokson says. "You're growing another life. What could be more powerful and sacred? It opens people to loss and vulnerability in ways they've never known."
One of the best tactics to manage your anxieties and fears is to find other people (your partner included) with whom you can share those feelings, whether it's an exercise or childbirth, heart-to-hearts with friends or family members who will listen without trying to fix, or even structured sessions with a therapist, experts say.
"I encourage people to ask very specific questions of other women," Issokson says. "Don't just say, 'How was your pregnancy?' but 'How were you feeling when you felt the baby kick?' or 'What were you feeling on the days when you were really tired?'" Journal writing or reading books about all aspects of pregnancy can help.
Books that explore the emotional aspect of pregnancy include "Journey into Motherhood; Writing Your Way to Self-Discovery," by Leslie Kirk Campbell; "Excited, Exhausted, Expecting: The Emotional Life of Mothers-to-Be," by Arlene Modica Matthews; "The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy, or Everything Your Doctor Won't Tell You," by Vicki Iovine; and Louden's "The Pregnant Woman's Comfort Book."
Love, Anger and Everything in Between
When author Jennifer Louden was pregnant with her daughter, Lillian, she spent a lot of time talking to her belly, not just to coo adoringly, but to reassure and apologize. "I'd say, 'You know, I'm really happy you're here, and I'm sorry I'm feeling ambivalent,'" Louden recalls.
"I was feeling ambivalent about this huge change to my life," Louden admits. "That whole sense of freedom to direct our lives, to use our time the way we want. ... We're never going to be undivided again."
Conflicting emotions during pregnancy can be particularly common for women who have developed successful professional careers. "They're more conscious of the huge amount of sacrifice," she says. "Before we might have been in our 20s and thought that having a child was one of our biggest creative outlets. For a lot of women it's an essential part of life, but it's not the key so much anymore."
Of course, her ambivalence brought on a flood of other feelings, among them guilt that she wasn't completely enraptured, as well as anger and resentment that she wasn't feeling the unqualified high that friends seemingly were. It also stirred up other unresolved conflicts, including some with her own mother and her upbringing. Lillian is now 5, but it could take another five or 10 years to work through them, Louden says with a laugh.
"The idea that our feelings keep pace with events outside of ourselves is such a fallacy and causes us so much pain every day," Louden says. "We really expect to be ready to be a mom in nine months, and a lot of times, we're not." Ditto for life in general. "It's so cliché, but the biggest obstacle we face is that we think we have to do it alone, we have to do it perfect, and we have to do it all right now."
In her book, Louden suggests certain rituals and exercises to accept these changes, whether it's with your identity or relationships. One is making lists: "Parts of My Life I Like Best," "Parts of Myself I Most Fear Losing," "What I Will Gain in My Life" and "Parts of My Life I Don't Mind Losing." Use them as jumping-off points for action, like doing some activity you like more often, or thinking about how you can sustain it later.
"The need to be self-accepting is the key to life," Louden says. "That doesn't mean you indulge it or get to be a victim or that you don't have to keep moving. But it does mean that you sit with it and say, 'Look, I'm ambivalent, and I'm not going to beat myself up for it.' Then -- but not immediately -- you ask, 'What is that trying to teach me? What do I need to do with it?'"
Lovelier the Second Time Around?
When Beth Rodgers-Kay was pregnant with her first child, Melissa, she heard about other women's mood swings and would jokingly explain her own bliss by saying she had "happy hormones." In truth, it was because this pregnancy was such a long time coming. "I really wanted to have children for a long time. It was a long journey," says Rodgers-Kay, who knew her husband, Roger, for 11 years before they decided to start a family.
Yet the second time, about two years later, the experience was completely different. In fact, when they decided to start trying to conceive that first month, they actually avoided intercourse on the days when she was most fertile. The differences continued to haunt her during the pregnancy. She had more nausea, she couldn't spend as much time swimming, and she worried she wasn't connecting with this baby like she had before.
"With Melissa, we both felt like there was this big space in each of our lives that we wanted a child to be in. The second time, that space was already filled," Rodgers-Kay says. "We knew we wanted to have another child, but (Melissa) was doing a pretty good job of consuming us, not only in terms of logistics, energy and time, but also love. We were both in love with her, and it just seemed harder to make space for the second child."
Of course, simply understanding why didn't make it any easier. What helped were some sessions with Issokson, which included two visualizations -- one of the baby in her womb and one of the childbirth. They gave her a chance to focus on the new baby and to gain confidence that she really accomplish the tasks at hand. The second session was taped, and the couple listened to it together at home before the birth.