Pregnancy for most women brings many unexpected surprises and emotions. The rollercoaster of emotions often comes as both consuming and unsettling. Even when a pregnancy is achieved easily or sooner than expected, or is unplanned, the emotions of both dread and joy can be present at the same time, because now the dream has become a reality. Fears about whether life will ever be the same or whether the pregnancy will ultimately destroy their career, relationship, or life as they know it can come flashing through one’s thoughts. These feelings can become even more intensified for those intended parents who have spent years, much money, and donor(s) and/or surrogate to reach their goal of having a family. Few have thought about being pregnant, and even fewer have considered what it means to become parents.
For those fearful of pregnancy loss due to past losses or other concerns, the need for constant attention and reassurance may feel endless. Even with the most caring staff in an OB-GYN office, it is not uncommon to hear newly pregnant women and couples complain that the medical staff is not giving enough attention to their fears. Often in the first few weeks of pregnancy, there is very little that can save the pregnancy if a major problem arises. For most pregnant women and/or parents pregnant with the help of a surrogate, this fact is not acceptable. Spouses, partners, friends, family and even co-workers, seem to freely administer bedside medicine. Their advice tends to only compound the guilt and frantic feelings of the newly pregnant woman/couple. This pregnancy for many women seems to take over every waking moment of their lives. And if a woman is experiencing strong pregnancy symptoms that interfere with work and daily activities, the doubts can become even stronger. Bonding with the baby often seems foreign and remote to the woman and overwhelming to her partner. For same sex couples with repeated losses of their surrogate, the unknowns are overwhelming. For those who have suffered the trials of infertility, being able to complain about their misery is now unacceptable to others who have supported their struggles. This often leaves the newly pregnant person more isolated. They are neither in the fertile world or the infertile world.
The most important piece of information for these individuals is to know that any or all of these thoughts and feelings are normal. Being pregnant is so different than trying to become pregnant. As a psychotherapist who has waded in these waters myself, I know just how anxiety ridden one can think and feel. It is not surprising how often I hear women talk about being overwhelmed. They may have children already or are faced with being a first-time mother; no matter what it is they may find this new challenge overwhelming. Being able to listen to their fears and direct them to ask the right questions to their medical team can aid in making the pregnancy move to a less anxious place in one’s life. Teaching core mindfulness skills can be helpful to these anxious intended parents.
Often, women find themselves only able to relate to the pregnancy when they begin feeling the baby move. It suddenly begins to become real when the symptoms of the first trimester have calmed. Others who have had previous losses, can’t let themselves begin thinking about a baby for fear they will jinx the pregnancy. If bedrest or hospitalization is required, the ability to remain calm and hopeful may continue to be overshadowed by the ever-present fear that they will lose the pregnancy. Birth is the only event that will enable them to fully believe that they have succeeded.
There is an expectation that once the baby is born, the new mother and/or couple will instantly bond and be excited and happy. Yet, there are many women who feel they have failed when their feelings turn to sadness. They find bonding difficult and can’t stop crying. A difficult delivery and/or multiple pregnancies will only compound the fragility of the new mother even more. Those with donor egg or sperm or surrogacy automatically feel that having a donor baby is at the cause of these feelings. Hormones, postpartum depression, lack of sleep, or feeling inadequate, are usually the main reasons for these feelings of disconnect and dismay. Again, counseling, medications, home helpers, and time can enable a woman to work out her feelings and begin understanding the magnitude of the change that has happened to her. For couples, the new demands now placed on the marriage and on the supportive partner can be difficult. Old issues of how the division of labor has been handled or mishandled in the past become even more glaring. Husbands who feel they are contributing find their wives’ anger and constant criticism difficult in an already uneasy situation. Help with the marital relationship can enable a couple to move into these unchartered territories with less stress and resentment, and more ease.
Getting help at this critical crossroad can allow the transition into parenthood develop into a positive experience. What many new parents don’t realize is that this transition is only the beginning of the demands of parenthood. Being armed with the right tools enables new parents to gain a sense of confidence, that they will be able to rise to the many challenges ahead. Because unlike pregnancy, parenthood lasts a lifetime.
Patricia Mendell, LCSW