by Dr. Jessica Vernon, MD, FACOG
The day I went into labor and was admitted to the hospital my overriding emotion was not fear or anxiety about the unknowns of my birth. I felt a sense of relief and calm. I had been worried my whole pregnancy that something terrible would happen. So much so that I had completely compartmentalized the pregnancy for fear of connecting to a baby that could be taken away from me at any moment. I took very good care of myself- eating right, drinking lots of water, exercising, and not putting any toxins into my body. I went to every single one of my prenatal appointments even though I could have checked my blood pressure and fetal heart rate at home. I made sure to do kick counts and would monitor my changing body for any warning signs or symptoms. But I didn’t do the one thing that would have really made a difference in how I remember the pregnancy and in how my transition to motherhood would unfold when I brought my baby home.
I did not allow myself to be vulnerable enough to be in the moment and really connected to my baby and my body. I was so scared something would go wrong that I did not stop to marvel at the amazing fact that I was growing a new human being. I did not stop to just be with her on a regular basis. To talk to her, to pause my busy day to just feel the sensations of her life inside of me, or to fully take in the transformation of my body. I went through the pregnancy with the thought that I would theoretically become a mom at the end of the process. Since it was not a guarantee that I would go home with a baby at all, and if so a happy healthy baby, I just couldn’t let myself become too attached to the growing life inside of me or daydream about what our world would look like once she entered it.
As an obstetrician, the lens through which I saw my own pregnancy was colored by my past experiences with patients. I did not go into pregnancy with the innocence of most first time moms. I went into it from the perspective of someone who has seen pregnancies that seem to be going perfectly end tragically. Miscarriages are only the beginning. Many expecting parents breathe a sigh of relief after the first trimester and then the unthinkable occurs: stillbirths, very preterm labor, placental abruption, rare genetic conditions, and severe fetal anomalies. The list of the “what if” scenarios, the rare but possible tragic outcomes, was endless in my mind.
Pregnancy is fraught with possible disaster scenarios and all expecting moms worry at times about the possibility of these bad outcomes. But if you make the mistake that I did of spending your whole pregnancy worrying about the worst possible scenarios, compartmentalizing the pregnancy experience and not bonding with your baby for fear of something happening to your baby, you lose out on the truly miraculous experience of creating life and getting to know that new life while they are still inside of you. You miss out on the ability to witness your body growing a new human, how it feels to coexist with that human, and what it is like to bond with your baby before you meet them. You miss living in the present moment and looking at your body in awe and reverence for the miracle it is performing.
When you spend the whole pregnancy hyper focused on doing everything right so that you do not contribute to a problem you are also missing out- anxiety, no matter how it presents, keeps us out of the present moment and from being fully conscious in our experience. Pregnancy is full of landmines of uncomfortable emotions because no matter what we do, no matter how much we prepare, we can never control the outcome. Fear leads us to worry and to try to control the fear we may try to control every aspect of the pregnancy. The more we can learn to sit with the discomfort and try to manifest the best possible outcome but accept the things we can not control the better we will do mentally and emotionally.
Becoming vulnerable and feeling as if your heart now resides outside of yourself is an extremely hard adjustment. We want to protect ourselves emotionally from how we will feel if something happens to our baby, but the truth is no that no amount of "emotional preparation" will prevent the grief if we do face a tragedy. Instead of compartmentalizing or succumbing to anxiety and fear, we can choose to be fully conscious and live in the moment during all of the parts of the pregnancy journey, feeling the emotions including joy and wonder and excitement even though these feelings may make us feel more vulnerable and open to disaster. This is a time that can push us to personally evolve into a better version of ourselves. It is also a time that can cause so much stress and anxiety that we crumble.
My hope for others is that they will not make the same mistake that I did. That you will be able to embrace the journey and feel empowered as you go through the process. I hope you recognize the common struggles and the emotions associated with them so that if you find yourself experiencing anxiety and fear you can help yourself recognize these for what they are and to come back to the present moment. Know that others have been where you are, you are not a failure or a bad mom, and that this too is part of the journey.
If I have another baby I will not live in fear of miscarriage, pregnancy complications, fetal anomalies, stillbirth. I will connect with my growing baby and my amazing body throughout the experience. I mourn this lost opportunity and hope I will have the opportunity to fully experience and explore the connection in a future pregnancy. I now appreciate that even if I do have a loss or a tragedy the bigger tragedy will have been that I never introduced myself to the baby before they were gone. And if I am lucky enough to have a baby that goes home with me we will already know each other on a more intimate level: emotionally, spiritually, physically. I will have a better foundation for the earth shattering change that occurs when as a parent a new being is birthed into your world.