Like many couples, my husband and I experienced difficulty getting pregnant. After a few years of trying to conceive, we experienced an early miscarriage, followed by another year of infertility treatments, before successfully getting pregnant with our daughter.
We were beyond thrilled to be pregnant and I honestly enjoyed the experience (yes, even childbirth). Less than a year after the birth of my daughter, I realized I was pregnant again. You would think that after years of infertility, I would have immediately been overjoyed with the unexpected news.
I was not.
The first few days of taking the positive pregnancy test had me wandering around my house, muttering to myself, “I can’t be pregnant. I already have a baby.” It took several weeks for me to adjust to the idea that another baby was coming soon.
While it is true that children are a gift from God, there are many reasons why the gift can be difficult to receive. In my experience, I was merely overwhelmed from caring for one adorable, demanding baby. In my work as a childbirth educator, I have heard the stories of many women (and men) who experience expecting differently than expected.
I think of Renee, whose pregnancy was a total surprise. She wanted children someday, but having a baby now was not in her plan. She did not feel ready to be a mom. During pregnancy, she lost her interest in almost everything, could not sleep for nights at a time, and felt like her body was not her own.
Jenni was overjoyed to learn that she and her husband were expecting. With a few weeks of vomiting, nausea, and sheer exhaustion behind her, Jenni waited each day to feel more like herself. The days of feeling sick and tired stretched onward and left Jenni discouraged and drained. By the second trimester, she cried most days and started to resent her baby.
Tania was pregnant with her “rainbow baby” after a difficult pregnancy loss several years before. She wanted this baby more than anything, but as the weeks progressed, she started feeling anxious, her mind racing with fear that she would also lose this baby. She couldn’t eat or focus on her job. She felt miserable. Most people have heard about women experiencing postpartum depression after the baby is born, but many are not aware that women can experience mood disorders beginning in pregnancy.
Experiencing some degree of emotional reactivity during pregnancy and postpartum is normal. Many women, like myself, experience a type of “baby blues” in pregnancy that comes and goes without professional treatment. But when feelings persist past two weeks, cause a woman to feel substantial emotional distress, or excessively interfere in daily functioning, it is important to call your doctor or midwife and asked to be assessed (Wenzel, 2016; Wenzel & Kleiman, 2015).
While there are safe medications to take while pregnant, psychotherapy is the preferred treatment for peripartum depression and anxiety among women. Therapy alone, without the use of medications, has been proven to be effective in providing significant improvements both upon completion of treatment, and for up to six months after treatment (Stephens, Ford, Paudyal, & Smith, 2016).
Working with a counselor can provide the support and resources needed to help equip a women to successfully navigate her pregnancy and enter into mothering. Like all the women described above, you can go on to be a loving mother who is experiencing parenthood as a purposeful calling.
Additional Resources: Postpartum Support International National Suicide Prevention Hotline or call 1-800-273-8255 MTS Counseling Center (312) 329-2870
Bio: Kerri Kristoff is currently pursuing a M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Moody Theological Seminary. In addition to being a wife and mom of two, she is also a certified childbirth instructor and has a passion for working with women in the childbearing years. You can check out her blog at thismommaknows.com.
Stephens, S., Ford, E., Paudyal, P., & Smith, H. (2016). Effectiveness of Psychological Interventions for Postnatal Depression in Primary Care: A Meta-Analysis. Annals Of Family Medicine, 14(5), 463-472. doi:10.1370/afm.1967 Wenzel, A.(2016-04-28).
Perinatal psychology: A field with an impressive past and an exciting future. In the Oxford handbook of perinatal psychology. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 12 Nov. 2016, from http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com.librarydb.moody.edu/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199778072.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199778072-e-33.
Wenzel, A., & Kleiman, K. R. (2015). Cognitive behavioral therapy for perinatal distress. New York, NY: Routledge.