We all know that being pregnant generates changes in a woman’s body. Most women get tired, some women feel nauseous, all women get eventually a big belly that will host the unborn baby. This aside, there is something else that we tend to forget. What if we talked about the mental state and how it is actually affected when a woman is pregnant ?
I felt like a disoriented chicken
This week I talked to friend who is pregnant with her first child and currently in her second trimester. “I am finally feeling that I am arriving.” This time around, I could not really relate but still, her phrase hit me and sent me directly back to my first pregnancy. I remember having felt totally perplexed when I had looked at the positive pregnancy test. Of course, I was very happy about the news, no doubt about that, but at the same time I immediately felt as if I was losing ground. I didn’t know how it would feel to be pregnant and to become a mother. Everything was unknown and standing at the beginning of that road made me feel not scared but a little bit lost. I needed time to reassess. Time to get used to this new state that I was suddenly in.
For a couple of weeks, I was definitely feeling like a disoriented chicken. When people asked at that time how I was feeling, I mostly answered “Very happy…but also a bit weird!”. At that time, I couldn’t name it another way. Although I wasn’t showing and the pregnancy didn’t feel real yet, I was exposed to this constant information overflow on what I should and shouldn’t do and felt even weirder. At that time, I had visited a friend in Milan who told me later how glad she had been once I had left. Looking back, I couldn’t blame her. I hadn’t felt very comfortable, all lost in my thoughts while sharing some of my fears and worries. Who wants to deal with that, right ? I knew that it was different from the tiredness or the constant need to go the bathroom as well as my mood changes, which were concrete effects that were obviously linked to my hormonal changes. This weird state of mind that I was in felt somewhat more spiritual and it was annoying that I couldn’t put a name on it.
Pregnant women are simply dismissed as “hormonal”.
A couple of weeks ago, I met with Julia Karadi, an Hungarian psychologist, doula and pregnancy yoga teacher who lives in Amsterdam and who taught the postnatal-yoga class that I joined after the birth of my son. Initially, I wanted to get more in-depth information about the benefits prenatal yoga but when talking to her I realised that she could actually be the one who could make sense to my enigma.
Specialised in pre- and perinatal psychology and having written her thesis on “childbirth as initiation” (click here to read it), she started directly with the fact that “a woman’s psych opens up once she gets pregnant” which could also be described as “an altered state of consciousness that is gradually becoming part of the everyday life of the expectant mother“. This sounded so much better than just feeling weird.
Julia mentioned as well that “this mental state results in being more sensitive, emotional but also receptive for stimulation from the in- and outside, which altogether are strengths that are typical for the female gender. Unfortunately, we live in a paradox world. Women tend to push these features aside in order to function well in our society”. So when this unusual state kicks in, instead of acknowledging or understanding it, women start to feel lost and scared. For the outer world this whole phenomenon becomes even more annoying so they dismiss pregnant women as being simply hormonal.
What Julia described felt so familiar and I thought back to those moments when my man and I were arguing about my emotional reaction to something, him saying that I am hormonal and me stating “You don’t understand, I am not the same as I used to be!”.
Searching for the new self
When reading Julia’s thesis I found out that all this is actually part of a clinically proven process which is called a normative crisis, a transitional phase that accompanies all pregnant women (though it may be more strongly developed with first time preggos) and which is crucial for their mental development while transitioning into mothers. As transitioning goes hand in hand with breaking old habits, there is this blank phase during which women are confronted with the fear of the unknown until the cards are re-shuffled and a new mental balance is found. Usually this phase starts with the pregnancy and lasts until after the birth of the child, having different stages with high peaks as well as lower levels.
What this means for mothers-to-be
When being pregnant…
… having an unbalanced mental state is normal. It is part of the deal. Transitioning into this new role is a big event which takes time to prepare for and it’s definitely nothing to feel bad about.
… a woman’s brain is very receptive and can absorb a lot of information of both positive and negative nature, which can influence her decision making. She receives a lot of dos and don’ts from the pregnancy world (doctors, media, family and friends) regarding food, weight or or her unborn baby, just to name a few. Feeling overwhelmed or frightened and reacting in a sensitive way is pretty normal. It is ok to seek self-protection, say “stop”, to draw a line, or ask for more empathy.
… the mammalian instincts of a woman become stronger.This means that she can and should (!) listen to herself when it comes to her body and her unborn child. Her gut feeling works now better than ever before.
Pregnancy is an existential transformation which, according to Julia Karadi, is equal to a phase such as puberty and the midlife-crisis. Fascinating, right ? Of course, the strength of this “crisis” differs from woman to woman but according to the study it’s something that definitely takes place. However, in our society we prefer to draw a picture that is similar to a pink bubble that shows only the easy and happy state that every pregnant woman should be in.
I say “screw the pink bubble!”. I say that because I love being pregnant. I love every single part of it. Growing a child in my body is an amazing thing that I cherish and value with all its facets, no matter how happy or weird they are. After all, it’s about creating real life, which in my eyes, is much more interesting than an edited picture which tells only a part of the story.
Thank you Julia for having researched such a taboo topic!
And all pregnant women out there, you should simply know that you rock !
Picture credit Christophe Coenon