“Have a little faith in your ability to handle whatever’s coming down the road. Be confident that you can overcome any challenges. You always have the ability to overcome any obstacle. Even if you didn’t want it or ask for it, even if seems scary or hard or unfair, you can make something good of any loss or hardship. The best thing about it is that you can take the lessons from it and grow. You also have the ability to help other people through it. And maybe, even be able to thrive. The future is unknown, but you can know this for sure: Whatever’s coming, you got this.” ~Lori Deschene
As an obstetrician in Manhattan, I see the following scene often…
My office is greeted by a woman in her first trimester. Her eyes are wide open, and her hands are tightly held around her smartphone or notebook.
I am now in complete fear as she looks at me after her ultrasound. Not because she was told she has had a miscarriage—there is a beautiful heartbeat noted. Not because she has been told something looks abnormal with the baby—the baby looks healthy, like a little jumping peanut, as they all do early in pregnancy. She is not at high-risk pregnancy because of medical conditions.
Instead of taking deep breaths and being relieved that her ultrasound revealed a healthy baby, she immediately turns to all the things that need to be done. She wants to make sure she gets an A+ grade in her pregnancy and raising a healthy child.
Her appearance reflects her emotions about the unpredictability of pregnancy. Because she knows she’s not in control, she’s scared to her death. You can’t do everything right, and it could still go wrong.
It may be her first experience feeling this way in her entire life. This is why she wants to be in control of everything. She also needs to know all the details about testing, statistics and how her environment affects her health, as well as the results of exercise and diet.
To make things work out, she is holding on to every bit of strength that she can. She wants to ensure a successful pregnancy and a smooth birth. Her baby will be healthy and happy.
Her control over herself is something she also desires. This includes her work that she’s worked for and the body she takes care of. She wants to be able to succeed in all she does.
Now that all medical records and patient notes are available for the patients to see, a colleague of mine has coined a code word to add to such patient’s notes so that everyone who sees them understands they will need double the standard time for these appointments to answer the long list of questions that will inevitably arise.
They should be prepared for questions on everything from birth plans to whether or not they should do invasive testing for Down’s syndrome even if the very sensitive screening tests return normal to what their chances are of getting gestational diabetes to whether it is safe to paint their nails and color their hair.
A lot of women carry a large bag with all of their supplements and makeup. This allows them to bring the doctor along and have him review each item and give his opinion on the risks, benefits and safety of each. We don’t always have the right answer, so they ask for our opinion.
Mothers with children may need extra care and support.
Many of my responses to them reflect an inability to fully understand all the possible answers.
They cannot be certain that the cream they used to cover their bump before they became pregnant was harmful. It is possible that their fibroids may cause premature contractions or pain, but I don’t know how common it is compared with women who have fibroids of different sizes or locations.
They can be assured that their baby can eat bread even though they are experiencing extreme nausea. However, I may not believe them completely and they might feel they have done some wrong which is causing permanent harm.
What I want to tell them, but often don’t due to my concern for their response and thinking that I do not take them seriously or provide the level of support and intensity they need, is this:
It is terrifying because we cannot control most things. All things are beyond our control, including life. But, when we have to confront the reality that it’s all possible, this is the time where we realize we can just let go and learn to live with what is.
It is frightening. We want to feel that we can influence the outcomes—the harder we work, the healthier we are, the better we follow all of the rules, the better our outcome will be. However, just as anyone can be healthy and do their exercise, but get run over by a vehicle on the street, so can a mother who does not follow all the rules and recommendations and have her baby born with a birth defect or cervical insufficiency.
Acceptance of the unpredictability of death and life is key to being able to be present during pregnancy.
It is not helpful to worry about what might happen. Spending time worrying about the future is not helpful and can actually hinder our ability to live in the now.
This is the first lesson you learn as a parent. It’s an important lesson that everyone should understand.
Be the best version of yourself throughout pregnancy, and all your life. Instead of dwelling on what could go wrong, be more present in each moment. You must be mindful of the way you treat yourself. So that you thrive throughout pregnancy, as well, ensure you take care of your body with nutrition, rest, exercise and self-care.
