by Arianna Sholes-Douglas, MD
As wonderful as the idea of pregnancy can be, getting and staying pregnant can be one of the most stressful life events a woman and her partner encounter. There are so many expectations that we hold about pregnancy.
At the end of the day, we have come to essentially "expect" normal when it comes to pregnancy. However, there is almost a conditioned silence as it relates to women and families sharing their 'not so perfect' stories. In addition, there are so many questions that feed our anxieties surrounding pregnancy. "Can we get pregnant?" "Will we stay pregnant?" "Will the baby be ok?" "Will my testing be normal?" "Should I get an amniocentesis, because I'm over 35?" "Should I see a OB/Gyn or a Certified Nurse Midwife?"
Anxiety surrounding pregnancy is as common as pregnancy itself. Society and the media, in particular, all too often project pregnancy as a perfect condition that results in the birth of a beautiful bundle of joy at the end of a problem-free nine months. But if you ask around, the vast majority of women you encounter have stories that contrast this idea.
The typical anxiety during pregnancy can be broken up into two categories. First, there is the general anxiety that exists simply because of the 'what ifs' that can occur during any pregnancy. Then, there is the anxiety that exists after we have had a previous or even current experience that falls outside of our expectations. Unfortunately, the list of things that can potentially go wrong with a pregnancy is infinite. On some levels we feel and appear to have some control that we can affect the outcome. But in reality, we have no control of the events to come. Pregnancy is the perfect mirror of life in that sense.
There is, however, a common thread of our anxiety whether we are pregnant, want to be pregnant, or not. What links all anxiety is the type of thinking we practice. The common thread is our fear-based thinking. We are starting from a place of fear rather than acceptance, stillness, and peace. We generally are not "present" in the moment of just being pregnant. When you are anxious, you are actually worrying about some event or condition that you anticipate in the future. You are also likely living some part of the past. And typically, whatever we are worrying about is something over which you have no control. Anxiety essentially feeds on our fears about the "what if". In pregnancy, as in life, there are too many what ifs to comprehend and definitely too many to have any control.
You may very well have some very compelling reasons to label yourself "high risk". Perhaps you have had several pregnancy losses, delivered early, or simply had an experience that you would not like to repeat the next time around. You may have some valid concerns based on previous experiences. But, there is an inner peace and stillness that you can seek to create a balance and to neutralize anxious thoughts.
I'd like to suggest ways to approach some of the anxiety we experience. Regardless of your concerns, there are some simple tools you can use to help you manage your anxious thoughts.
Practice stillness and awareness of the present moment
Remember, anxiety represents our thoughts and fears of some moment in the projected future. When we are present in the moment and experiencing the "now" we cannot be simultaneously worrying about a future moment. Pregnancy is a wonderful time to begin the exercise of stillness and meditation (especially for first time moms). Create a morning regimen starting with a few moments of quite reflection/meditation.
Consider the source
So many times I have spoken to patients that have been misinformed by well-meaning relatives, friends, and even strangers. Most of the time, the story is apparently not being relayed correctly. And more often than not, the details surrounding someone else's issues during pregnancy don't even relate to the patient. Women are stricken with fear and questions because of another person's circumstances that sound familiar, but have nothing to do with their situation. We have come to worry about a situation because of information we have received either through reading, the media, or our interactions with others. Oftentimes, we create anxiety for ourselves by simply magnifying the "what ifs" and creating scenarios for ourselves that frequently have no relevance to our specific situation. No one's experience should be discounted. However, most everyone else's experiences do not apply specifically to you.
Most will enter pregnancy with those common fears. Others will have a very valid reason to approach pregnancy with some trepidation. It is easy to get consumed in the external chatter of others and of our own obsessive thoughts. If your thoughts continue to feed anxious thoughts, you must retrain your thinking by first quieting your mind and then reciting your affirmative thoughts. The power of attraction certainly applies to pregnancy as well as any other aspect of life. Start to visualize what you want for your pregnancy. When you find yourself feeling anxious thoughts, take a moment to be still and to get centered. Create some affirmations to recite throughout the day. Write them down and repeat them frequently through the day especially if you find yourself consumed with anxious thoughts.
Example: "My baby and I are whole, healthy, and connected to God who is our only source."
Regardless of what you fear, you must begin to affirm the positive outcome.
Pregnancy and the moments leading to pregnancy can be a time for enormous personal growth. Consider the fact that you are preparing yourself for the most important, challenging, and rewarding job you could ever have. Begin by reexamining your tendency to be anxious. Examine your anxieties of pregnancy as well as your anxieties surrounding other areas of your life. Consider how your patterns of anxious thinking have served you in the past. Ask yourself how you would like to go forward. And begin to practice ways to evolve emotionally and spiritually so you can be in the best position to parent mindfully.