You Are Not Alone
When you are pregnant, it is normal to feel a wide range of emotions, from excitement, to wondering what it will be like to add (another) child to your family, to anxiety about your pregnancy, birth, and beyond. Many women feel anxious when faced with the uncertainties that come with the territory of pregnancy, but there are several things you can do to help cope and make your experience more positive.
I have a history of anxiety from many years ago, and it was generally under control, but flared up again during my pregnancy in 2019. There weren’t a lot of logical reasons why I should have anxiety, except for a history of miscarriages, but I struggled with feeling nervous about the pregnancy and birth. I utilized several of the strategies below and I had our third baby in December of 2019. It was my third unmedicated birth, second home birth, and was a great experience. I had a positive postpartum time and felt very peaceful for the first few months, but then coronavirus started surfacing and turned everything upside down.
My two older children never returned to school after spring break, and we found ourselves quarantining at home and trying to navigate a new normal. Suddenly, all of my regular self-care options were out the window: alone time, date nights, playdates, eating at restaurants, vacations, and time with extended family. Several good things came from the year, but it was definitely a challenge as a mom.
In June 2020, we found out that we were expecting a surprise fourth baby. We had the normal feelings of trying to process the surprise and readjust expectations for our family, but also had to navigate the added external stressors from coronavirus. We desperately tried to sift through the information to decide how to keep our family and others safe. As one of my friends put it, I felt like I was simultaneously overreacting and underreacting at all times. The political climate in the US also became very heated as there were widespread protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the presidential election coming up. It made everything seem more stressful, chaotic, and divisive.
So, needless to say, my anxiety was quite high as I was planning for another pregnancy and birth. I came up with the coping strategies below and they helped me to stay sane and grounded for the most part. I definitely recommend asking your medical provider for his or her suggestions as well, but below are some of the things that worked for me.
Get Control of Your Head and Thoughts
It is so easy to let your thoughts run away into worst case scenarios, especially as a mom. It is so tempting, I know. But you have to stop. You need to move away from indulging in those pathways and control your imagination. Just don’t go there. It took lots of practice and many times of doing it anyway, but I had to stop myself and ask, “Is this where I want my attention focused right now?” Most of the time, it was not, and I had to have a happy topic ready to replace my thoughts when I felt the start of the anxiety and doom and gloom creep up. Have something happy ready to distract yourself: a favorite memory, a picture of a baby, a favorite song, etc. Practice literally saying to stop, switch out your thoughts, and choose a different path for your imagination. It is hard to choose not to head towards the panic but will get easier with practice.
Meditation, Prayer, Positive Visualization, and Affirmations
Going along with controlling your thoughts, many find it helpful to start a practice of prayer or meditation. I started a daily routine in the morning that took about two minutes and started things on the right foot of gratitude and constructive visualization. I had a list of positive affirmations that I kept in my closet and repeated every day as I got dressed. It does not have to be classified as prayer or meditation; use whatever language you identify with to spend a few intentional minutes each day focusing on quieting your mind and thinking happy thoughts.
Also, don’t forget to visualize exactly what you want to happen. As a former collegiate athlete and high school coach, I know the power of visualization. I used to picture myself high jumping, long jumping, and sprinting over and over again as I went to sleep at night, feeling the sensations in my body and imagining breaking personal records. Studies have shown that this does help, and you can use it to help with your birth as well. Imagine your ideal birth and play through it in your mind. Type it out. Read it to yourself, have your partner read it to you out loud, or record yourself to listen to as you practice relaxation. It does not matter if this is not exactly how your birth ends up. There’s no way to tell exactly what path your birth will take, but positive visualization is powerful, and it’ll make your pregnancy journey much more enjoyable than if you instead had imagined worst case scenarios.