Pregnancy can be a good time to focus on yourself and not on everyone else. They understand how their health affects the wellbeing of the baby inside them.
You may notice that you are feeling anxious and stressed. Take some time to be with your emotions. Sometimes, you may be able to sense the cause.
To re-center yourself and bring you into the now, try meditation or yoga. Your body supports you and your baby. Be thankful. You can also talk to or alone with a therapist about the emotional programming that is causing your emotions.
Many times, there are deep roots in our childhood that can lead to feelings of low self-worth or vulnerability. These feelings make it feel like we won’t be good enough parents or will fail. If we place our parents on a pedestal, we become anxious and worried about making the same mistakes as them or not living up to our expectations.
In order to cope emotionally with dysfunctional family dynamics at an early age, it is possible that we were a perfectionist from birth. You may have even avoided failing or taking risks in adulthood so you never felt inadequate.
These emotions are magnified when you’re pregnant. You may have to look inward or be depressed.
In my own pregnancies, I was a bit extreme. As the thought of all the adverse outcomes that I had seen from professional experiences were too overwhelming, I decided to end my pregnancy.
I didn’t have the self-awareness or tools to examine it and heal. I decided to ignore the panic attacks and deal with them.
Because I was so enslaved by my emotions that I could not see, I found it easy to be relaxed at sonogram and obstetric appointments. This was the reason I developed postpartum depression and anxiety.
It was almost two years later that my baby was born and I wasn’t aware I was suffering from anxiety and depression. It was a stark contrast between how my emotional reaction to having a baby and mine and my ability of processing and understanding these emotions.
I am not the only one who feels anxious and depressed in pregnancy. But I noticed that those women who are already anxious or worried about their pregnancy will be more likely to experience worsening symptoms in the second and third trimesters.
Perhaps it is because initially, the focus is on having a healthy pregnancy. But as they get closer to birth, they start to see that there is more they can do. They also realize that nursing, soothing, breastfeeding and the health and temperament of their baby are all out of their hands.
We go from facing a finite period—we just have to get through this pregnancy—to an infinite period, parenthood, in which the older our child gets the less control we have. It is scary for someone who is naturally perfectionist and type A. Someone who knows from experience that the longer they try, the better they will get.
We should not struggle and give in to negative, toxic emotions or fears. Instead, learn how to accept them and let them go. It is important to learn how to be. It is important to accept the incomprehensible nature of the unknown.
However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t ask questions. You should not feel worried or anxious. You can still relax and have moments of calm. You can allow your body to naturally do its job without any interference from you.
You cannot expect your doctor or midwife to be 100% reassured and be there for you. While we will answer your questions in an understanding and compassionate manner, it is impossible to remove anxiety from the feeling of being out of control. Only you are able to do that.
I recommend trying to avoid the triggers that will make it worse, avoiding pregnancy apps where other women write comments that are often not based in science, and limiting the amount of books and classes you digest during your pregnancy and parenthood.
Industries have been created to profit from our need for control and perfection. It is not possible to be perfect and the future cannot be predicted.
Instead of allowing anxiety or fear to rule me, and closing me off to all the beautiful, deep emotions that arise from being vulnerable and unknowable, I choose each day to actively work on uncovering my fears when they occur.
My inner voice reminds me that there is still work to be done. I then try to bring my attention back to the moment, to gratitude, for all the good things I do have, regardless of how imperfect or messy.
Jessica Vernon MD FACOG is a mom and advocate. She also serves as a board-certified OB/GYN for NYC. She writes to share her own experiences and those of the thousands of women she interacts with as a doctor, to help others know they’re not alone in experiences that don’t line up with the unrealistic expectations set by society. Follow her on Instagram and LinkedIn, read her blog at Substack. Metamorphosis is to Mom offers more resources and support for you reproductive journey.
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Tiny Buddha published the post, To the Expectant Mother with a Million Worries and Questions.