I spent most of my first trimester racked with guilt that my enthusiasm and excitement about the pregnancy wasn’t even in the same stratosphere as my friends and family. Then someone (a mom) let me in on a little secret — most women feel that way, and it may last well into the “fourth trimester” (the first three months post-partum). Apparently even when you plan a pregnancy it’s hard, it’s scary, and you’re really hormonal. It seems as though the emotional and mental implications of impending motherhood are far more pressing than the physical ones (although they are certainly overwhelming, too).
A good support system is essential. I have never felt more grateful for my family and friends, and I have been continually surprised at the depth and quality of support I have found professionally as well.
I opted to seek my prenatal care from a midwife, rather than an OB/GYN. Pregnancy is a lovely trifecta of tribulation — physical, mental, and emotional — so what I love about my midwife is that she’s one part therapist, one part doctor, and 100% woman. She has the medical knowledge to make me feel safe, and she offers me genuine emotional guidance, as a woman and as a mother. Rather than approaching pregnancy and childbirth as a condition requiring medical intervention, midwives approach it as a natural process that deserves support. My monthly appointments are lengthy; she makes sure to ask me how I’m really feeling, in my head, my heart, and my growing belly. It so happens that more often than not one thing has everything to do with the other.
In addition to a midwife, I also chose to retain the services of a doula. Doulas offer non-medical support during pregnancy and delivery (some specialize in post-partum care). I update mine after every doctor’s appointment, she meets with me for tea when I need to talk, and she’ll be with me through labor and delivery, making sure that I feel as comfortable as I could and that there is no unnecessary intervention. Statistics show that births attended by doulas are shorter in duration, have lower rates of pain medication or surgical intervention, and lower rates of fetal distress.
Turns out that during labor and delivery the body releases some helpful hormones like oxytocin, epinephrine, endorphins, and prolactin. A doula is there to make sure these feel-good hormones can do their thing — meaning that fear, anxiety, and stress get checked at the door. Like my doula said, “You’re having a baby, of course it’ll hurt,” but it doesn’t have to be the bloodcurdling experience movies have made it out to be. I’m trying to remember that.
For more information on natural childbirth and the wondrous power of the female body, check out Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Spiritual Midwifery, both by Ina May Gaskin, the country’s most revered midwife. Also full of comforting nuggets of wisdom and useful information is Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, M.D.