A note about affirmations
Write a list of affirmations that work for you, worded in the present tense and depicting exactly what you want. Have you heard that you’re supposed to give children affirmative instructions instead of what not to do? For example, it is more effective to tell them to use quiet voices or soft hands instead of saying “Don’t yell,” or “Don’t hit.” When you tell a child not to hit, their mind automatically thinks about hitting, instead of soft hands. Likewise, your adult mind will focus on the key phrases you say, so if you say, “I won’t feel any more nausea,” your mind will immediately focus on the nausea. Instead, try saying to yourself, “I feel healthy, comfortable, and full of energy as my pregnancy progresses.”
Be Gentle with Yourself and Surround Yourself with a Happy Bubble
I had to avoid listening to the news, stop watching anything but the fluffiest TV, and notice that scrolling social media was making my anxiety creep up. It is okay to miss out on the drama of the world right now. Your job is to grow your baby and be in your happy pregnancy bubble. The world’s problems will be okay without you thinking about them for the next few months. This goes for stressful family members or toxic people as well. Avoid the stress as much as you can and fiercely protect your space.
Get Out of Your Head with Time Outside, Exercise, and Music
It’s always great to spend time outside in nature when you can. Notice the warmth of the sun, the softness of the wind, the crunchiness of the grass, the roughness of the trees. Get out of your head and feel the peace of nature for a few minutes. Bonus points if you can do some pregnancy-friendly exercise like yoga, walking, or swimming outdoors. Moving your body will release endorphins and help you to stay in the present moment.
As for music, I utilized it in a different way during this last pregnancy and it was very effective to help with my anxiety. With previous pregnancies, I had slow, soft labor playlists, but this time, I used a playlist I had made to bring me out of anxious moments. I added songs that had always made me feel uplifted and ones that were connected to happy memories in my life. So, I added a song that I always listened to while jogging as a study abroad student in Spain and it brought me back to that time and place. I included a song connected in my mind to the exciting energy of a gym full of volleyball players warming up for a match. I put in several songs that make me cry out of gratitude for my husband and beautiful kids. All of the songs evoked strong positive emotions and made me feel safe. During pregnancy, I listened to these songs when I felt anxious, but also when I felt relaxed and happy, dancing with my son in the kitchen and imaging doing the same thing in labor. Then when labor came, this playlist was perfect to get me in the right place to feel all the warm fuzzy feelings, release my anxiety, and progress my labor.
Set Up a Great Birth Team and Get Educated
It is so important to plan your birth with a doctor or midwife who makes you feel heard, seen, and safe. If you don’t feel comfortable with your provider, keep looking. Take a comprehensive birth class that will help you practice asking questions that uncover any red flags with your provider and help you come up with a new plan if you need to. This is crucial to having the birth experience that you want.
It also helps tremendously with anxiety to know what to expect from birth, to know your options, and to have practiced with your partner. Taking a birth class is a great opportunity to give your partner tools to support you and time for you all to discuss your preferences for the birth. Having covered all of this before your birth will help tremendously with your comfort and anxiety level.
Take it One Day at a Time, Focus on Gratitude and Looking Forward to Your Baby
When dealing with the anxiety that came with being pregnant during a pandemic, I was forced to slow down, stop planning very far in advance, and be present on that day. The year had so many unexpected blessings, like extra time with my children, but it also forced me to confront and sit with my anxiety. I couldn’t run from it or ignore it. I coped by focusing on that day, using my strategies, and getting excited about having another little baby to care for and breastfeed. Each night, I told myself good job at all I did that day and thanked God and the Universe for all my blessings. This put me in good headspace to be able to sleep and do it again the next day.
It would seem that we needed a little more craziness to add to this pregnancy, because on the last day of the Texas Snowmageddon of February 2021, we were joined by our sweet fourth baby in an amazing home birth and my first non-water birth. I felt safe, supported, and loved and I was not anxious. I knew that he would come at the perfect time, and everything would be as it should. I was confident that we would handle any variations of labor or complications, and everything would be okay. And it was more than okay; it was amazing.