When I was pregnant the first time round, I didn’t give much thought to what being pregnant would be like, or how I could use that time to prepare. It sort of seemed like the no mans land between not being a parent and being a parent, with a bit of kicking in between.
The second time I was pregnant, it seemed a bit more poignant. This time I was far more aware of the fact that I was responsible for growing a person. It wasn’t just a bit of an inconvenience (although it was pretty damn inconvenient at times)!
However, as a counselor who specializes with working with mums and babies from before birth, I’ve had the privilege of learning a few things that I wish I had known first time round. To be fair, I think many mothers do these things instinctively, but I thought it might be helpful to make them explicit:
- Bonding starts before birth.
Did you know that one of the only sounds that is not distorted in utero is the human voice? So the voice that your baby hears when he or she is inside you is the same as the voice he or she hears after birth. So a healthy baby can recognise their mother (and often father)’s voice as soon as they are born. Your baby is hardwired to bond with you, starting during pregnancy.
And on your side, pregnancy is a great time to develop a state of mind where you consider your baby and their perspective. Many mothers talk about how they talk to their unborn baby about, well, anything. Or they notice when their baby is ‘quiet’ and wonder why. Or they find themselves writing letters to the baby they haven’t met yet. All these things are part of creating mental space for this new person, and that mental space is crucial for bonding.
- Pregnancy is a time when we start to adjust to the deprivations of early parenthood
The other thing you are doing by considering your baby in this way is getting used to making sacrifices for them.
Now I don’t know about you, but I struggled with giving things up in my first pregnancy. I didn’t ever lose my taste for alcohol (I was soooo jealous of those that did) and I missed so many foods. But what I really hated was the exhaustion. Having been someone who prided herself on ‘getting it all done’ I hated that I couldn’t do so much at work. I hated letting down friends because I just couldn’t stay out.
However, this lack of ability to do things the way I’d always done was nothing compared to how it felt when my baby arrived.
Now it’s not a bad thing to notice that things are changing and that you don’t always like the changes. As I will discuss in the next point, however, it’s how you feel about it that matters…
- Being a parent can arouse feelings in you that you didn’t expect, and that can start in pregnancy.
Pregnancy is meant to be a time of joy, isn’t it?
However, that’s only partially true. Alongside the feelings of pleasure when you feel your baby inside you, or relief that you got pregnant, or dewy nostalgia over the idea of autumn walks together/ beach holidays/ [insert appropriate family fantasy here], there can be many other emotions.
Unfortunately, because these are often not spoken about, we can see them as a bad thing or that we are doing something wrong.
However feelings are just useful signposts, a bit like an ache in your body is a useful signpost that maybe you need to stop doing something or pay more attention to looking after it. So pay attention to these feelings. Give them some space if necessary, and if you can’t figure them out on your own maybe go to see your doctor, as you would if you had a physical ache that doesn’t go away.
Sometimes unwanted feelings are triggered by events from the past, and sometimes they are triggered by the experience of being pregnant itself. Either way, get some support.
This brings me on to the last point I want to make.
- What happens in pregnancy lasts a lifetime, or more.
Now that sounds really heavy – and it is. But the research bears it out. Your body carries epigenetic marks from whatever stresses your grandmother experienced in her pregnancy. That’s a bit mind-blowing.
As well as alcohol and other toxins, one of the chemicals that passes through the placenta is cortisol, the stress hormone. And this is one of the things that has been shown to have a lasting impact on your baby’s wellbeing.
Now life can be stressful, and I don’t want to leave you thinking that if you’re stuck in a difficult job/ life situation whilst you’re pregnant that you cannot change, then there is nothing you can do to protect yourself and your baby from these impacts.
Because the good news is that if you recognise that you’re stressed, you can reduce the impact on you and your baby.
Find some ways of de-stressing that work for you: have massages, laugh at silly youtube videos or – even better – cry at weepy films (certain types of tears release adrenocorticotropic hormone, which if left unchecked can trigger cortisol), exercise in a way you find relaxing, have baths, go for walks, eat nourishing food, look after your sleep, paint pictures, use a mindfulness app. Whatever works for you – use it – you don’t have to be left in the grip of stress. And again, if you’re finding it too difficult to manage on your own, speak to someone – your GP, someone at work, a therapist. Getting support in pregnancy really does pay dividends later on.
So as you can see – pregnancy isn’t just about ‘growing a baby’ – it’s about mentally and emotionally preparing for this new person in your life. And whatever help and support you use to make that adjustment, it’s an investment in your child’s future and your own enjoyment of being a mum.
A Bit About Sarah
Sarah is a BACP Registered Counsellor with a background in social research and psychology. One of her main interests is looking into why some people find motherhood harder than others and what can be done to prevent it. She has a Psychology Joint Honours degree and a Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling both from the University of Edinburgh and is a member of the British Psychological Society aswell as being a Registered Member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. In addition, Sarah is also a counsellor for Juno PMHS, an inspiring organisation that provides peer support and outreach to mothers with perinatal mental health issues living in Edinburgh.
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