When life gives you a pandemic… some of us get pregnant, apparently. I realize this outcome was also a recurring joke on social media: the fact that if we were collectively sheltering in place with our partners, one of two things could happen: we’d either destroy each other or make a baby. I guess my husband and I were the latter (although we sometimes dabbled in the former on our off days). Real talk, though: while the timing was funny, my pregnancy didn’t come as a surprise to either one of us—my husband and I had planned to start trying for a baby this year, pandemic be damned. However, the element that caught me off-guard was my initial reaction when I saw that positive pregnancy test result: disappointment. It was pretty much a WTF moment.
Let me rewind and set the scene for you. My husband and I began to “seriously” start trying in mid-September. My family physician, Dr. Tina Chanchlani, informed me that, statistically, about 50% of women get pregnant within 6 months, and 85%-90% would conceive within about 12 months of trying. Sounds reasonable, but based on my volatile health record (mental health issues which include trauma, anxiety, depression, an eating disorder which resulted in my losing my period for about a decade), I fully expected to have trouble getting pregnant. And I was completely okay with that—in fact, I had mentally prepared for the likelihood of my needing to seek out a fertility specialist.
So, plot twist—within a month of trying, my husband asked if I had my period in October, and I informed him that I had missed it. He hastily went out and purchased First Response. I thought he was being an eager beaver, but I indulged in his curiosity even though I was thinking, “there’s no way I could be pregnant so quick”. Then, boom: I took the test, and a “YES” and “+” sign were staring back at me. I was pregnant.
What hit me next was unexpected: a tidal wave of anxiety cascaded over me, leading to a full-fledged attack with blood rushing to my head and my brain going numb and body feeling like a floundering jellyfish.
“Sh*t,” I thought to myself. I then found myself swimming in a sea of guilt and disappointment. I felt like an asshole for not having a more positive reaction.
“What’s wrong with me?” I thought. I should feel euphoric, grateful, and overjoyed—not freaking out and having panic attacks. Right?!
Don’t Buy Into The “Right” Or “Wrong” Reaction. It Doesn’t Exist.
Society and pop culture have royally f*cked us over. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, a part of us has subconsciously absorbed the so-called norms and reductive scripts regarding a woman’s relationship with pregnancy and being pregnant.
“There is an expectation that has been perpetuated in our society that women should be blissfully excited upon discovering a new pregnancy. However, many women do not have that reaction, which is completely normal. This idea of blissful excitement and anticipation is unrealistic,” explains Dr. Megan Gray, an OB-GYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates. Because there is this undeniable societal pressure to exhibit the “correct” feelings, there’s not much flexibility and understanding of alternative reactions: “there is not a lot of room on the emotional spectrum—the ‘right’ emotion is ‘HAPPY’. That’s it.” adds Behaviorist, Author and Confidence Coach Shane Kulman, Founder of The Awkward Academy. In reality, there are many emotions one can feel upon receiving that life-changing news, and it’s time we acknowledge them.
Expectation Vs. Reality
Part of my disappointment stemmed from the realization that I had fallen prey to one-sided depictions of how a woman “should” react when getting positive pregnancy news. The thing is, it’s unavoidable—we’re all human and susceptible to this kind of societal brainwashing, whether we intend to or not. And that’s okay, so long as we remind ourselves that these narratives are rarely ever accurate displays of real life.
Dr. Barbara Frank, OB/GYN and medical advisor to sustainable wellness brand Attn: Grace, explains, “there are so many factors that play into the way a woman feels during pregnancy. If you find yourself comparing your bump online with other moms or scrolling through ads of smiling new moms who look like they all have it locked down and under control, remember that you are only seeing one side of the picture.”
Dr. Frank does note, though, that there is a small and growing community whose authenticity should be spotlighted: “I applaud those moms that share the real pictures, the real, raw emotions, the ugly-crying (in love and sadness), the trouble getting out of bed in the morning, the fear of harming your newborn walking down the stairs…” Ultimately she advises mothers-to-be to “be honest with yourself and try to manage your expectations.”
Recognize & Accept Your Feelings With Thoughtfulness
My anxiety attack was followed up with harsh self-talk that I had pretty much failed right out of the gate. I was consumed with self-sabotaging thoughts like, “wow, does this mean I secretly don’t want to be a mom? Am I going to be a bad parent because I wasn’t initially overjoyed?” This subsequently led to an anxiety spiral of overanalyzing and replaying every little second of the hows and whys to understand what was going on in my brain. Take it from me: this is hellishly exhausting, both mentally and physically. If you ever find yourself in a similarly destructive thought pattern, Dr. Gray advises the following: “The first step is recognizing the feeling and giving yourself the grace to feel the emotion. Then trying to nail down the source of the anxiety. Why are you anxious? Write it down.”
