Excited, happy, overjoyed, lucky, grateful, impatient, disappointed, in denial, worried, scared, uncertain, anxious, guilty, ‘pressurised’, worried that I can’t share this with anyone yet, alone, terrified, in shock, ashamed, apprehensive while I wait for my first scan, sad, scared of being judged, unhappy that my body is going to change, that “I can’t yet enjoy it”…
These are only a few examples of the feelings and emotions that a few of us admitted experiencing in early pregnancy. Quite a mixed bag, right? And perhaps some words and phrases in there that you wouldn’t normally associate with pregnancy?
Pregnancy is a big deal! Whether it’s your first pregnancy or your fifth, whether it was a long, difficult journey which included years of trying and potentially loss, or one that was way too easy and took you by surprise, it’s still a life-changing experience and a moment of transition in the lives of most couples. So it’s not surprising to find that people (both mums- and dads-to-be) go through a range of emotions, especially during those first weeks and months after finding out that they’re expecting a baby.
Information and support on how to deal with the physical changes and symptoms of early pregnancy is widely available now, but there’s little discussion about the emotional changes that a woman (or a dad for that matter!) goes through during early pregnancy, and we shouldn’t forget that a couple’s emotional well-being and mental outlook is probably as important as their physical health!
So is there any support out there for the emotional side of pregnancy, and early pregnancy in particular? How can couples be reassured that what they’re going through is ‘normal’ and access support without worrying about being judged for how they are feeling?
Well, first things first, let’s just get one very important thing out of the way, shall we? It’s completely normal to feel a range of emotions!
“Oh, you must be SO happy!”
Isn’t that what most pregnant woman and couple hear from people around them when they announce they’re expecting? Because having a baby is considered to be good news, there are massive expectations that you should feel happy, grateful and overjoyed the minute you and your partner find out you’re pregnant, and every single minute thereafter! So what if you aren’t? This doesn’t mean that you love or want your baby any less, but sometimes happiness isn’t the first thing that you feel when you find out you’re pregnant.
Sometimes you can’t even work out how you really feel about being pregnant, and because everyone expects you to be so excited, it’s even harder for you to admit that you may also be feeling so many other things. You can feel guilty and judged – why am I not happy like I should be?! But the reality is that there are so many feelings involved in pregnancy, and in particular in early pregnancy, and there can be so many different reasons why we feel how we feel that we should really give each other a bit more understanding and support here and try and put ourselves in our fellow parents-to-be’s shoes.
So let’s explore this mixed bag of emotions a little bit and talk about some of the feelings and thoughts that can go through couples’ minds during early pregnancy…
I don’t like being pregnant!
Being pregnant isn’t an easy ride for every woman. We’re all different, and even for the same woman no two pregnancies are exactly the same. If this is your first pregnancy, and you don’t know what to expect, you may still feel apprehensive about what you’ve heard from others or what’s portrayed in the media about pregnancy. As ‘superficial’ as this may sound, you may not be too keen on the changes that your body is going to go through, and that’s perfectly normal too – letting go of your body shape or image as you know it is not easy, as you have no control over that, and it can (hopefully only temporarily) even affect your self-esteem.
Or, if you’ve been pregnant before, you may not be looking forward to some of the symptoms or sensations that you experienced in the past and are worried that you’ll experience them again. Think about the sensation of feeling the baby move inside you, for example. While some women say it’s one of the best feelings about being pregnant, others say they’re not too keen on that feeling, which seems a bit ‘alien’ to them, at least at first. This shows that it’s really all about perception, and no one can argue with yours! How you feel is how you feel, and you have a right to feel the way you do!
I’m too scared of giving birth again!
Well, of course, couples (and perhaps women in particular) who may have had difficult birth experiences in the past that they haven’t been able to fully de-brief or come to terms with, may be feeling anxious and scared about giving birth again or about the postnatal period with a newborn baby. Some people find that this the best and easiest time, but others find it really hard, so once again it’s all about your personal experiences and perception!
And of course we would say this, but if you feel a bit anxious about giving birth, you should definitely check out our MummyNatal classes for some fantastic birth preparation that you won’t find anywhere else!
I’m in shock!
Incredulity and shock are very ‘normal’ feelings to experience when finding out about being pregnant. This isn’t just true for unexpected pregnancies, but even for ones that are very much planned. You may be shocked and surprised at how easy and quick it was for you to fall pregnant or, if your journey to become pregnant had been a bit rocky and difficult, or indeed, if you had been told that it would be, you may feel shocked that you managed to fall pregnant at all! So don’t be embarrassed to say you’re shocked – it may sound silly to some friends and family to hear that you’re feeling shocked (yes, you did pay attention to the birds and the bees talk!), but it’s a very normal reaction to have.
So you’ve had that positive pregnancy test (and the other ten you took afterwards to make sure it wasn’t wrong), but you don’t feel any different. You don’t have any symptoms, and all that your GP has said to you is “congratulations – please make an appointment with the midwife” (or something along those lines). You don’t feel pregnant. It’s early days so you can’t feel your baby move yet, and if your pregnancy is considered low risk you may not have your first scan until 12 weeks. From the time when you find out you’re expecting up to that point, it can all feel like you’re a bit ‘on hold’ with this pregnancy thing, and not really ready to ‘run away with it’.
