Pregnancy Mental Health: What We Don’t Talk About
They’re our inner thoughts—the ones we are too ashamed to share with anyone around us. The ones that make us wonder—am I crazy? Am I being ungrateful? Is there something wrong with me? Pregnancy hits each of us in different ways. We all experience the highs and lows uniquely. But, I can almost guarantee we have ALL heard far more about its joys than its struggles. Why don’t we talk about them? Why don’t we hear about them? Those are questions I’m struggling to find answers for, myself. Thankfully, these days, women are feeling more empowered to speak about postpartum mental health—that is a huge win and major progress. But what about mental health during pregnancy?
My pregnancy was pretty “easy”, physically. I really didn’t have too much to complain about— at least in the beginning. Zero morning sickness and zero complications. Later on, I struggled with pretty severe back and pelvic issues. But, I’ve struggled with some of that my entire adult life— so it wasn’t all that new to me. Mentally and emotionally though, it was another story. What made matters worse is that I had never heard about any other women struggling with their mental health during pregnancy.
No one tells you what a “mind eff” pregnancy is. No one tells you about the daily uncertainty you face, especially in those first several weeks— but honestly, all throughout. The risk of miscarriage is highest in the beginning and the beginning is when you still have no physical sign that a baby is even residing in you. In most cases, no “belly”, and definitely no ability to feel movement at that point. So you’re just living your life in a constant state of anxiety. At least, that’s how it was for me.
You want to be excited, but you’re too scared of heart break to let yourself daydream. You don’t want to shop because you don’t want to have the let down if something happens— and you definitely don’t want the reminders after the fact. If your husband is able to let himself experience the excitement and joy, you don’t want to bring him “down” by being honest about your fears.
You battle within yourself if you should let your guard down and announce your pregnancy to your friends and family prior to the “12 week wait”. You feel empowered, now that the stigma around speaking on miscarriage has been slowly lifting. So you think, can I be one of the brave ones who announces early? But then the doubt creeps in again. What if I lose the baby? Am I really strong enough to tell everyone after the fact? Then you feel shame for not having the courage.
The Questions That Make You Cringe
Inevitably, while pregnant, you get the well-intentioned questions: have you read to her yet? Do you sing to her? Do you talk to her? Are you just so in love with her already? I’m going to put it out there— the answer to all of those questions, for me, throughout the duration of my pregnancy, was always no.
I struggled hard with connecting to the baby girl inside of me. In some ways, I think it was self protective. In others, I think I just struggle letting my guard down in relationships in general. My husband read to her, sang to her, talked to her, and told her how much he loved her, daily. He did all of those things from the very beginning. I couldn’t. She still wasn’t real to me. I still felt like I didn’t know her. So any time I was asked those questions, I felt so guilty. I felt like I was letting her down. Like I wasn’t giving her what she deserved. I felt shame. I felt like there was something wrong with me. And it made me incredibly fearful for how things would be when she finally arrived.
These questions and thoughts plagued me. And I’m pretty sure they have plagued far more women than you or I have ever heard about. How do we change that? Here’s what I think the answer is: we talk. It’s that simple. By being open, by speaking honestly, by sharing, we can relate to the women around us who are experiencing or have experienced the same things. Does struggle make us weak? N-O. Women are badasses. Mothers are badasses. Pregnant women are badasses. It’s about time more people recognize that. It’s time to accept the mental and emotional struggles that come with pregnancy. It’s time to be honest. It’s time to accept real answers when we ask innocuous questions.
If someone in your life is pregnant, allow her the safety to express how she is doing honestly when you ask her. You may not be able to relate to what she is going through, but you can support her, empower her, and give her the freedom to express herself however she wants— without judgement.
If you are or have been pregnant, speak to her like you know the struggle. Because you do. I’m willing to bet real money that every single woman in history has had at least one moment of doubt or fear or anxiety. No matter how joyous they felt during pregnancy, no matter how “easy” their pregnancy. We all have thoughts, we all have struggles. We all need support as we prioritize mental health during pregnancy.
Thankfully, my struggles during pregnancy didn’t extend to birth or the 4th trimester, or, so far, even beyond that. Having my baby girl has been incomparable, unadulterated joy. It has been better than I ever thought possible for me. I have this unreal connection with her and I adore everything about her, even in the tough moments. I feel abundantly blessed to be experiencing that love. And I am thankful that God took me out of that fear so that I have been able to enjoy motherhood to this degree.
I say none of this to brag. I say it because there is hope. We all struggle through the different parts of becoming a mother. Trying to conceive, pregnancy, birth. Each step is an opportunity for exorbitant amounts of fear and anxiety to rob our joy. That is why we need to get real. We need to offer support. We need to allow mothers the space to feel. And to express their feelings freely. When we can accomplish this, we give pregnancy a voice. We give pregnant women a voice. We give mental health during pregnancy the attention it craves. How many women can we support and empower by being honest and by accepting their honesty? Let’s get real.