It’s also important to realize that you don’t have to be alone on this journey. Dr. Gray says, “don’t be afraid to seek out a professional who wants to help you. Talking to your physician about any medical concerns you may have associated with pregnancy may allay some of the fears. I would encourage women to talk with an obstetrician or certified nurse midwife about the ins and outs of pregnancy and avoid relying on the internet for information.” Lastly, and an important FYI, Dr. Frank explains that if you find that your mental health issues are affecting your quality of daily living, it may be advisable to seek out a mental health professional.”
A Baby Is A Big F*cking Deal
Creating life is pretty incredible and a big f*cking deal. You definitely know that there are going to be a LOT of life changes, and that knowledge can feel distressing and overwhelming. These are legitimate sentiments to have! Dr. Gray assures us, “It is completely normal to feel anxious about a new pregnancy for so many different reasons. These feelings may be completely different and valid for each individual woman.” In addition to worrying about changes in career, friendships, etc., it’s also normal to be thinking about your well-being: “other women worry about the risks involved in pregnancy for themselves and for the fetus.” Regardless of the trigger, Dr. Gray cites that all of these worries are valid and normal.
Self-Care & No Negative Vibes Allowed
Kulman says that in this scenario, it’s okay to think of yourself and prioritize your needs first: “the best practice is to become as selfish as ever, take on no obligations, to bow out or say ‘no’ gracefully, and have no qualms about using the sentence, ‘I’m sorry I have to say no, it’s best I rest’, with no other explanations necessary.” Kulman follows this up with a self-care plan of action: “self-appointed rest, and moving through life with slow and gentle care is best.”
She also advises, “put the nap times on the calendar, and be purposeful in actions when in productivity mode” and to tag-team it up with your significant other. “Ask for help, help in practical ways, and emotional ways. Have a set time or meeting with your partner about expectations, get excited together and talk about fears and worries—always begin and end the communication time with positivity.” And don’t forget to document your pregnancy adventures. Kulman encourages women to keep a daily journal: “it can be something as simple as bullet points, but regardless of how you choose to express yourself (e.g. draw/write) it’s healthy for many reasons to document this process, or it will be a blur.”
In building upon your self-care regime, it’s also great to have a game plan in mind when you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant. Surrounding yourself with nurturing support systems and people is an essential best practice to help you deal with feelings of worry and anxiety. Dr. Gray suggests that soon-to-be moms set up a checklist.
“For mild symptoms (e.g. not affecting daily living, not causing distress), here are some options to help cope with new pregnancy anxiety/issues:
- Find support: primarily trusted friends, family members, partners.
- Get outside and move! Both exercise and being outdoors has shown to improve mood.
- Practice gratitude: keep a journal of what you are thankful for. This practice has also been shown to improve mood.
- Talk to your doctor: find an obstetrician or certified nurse midwife that you feel comfortable with. Ask LOTS of questions. Keep the answers in a notebook or on your phone. Refer back to the answers when you need reassurance.
- Take one day at a time. Don’t look too far into the future.
- Talk with a mental health therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist.”
When I found out I was pregnant, I feared that I was being an ungrateful “debbie-downer” and “ruining the moment” when I informed my husband that I was freaking out and having an anxiety attack. Additionally, everyone else that I spoke to told me that they were nothing but elated (especially those who had struggled for a while to get pregnant in the first place). So I’m not gonna lie: I was worried about what others would think or say about my reaction. What genuinely helped was that I didn’t keep these thoughts trapped inside and shared them with someone I trusted and loved (my hubby), and the fact that my husband didn’t judge me for how I felt. Instead, he told me that he was kind of freaking out too. But he had this reassuring glow to him, explaining that, “yeah holy sh*t—our lives are going to be different, but we have each other to explore this journey together. So while it’s scary and unpredictable, it’s also kind of exciting.”
Dr. Frank offers, “Like most things in life, and even more so in this case, it’s not all going to be or feel like you might want it to or even expect it to. That baby in your belly didn’t read some master manual, and you and he/she/they are going to have to get through things together, learning as you go.” So she says to not be too hard on yourself.
With so many changes afoot, it’s important to keep afloat of mental and emotional hijacking. Nothing is static and each person’s pregnancy is an unpredictable, yet exhilarating fluid ride. Dr. Gray says, “finding out you are pregnant can induce a multitude of emotions, and it is not always like what you see in the movies or on Instagram or TikTok. However, just because your first emotion is not complete elation does not mean that over time you will not develop some sense of excitement throughout your pregnancy.” Ultimately, it’s about shifting perspective and being honest with yourself without reservations when it comes to your own experiences in being pregnant.
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