For some people seeing their unborn baby for the first time at the 12 week scan (or at the first scan if you have one earlier) and being reassured that there really is a baby growing in there, and things are ticking along nicely is when the pregnancy becomes ‘real’ for the first time, and the news really sink in. This is also the point where some people feel it’s finally ok to announce they’re expecting, but others of course choose to do it before, either publicly or just to some close friends and family. Whatever you do, you need to remember that it’s YOUR choice, and you should do what feels right to you and in your situation. The point here is that it’s not uncommon to still feel a bit confused, unsure and ‘on the fence’ until that first scan, whether it’s at 12 weeks or before, so don’t worry if you have just found out you’re pregnant but don’t yet feel like you want to scream from the rooftops just yet.
This isn’t the right time!
Ever heard of people saying that there’s never a right time to have a baby? Well, there can be so many different permutations of “this wasn’t the right time for us” that it’d be impossible to cover them all. What if you’ve just moved to a new job or to a new country even? What if you’re in a brand new relationship or have just got married and were planning to spend some time together as a couple, getting to know each other or travelling the world before starting a family? What if you already have a very young baby and you fall pregnant again, unexpectedly, with another baby? What if you weren’t planning on having children, full stop?
There can be so many different reasons that make you feel like this pregnancy isn’t happening at the right time in your life, and it’s normal to feel uneasy or uncomfortable at having to re-think your plans. Sometimes starting a family simply means that you have to put your plans on hold for a while, but other times it could mean seeing those very plans vanish for good before your eyes, and that can take a while to adjust to, so don’t be too harsh on yourself! Human beings are creatures of habit, and change can be unsettling, even if it is one that you want and look forward to, like welcoming a new baby into your lives.
How will I cope?
Having a baby can trigger some very real, practical concerns in mums- and dads-to-be. Will I be a good parent? Will I be like my parents? What will our relationship be like when the baby comes? What support will we have? How are we going to cope with work and childcare? Is our place big enough or will we need to move? There are so many psychological and social issues that parents-to-be can face, and some of these things can really keep you up at night! So yes, you’re over the moon at the new arrival, but what if you’re worrying about everything else too? Uncertainty can generate anxiety and even fear if not kept under control, and we can be very good at letting our imagination run a bit too wild sometimes, which is why in MummyNatal classes we talk about ‘storytelling’ and how to deal with that…
What if something goes wrong?
Probably one of the most common thoughts in the minds of expectant parents is the one of worry. What if there’s something wrong with the baby? What if something goes wrong with the pregnancy or labour and birth? For some parents these feel like very real possibilities, especially if they have experienced loss before, and the thought of another pregnancy which could lead to another loss can be a terrifying experience, especially as it’s something we have so little control over. Not many people know this, but GPs should be able to refer couples in these situations to a recurrent loss midwife, who will be able to debrief the couple’s experience and feelings about any previous losses and their current pregnancy.
A certain degree of worry and even fear for the welfare of your unborn baby is only human, but these feelings can really end up shaping your pregnancy, especially if you focus on them too much at the expense of trying to relax and enjoy the pregnancy. If you feel that this is something that is affecting your mood or everyday outlook, you should speak to someone you trust (your partner, family or close friends perhaps) or to your midwife – this can help you to address your feelings.
So where can you go for help and support?
Before you go to the professionals, you can always try the following:
- Talk to your partner: if you’re in a relationship, don’t just assume that the other person is not feeling the same things that you do. Of course you know the dynamics of your couple best, but if you talk to your partner honestly about how you are feeling, it may help you both to deal with the reality of the changes that you’re experiencing. Mum is growing a baby inside her, and it’s her body going through a lot of physical and hormonal changes, but let’s not forget that dads can worry too! In fact, a dad-to-be could even be feeling left out, which is why it’s important to talk to each other.
- Talk to someone you trust: a friend, a relative, a parent, a colleague, your local Natal teacher… everyone should have someone who doesn’t make them feel judged, and that’s exactly the person (or the people) that you should go to to find some understanding and support. Remember that it’s important to talk about how you feel!
- Use internet forums for support: sometimes it’s easier to sit behind a screen and talk to like- minded people who understand how you feel and know exactly what to say. Plenty of other mums and dads out there will have been in the same situation, so look for a support group on social media or the internet, and if you want to meet people in a similar situation, and you can’t find a local group to you, you could even set one up yourself!
And last but not least these are some of the services and professionals that can offer help and support during pregnancy:
- Your midwife will ask questions about your physical and mental health. You should tell your midwife if you have had mental health problems. She can ensure you get the care and support you need.
- You should talk to your GP if you are worried about mental health problems in pregnancy. Your GP can provide information, advice and treatment. They can refer you to a mental health or psychological therapy services if needed.
- In some areas, there are specialist mental health services for pregnant and postnatal women. These are called Perinatal Mental Health Services. Often these teams work jointly with the Community Mental Health Teams, which can offer help and support on a wider number of issues. Your GP and midwife can tell you whether this type of service is available in your area.
- Health visitors see all women with new babies. They offer advice and help about the baby’s health, feeding, sleep and other issues. In some areas health visitors may see you even before your baby is born.
Thank you for reading, and please join us in thanking our fantastic Natal teachers Laura,, Zoe, Katy, Amy and Bex for contributing to this post with their fantastic insight.