One area that I can confidently say that I am an expert in is with knowing “the pregnant brain”. Having had five pregnancies in eight years I have developed a keen understanding of how hormones influence every waking thought and every word uttered…
With this post I’d like to give ‘unsuspecting partners’ a heads-up on the mental dialogue and emotional state of the pregnant mother. I would also like to offer some clarity on the thoughts and feelings that you — the partner — may be experiencing.
Pregnancy is foreign territory for first-time parents.
Women will experience significant physical and emotional changes and can often feel daunted by the prospect of birth and motherhood. For some women it may be difficult to identify and verbalise these thoughts.
Meanwhile, their partners are offered little information on what they should expect to encounter during this pregnant phase of life. So I have taken the following content from my book Well Adjusted Babies in the hope that you can both better appreciate each other’s needs and fears at this time.
Times have changed.
Fortunately today, most partners are fairly demonstrative with their love and excitement during pregnancy. Much has changed since the days of pregnancy and birthing solely being ‘woman’s business’, and so partners feel they can happily and practically share in the responsibilities of parenting.
Partners are now welcomed at births rather than having to wait outside the delivery room, battling with fears of safety for the mother and baby all alone. Partners can now participate more than ever before and they can offer significant emotional support and confidence for the mother during labour.
I distinctly remember the first consultation Simon and I had with our private midwife, Jan. We sat discussing how I was feeling about the pregnancy, when Jan turned to Simon and said, “You do realise that the Jen you have known all this time has gone.”
The expectant mother will be unconsciously testing her partner during pregnancy to see how you will love and support her. As new emotions arise, a mother-to-be will be comparing her partner to all of the references she has for parenting—both good and bad.
Unconsciously, a pregnant mother will be:
- Testing the love and commitment that you have for both her and your unborn child
- Ascertaining how much emotional support and protection you will offer her
- Questioning your level of enthusiasm to participate in parenting
UNDERSTANDING SOME ANXIETIES SHE MAY EXPERIENCE
She may wonder…
- Will her body ever be the same again?
She has bigger breasts, which initially may be exciting, but the novelty wears thin as dark veins appear or she finds herself wearing rather unattractive lingerie. Her bulging tummy will develop, which on most days she will display proudly, but there will be days when she feels particularly tired and unattractive.It would be wise to refrain from jokes and banter that refer to her breasts and stomach. Even when you use nicknames such as ‘fatso’ in an affectionate tone, she will at times be very sensitive. She may not express her disapproval of these names at that particular moment, but one day you may find yourself being scolded in a crowded department store as she screams at the top of her voice, saying, “Calling me ‘fatso’ just isn’t funny anymore—you’re cruel and insensitive!” As ‘fatso’ then storms passed you in a flood of tears, you will have to contend with every woman on the floor sneering at you. So forget about nicknames!
- Will you still find her sexy?
There will be days initially in the pregnancy that she will probably feel nauseous, tired and far from sexy. In the later months, hormonal changes may encourage an expectant mother to feel particularly amorous. Be mindful that her degree of sexiness will be partly dependent on your reactions to her changing frame.
- Will you be confident to defend her birth choices?
- How will she cope with the pain of labour?
- What support will you offer her during the birth?
- How will you feel towards her after the birth?
- How will you cope with a baby in the house?
- How will she cope with a baby in the house?
- Whether she is maternal enough?
- What her priorities will be after the birth?
- How will her work commitments change after the birth?
- Will she feel validated if she is not working?
A pregnant mother is embarking on a huge transition in life. At times she may be completely irrational and it will take all of your love and patience to support her during this time.
SOME OF THE ANXIETIES YOU (THE PARTNER) MAY EXPERIENCE
You may wonder…
- How will your lifestyle change when she is not working?
- Should you work harder so that you can better provide?
- What expenses are involved with a baby?
- Will you be a good parent?
- How can you best support your partner during this time?
- Will your beloved ever be the same again?
- How will you cope seeing her in pain?
Unfortunately, partners who do not prepare well for birth tend to make poor birth coaches and are generally unable to offer mothers much support. These partners will be unaware of what labour involves and this uncertainty will intensify any fear they may have.
A partner may be concerned that they will be in the way or not know how they can help the labouring mother. Some partners will leave birth preparation to the mother and hope that on the day of labour they will miraculously know what to do.
A partner may then feel out of place in an authoritarian environment such as a hospital. They may be unfamiliar with the mother’s birth choices and if labour becomes stressful, they may cower into submission.
It is a natural reaction, when seeing your beloved in pain, to have protective instincts and to want to ease the situation for her. Again it is natural, when immersed in the physicality of birth, to feel anxious, for the mere presence of blood and the intensity of emotions your partner is experiencing can be extremely overwhelming.
Ensuring it is an ’empowered’, nurturing experience.
You may feel assured by technology and the capacity to ‘control’ birth. However, we need to be aware of the inherent risks involved when altering the natural progression of a birth. Labours are unpredictable. This chapter will help partners enter the birthing arena feeling informed, rather than being a stranger to birth and possibly jeopardizing the well-being of the mother or child.
Partners can be an enormous source of emotional and physical support for a mother during labour simply by knowing her needs and desires. By working together, your birth can be an empowering and beautifully nurturing event irrespective of the outcome.
Giving birth can also be a peak event in your relationship. I remember falling more in love with my husband during the course of our first labour. While immersed in uncharted territory, we worked together contraction after contraction to bring our baby through.
There is nothing quite as ‘real’ as seeing the love you share made into flesh and to hold such a perfect being in your arms.
“Before you were conceived, I wanted you.
Before you were born, I loved you.
Before you were an hour old, I would die for you.
This is the miracle of life.”
… So be gentle with each other.
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
CHIROPRACTOR & AUTHOR
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P.S. Please take a look at Chapter 9 (A Partners Role) of Well Adjusted Babies for more about this topic.