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Expecting During an Unexpected Time
Pregnancy During a Pandemic
We couldn’t have anticipated what 2020 would bring, for many of us it’s been a time of massive change, forcing us to practice flexibility, coping, and adaptability (that’s a lot of new skills!). In my work with clients who are expecting, this has been especially challenging. Whether this is your first or fifth pregnancy, it’s everyone's’ first pregnancy during a pandemic. As an expecting mother myself, I can understand the unique stressors the current circumstances present to pregnant women.
In supporting clients (and going through this myself), I wanted to share two areas of focus that can help you have a positive pregnancy experience amidst a global pandemic: How to Renegotiate Your Expectations and Skills You Can Apply to Better Navigate the Challenging Emotional Terrain that is Pregnancy during a pandemic.
Renegotiating Your Expectations
If you’re like me, you may have pictured being pregnant as a time to be shared with family and friends and a time to celebrate, maybe you pictured, traveling somewhere special with your partner during your last months as a family of two (or three, or four, or five…)! Then Covid happened and what you pictured needed to shift. The unfortunate truth is, the plan you may have hoped for likely won’t be as conducive to the new reality. Changing expectations can be challenging, but the good news is we know what can help with this!
1) Grieving the ambiguous loss: You may be grieving (feeling anger, shock, sadness, etc) the pregnancy you’d imagined.
Although this doesn't feel pleasant, it’s okay to allow these feelings of loss to exist. If you feel a sense of sadness when planning your virtual baby shower (or perhaps are for-going a baby shower altogether), allow yourself space and time to experience your emotional reality.
This may involve talking with someone you trust about what you’re feeling, journaling, or just finding time to check in with yourself.
2) Develop a new, more present-focused vision: Reflect on what are more reasonable expectations, for right now. What can you focus on today or even this week that feels grounded in your reality?
For example, your baby shower may not be how you’d originally envisioned, but what are other (more realistic options) for how you can create an experience you will cherish?
3) Adjust unhelpful thoughts: It’s easy to get stuck in the negative (in fact, humans are prone to do this). If you find yourself dwelling on potential catastrophic outcomes, remember all outcomes exist on a spectrum.
What are more positive possible outcomes? Shift your focus- this doesn’t mean avoid your feelings and worries, it’s an exercise in looking at what else exists within your emotional experience that could be more helpful).
4) Find Gratitude and Reframe: What about this experience is working for you? For example, maybe you and your partner are both working from home, allowing you to fully experience this pregnancy together (which you wouldn’t have been able to do previously).
Perhaps, it has allowed you to involve out-of-state family members in more meaningful and creative ways. Whatever the case may be, find what is true for you and focus energy toward this reframe.
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Skills to Navigate Challenging Emotions
You’re likely experiencing a mixed bag of emotions (perhaps, exacerbated by the expected hormonal shifts). You may notice feeling happy and grateful, while also feeling sadness or anxiety, then maybe guilt (because you should be happy all the time right now, right?). Wrong! You can feel what you feel.
- Control what you can control: Try to focus on what is within your control (we know, worrying about the other “stuff” doesn’t work as well). I know, easier said than done. Try setting daily intentions that allow you to feel safe, secure, and connected to your growing little one. For some this may mean taking ownership over their prenatal health routine (cooking and workouts), for others this might mean cleaning their home.
- Seek support: This is an opportunity to find healthy ways to lean on your social support network. Attempting to overcome these challenges in isolation, can make the experience feel even more daunting! Identify loved ones you can reach out to.
You might also consider trying to connect with an Online Mothers Group. Talking with others who have a similar shared experience can be a powerful emotional outlet. Of course, you could also consider seeking the support of a counselor too!
- Focus on developing your coping skills (specifically related to stress management): Take inventory of your current toolbox: what currently helps you to manage stress effectively and are there other ways we can expand your skillset?
Perhaps this includes deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, listening to music, cooking, or going on walks. There are a plethora of stress management tools at your fingertips. Your challenge is to figure out what works best for you!
- Focus on your values: Sometimes, shifting focus and concentrating on coming back into contact with what feels truly meaningful and important to us can help us to better manage discomfort.
For example, becoming focused on details that are less important in the grand scheme of things (and, maybe not even in our control anyway), can create emotional discomfort. Instead, try to zoom out and look at what feels most important. For example, perhaps you’re noticing an increase in stress when researching the gazillion car seat options available to you (between the aesthetics of it, installing it, weight limitations, cost, safety ratings, convertibility as your little one ages, it’s overwhelming).
Zoom out and look at the big picture – your primary concern may be safety. Re-focus your efforts to emphasize the priorities vs. getting stuck in the details.
- Hold space: What are your feelings telling you? Feelings are data points. They are giving us clues to better help us understand our internal experience.
What are your clues telling you?
Make room for your feelings to exist and approach them with compassion. Attempt to use these data points to inform your next steps.
For example, if you notice sadness creeping in, explore and inspect this feeling. Once you identify where it’s coming from and why it’s showing up, you can focus on what’s within your control to foster relief.
A Final Note
For those of you struggling with pregnancy brain fog (like me), here’s the cliff notes version of how to manage the unique stressors accompanying your pandemic pregnancy:
- Adjust your expectations and stay grounded in your reality, not just the hard moments, but also the good moments.
This time has brought great change, some of which is undoubtedly good. Try to honor this by reframing, addressing unhelpful thoughts, and allowing room for your grief experience.
- Productively Navigate Your Feelings by acknowledging them, seeking support, and further developing your personal coping skills/tools.
I know this is a challenging time, pregnancy is hard no matter which way you slice it. However, it is also magical, exciting, and a time of tremendous change and growth.
I’m hopeful these tips may assist you in having a beautiful, and dare I say, fun pregnancy experience! You got this mamma!
Rachel Hill, M.A., LPC, LMFT helps you find passion and joy in yourself and your relationships. She supports you in creating meaning and happiness, and not only facing your challenges — but triumphantly overcoming them.
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