As I approach my 25th week of a long-anticipated first pregnancy, I am feeling quite full. I am not referring to all of the weight I have gained or water I am retaining, although surely, that is very real! I am referring to the expansive quality of pregnancy not just on my body, but also on my mind.
Finding space in the fullness
On the one hand, I am full of daydreams and fantasies about the many ways life will change for my partner and me after our baby is born. I find myself lost in thought, imagining meeting my baby for the first time, giving her a bath, feeding her, and swaddling her tight when she cries. I catch myself smiling grandly as I bask in the anticipation of these life-changing experiences. This type of fullness feels magical.
On the other hand, I am finding that I also feel unpleasantly full from unsolicited advice, negative commentary on child rearing, and horror stories of other women’s birth experiences. Figuring out ways to honor my own experience of pregnancy and optimistic fantasies about birth and childrearing has been a very important part of my pregnancy journey. I imagine this will be a skill I continue to develop as I raise my child in a highly opinionated world.
A child is growing, a mother is born
In the process of pregnancy, not only is a child forming inside of the womb, a mother is forming inside of the psyche of the woman carrying the child. This precious development is overlooked in our body-obsessed culture. So much attention is paid to how women’s bodies change as a result of pregnancy, but not as much attention is directed towards what is happening emotionally or psychologically for the mother. I wonder what would happen if we directed just a percentage of this attention towards the emotional health of the developing mother and baby instead of regarding women as incubation stations.
Compassionate and helpful ways to support mothers-to-be
Being pregnant is such a vulnerable and personal experience, and should be approached with love and thoughtfulness. The following are some examples of ways that we can support mothers-to-be on their journey to motherhood.
– If you know for certain that a friend, family member, or colleague is expecting, ask her how she is feeling. Most likely, you will get a response summarizing her physical wellbeing because this is the response she expects you are asking for. If that is the case, ask her again and touch your hand to your heart, “No, but really, how are you feeling?” This indicates that you are curious and care about her emotional well-being, not just her physical well-being.
– For veteran mothers, please do not share your labor stories with a pregnant woman unless she expresses interest or consents to hearing it. Most women want to ease into the reality of giving birth and they will ask for your stories when they are ready to hear them. Try something like, “If you ever want to know more about my birth experience, I would be happy to share it with you when you are ready.”
– Be positive! Early in my pregnancy, I had horrible “morning” (more like ALL DAY) sickness. I loved to commiserate with other women who had experienced morning sickness because it made me feel less alone. These feelings of sisterhood are crucial for new mothers. Veteran mothers, please avoid comments such as, “Just wait until your third trimester,” or “Enjoy this part while it lasts because it’s only going to get harder once she is born.” Every woman’s journey through pregnancy is different, so why not offer her some positive affirmations or encouragement such as, “I know this is so hard, but it will pass once you hit that second trimester.” And for non-mothers, you can try something like, “Ugh, morning sickness sounds awful, but you are doing such an amazing job! Keep up the good work!”
Let’s support women on the very difficult path of becoming mothers by celebrating the very hard work they are doing physically and emotionally. Most of all, let each pregnant woman have her own experience on her path to motherhood because every woman is unique and, quite frankly, amazing.