Pregnancy is a time of mixed emotions: you are probably happy and excited, but you may be anxious, too. Whether it's your first, second or even your third child, it's completely normal to feel more and more anxious as d-day (in this case, d stands for delivery) looms closer.
Anxiety during pregnancy can be caused by many concerns:
- fear of the unknown, especially if this is your first labor and delivery
- fear of the pain of childbirth
- not knowing whether you will be able to give birth naturally or will need to have interventions or a C-section
- wondering how your partner will behave during the birth: supportive or squeamish?
- worry that your doctor or healthcare provider won't be available when your baby decides to enter the world
- worry about the baby's health and condition and whether something may have gone undetected during your pregnancy
- how the baby will handle any stressors during the delivery
There are other unknowns about the days and weeks following the birth of your child. How will you feel when left alone with a tiny, vulnerable being who is totally dependent on you? If you're not entitled to full or even partial maternity or parental leave benefits, you might worry about how you will make ends meet and when or if you will be able to (or want to) return to work. You might worry about the impending changes to your relationship with your partner.
Is it any wonder, with all these thoughts brewing in your head, that you might be feeling anxious?
Knowing that a degree of anxiety is normal is only mildly comforting. So, here are some tips to help you along the way:
1. Do some research. Since knowing what to expect often helps, educate yourself by speaking to your doctor, midwife, or birth doula. There are also other great resources, such as the books in the What to Expect series by Murkoff and Mazel. They provide practical information about what to expect before, during, and after pregnancy.
2. Go for a visit. Take a prenatal program that explains the ins and outs of delivery. Try to visit the hospital or birthing center and bring any older children if possible. Familiarize yourself with the best route to the hospital/birthing center (especially if you're not sure your partner will be close at hand when you need to go) and know where to park. This will save you the stress of figuring that out on the spot.
3. Pack your bag. Get your suitcase ready about a month in advance in case you go into labor earlier than anticipated. Buy the car seat a couple of months in advance of your due date and learn how to install it so that you are all set to drive your baby home.
4. Get physical. Being active will release hormones that help you continue to feel well. (Even less strenuous activity will help, such as gentle walking or prenatal yoga, if you've not been so active in the past.)
5. Sleep now! Get as much sleep as possible before the baby's arrival. At least then you won't start parenthood sleep-deprived.
6. Eat properly. Eating as healthily as possible is always good, but especially now as your baby is absorbing some of the nutrients that used to be just for you.
Through the ages:
Prenatal: Choose a pediatrician or family doctor for your child. Also, prenatal supplements can help maintain your health and foster positive growth in your baby, too. Share your fears or concerns with your partner and listen to your partner's perspective. Maybe he or she is feeling the same way, and you can explore solutions together. Recommended reading: The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.
Newborn: Look for support systems in your community, such as parent-and-child classes or drop-in programs. These can help you connect to others during what can be an isolating time. Support groups can also be helpful if you find that hormonal and lifestyle changes bring on significant changes in your mood. Try to create some time in your schedule to look after yourself, even if it's just to nap when your baby does or to have a shower.
One year later: What you once thought of as daunting will now be your typical routine. You will have grown with your child and are increasingly comfortable in your role as a parent. You might be transitioning back to work or making the decision to stay at home longer. This may be a difficult time of mixed emotions: while you know that you will miss your baby, you can also look forward to having more adult company and to getting some of your personal time back. Also remember to make time for your partner. Find reliable babysitters or family members so that you can get out occasionally to reconnect.
Sara Dimerman is a Toronto psychologist who has provided counselling to individuals, couples, families and parents for more than 25 years. She has written four books and is a columnist for various North American and international media outlets. Sara is a regular guest on radio and television shows and is frequently interviewed for newspaper and magazine articles. Sara is married and has two daughters. Contact her on Twitter.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Feb/Mar 2015.