I am sixteen weeks along with my first pregnancy and I am a basket case. I wanted to get pregnant, but now all I do is cry. And when I’m not crying, I’m in a state of panic. I thought I’d be the happiest pregnant woman – a super earth mama, doing yoga and eating fruit and being gorgeous. But I’m a mess. I don’t know if I can do nine months of this. My boyfriend and I have a great relationship, but we’re not sure whether to get married. It just makes me weep to think about making any decisions. I know some other people feel like this in pregnancy, but I can’t understand it. I thought more of this would go away at thirteen weeks when the hormones let up. What do I do now? – Prepartum Depressed
Pregnancy is a time of massive change on just about every level. Your body is changing all the time: Hormones affect everything from hair to skin to joints to emotions to the way you solve problems and perceive the world. They can cause sleepiness, weight gain, nausea, breathlessness, sluggish digestion & ravenous hunger, to name just a few. Hormones are engine behind the pregnancy and they’ll be at work long after the baby is born for breastfeeding and helping your body adjust back to a non-pregnant state.
So while hormones do change at around thirteen weeks, they continue flowing and changing for a while. Pregnancy hormones are not all bad; sometimes their affects are welcome or at least manageable, but sometimes they’re traumatic or just rotten. Either way, it’s a huge upheaval and can trigger an avalanche of emotions. Plus you’re growing for the first time since adolescence: in the first trimester you actually grow a whole new organ!
And then there are all the other kinds of upheaval, like the whole life-is-about-to-change-irreparably thing. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s more concerning, the stuff you can predict (drain on the bank account, drain on the sleep) or the stuff you can’t. You don’t know precisely how the baby will affect your relationships, your work, your body. The unknown challenges ahead are enough to make anybody anxious: or depressed.
So why oh why would we expect that every single woman would be nothing but peaches and prenatal poses for the full ten? You know back in the day, our cave-women ancestors weren’t just sitting around reveling in their procreative power. They were planning, preparing, and probably worrying. Ok, we’re not sure of this because we weren’t there, and as far as we know there aren’t any cave drawings of anxious pregnant women. But we do know that since the beginning of time pregnant women have had the same basic concerns: How can I best take care of this baby? Who will help? How will we manage? What are my resources? Where will we be safe?
The answers are going to look a lot different in the modern world; but our point here is that to some extent worrying is a normal, healthy part of pregnancy! The idea of pregnancy as a time of unfettered bliss is lovely, but it’s not the whole truth, or even the truth at all, for many women. So our first bit of advice is to cut yourself free from the idea of the perfect pregnant woman and allow yourself some room for anxiety. Sometimes just letting it in as a normal part of the pregnant experience can reduce it to manageable levels.
The next thing is to realize that though you may feel like all loose ends must be tied in little bows before the baby’s born, you can actually save some decisions until after the baby is born. Your brain will still work when you come out the other side. It’s not now or never.
The final, perhaps most important thing, is to find support. If you don’t happen to have a tribe on hand, you need to seek out other pregnant women you can bond with on the subject of pregnant anxiety. Talking to other pregnant women has been a proven way to help with the stress and isolation and feelings of despair. Offline support groups exist for just these very concerns. If that won’t work for you, you could take it online, where women are often more willing to be honest about the less-fun emotions that come along with gestation.
If you’re still feeling miserable even after you put this into perspective and do some successful bonding, you may want to look into therapy, in group or individual form. Because even though crying is a normal part of pregnancy, it would be nice for you if it weren’t the entirety of it.
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