Myth: A Pregnant Woman's Attention Should Focus Primarily on the Care of Her Physical Body
Fact: While most prenatal education focuses on the physical and intellectual aspects of pregnancy and birth, it is equally important for a woman to address her emotional, relational, and spiritual dimensions as she nourishes her unborn and prepares for giving birth and becoming a mother. Celebrating and consciously choosing the kind of pregnancy and birth she wants is one the most precious gifts a woman can give herself and her unborn.
Approaching birth in optimal health, across all these dimensions, minimizes the likelihood of complications.
One ingredient of a happy birth is good antenatal care, so that you are confident that you are healthy and the baby starts life under the best possible conditions. But the care you give yourself is probably more important than the care you receive from professionals.
Caring for the body
While some women and their partners revel in the shape of the pregnant body, others find it uncomfortable, even frightening, and discomfort is reinforced in a culture that holds the image of the ideal female body as slim and flexible.
Yet pregnancy is a wonderful time for improving health and flexibility as the whole body is geared to change. While supporting the changes in your body with a wholesome diet and preparing it for birthing your baby, exercise can also calm and center you, and deepen your trust in your innate ability to give birth naturally. Exercise not only improves or maintains flexibility and fitness, enhancing your ability to cope with physical and mental stress, it also produces endorphins, the "feel-good" hormones that are linked to reduced pain and more pleasure in the birth process. Swimming, dancing, a walk by the ocean or through the park or to visit a friend can release bodily tensions. Gentle, non-strenuous exercises and modified yoga positions are ideal.
As the pregnant mother, you are providing a sanctuary wherein your baby can physically, psychologically and spiritually thrive.
--Carista Luminare-Rosen, PhD
Caring for the Emotions
Emotions tend to run high during pregnancy. Moments of feeling immersed in the joy and wonder of becoming mother may be interspersed with periods of fear, sadness, and anger.Even those women who love being pregnant, who feel alive and expansive and confident, may at times be flooded with doubts and fears. Worries about whether the baby will be healthy; whether they will be a good mother; how they will manage with the loss of a job--the income and social support; how they will cope with diaper changing or sleep deprivation. Then there are the anxieties about labor itself, ranging from fear of their ability to cope with pain, loss of control, loss of dignity, to a generalized fear of hospitals--if that is where they have chosen to birth. Deep and fluctuating emotions can emerge with force out of nowhere, and at the most inconvenient times. While cultural prohibitions on the expression of "negative" emotions can undermine wellbeing, anxiety can provide the impetus to examine options, plan ahead, and prepare emotionally and practically for the future.
Accepting that there may be times during any pregnancy that she will feel overwhelmed, even fearful, it is important that each woman consider who and what will support her in expressing the lows as well as the highs of her emotional experience. Talking with other women who encourage her to trust in her abilities to nurture and birth, can release much of the pressure and enable her to clarify the support she needs.
The pregnant woman can be prepared, perhaps with a list of affirmations and activities, that she can turn to in moments of overwhelm or anxiety--an inspirational book, a friend who will listen to her, soothing music,* regular exercise and movement. Concerns can be relieved in the process of journaling. And at times, she may find inspiration pouring through her--poetry, prose, love letters to her unborn. At a later time, she may want to share parts of this with her child. Developing and visualizing images that she can draw on to calm anxious feelings, will enhance wellbeing, and deepen her rapport with her baby.
Above all, the pregnant mother needs to be kind to herself, to practice deep acceptance, loving kindness, laughter.
*Studies show that babies in utero prefer slow-paced music that resembles the rhythm of the resting maternal heartbeat: Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Vivaldi. They do not like hard rock.
Passage into Fatherhood
The passage into fatherhood constitutes a major transition in a man's life, yet the attention of family and friends is usually focused almost exclusively on his partner. Pre- and peri-natal education generally focuses on the pregnant mother, yet the father's role during pregnancy is pivotal in fostering the wellbeing of his partner and the unborn child, and his own future role as father.
While many men today want to share as much as they can in pregnancy and birth, they may also feel somewhat daunted at the prospect of actually fathering an infant. Moments of being touched by feelings of joy, pride, and awe may conflict with feeling trapped by the pregnancy, disturbed by the changes in his partner's pregnant body, and fearful of this unchartered territory he is entering, and of whether he can provide financially.
It is important to remember that there are two people having a baby and that a man also goes through a transitional period of stress when deep emotions may be stirred and his behavior may be difficult to understand.
A Couple's Journey
The emotional challenges of pregnancy will inevitably impact a couple's relationship. For both partners, having a baby will engender a wide spectrum of feelings--from being consumed with fear to being overwhelmed with gratitude and love. He may experience her as totally preoccupied with the unborn child, unpredictable and irrational. She may see him as unsympathetic and unavailable. She may not appreciate the depths of the emotions that he too, may be experiencing. He may be feeling excluded, unappreciated, and resentful, guilty for feeling that way, and apt to withdraw rather than engage in his role as father and lover, protector, and supporter of his partner and their unborn child.
Attending classes together and talking to others expecting babies or new parents they will discover that their pressures and anxieties are not unique to them. Sharing and developing empathy and respect for each other's feelings and emotional states, talking about what it is that each needs to feel loved and supported, the couple can grow together rather than apart. Developing these practices during pregnancy will stand them in good stead when the baby is with them.
Knowing that the unborn responds to sounds and emotional states, they can explore together how they can foster a nurturing emotional atmosphere that will communicate to their unborn that she is safe, welcomed, and loved. The father can connect emotionally and spiritually with the unborn child: He can sing songs or express his feeling to the child in utero by putting his mouth up against mother's belly. He can connect with the spirit of the unborn child through meditation, prayer, and loving contemplation. His expressions of love to the mother will nourish his baby as well. Her expressions of love to him, will assure him that he is integral to, not apart from, this experience of birthing and nurturing a new life.
Most of us think of preconception and prenatal care as optimizing the physical health of the child and mother. We rarely consider the father's health, the psychological health of the parents and their relationship, and the whole health--body, mind, and soul--of the unborn child.
--Carista Luminare-Rosen, PhD