Before finding my home here at the Center for Mindful Living, I worked as a pregnancy counselor for a local non-profit organization. I am proud of the work we did, using our compassionate and nonjudgmental space to help women facing unplanned pregnancies make the choice that was best for them.
During that time, I met dozens of women facing a wide variety of psychological, financial, and logistical concerns that needed to be addressed as they made their decision. Am I healthy enough to raise a child like I would like to? Will my partner be supportive of my decision? What does labor feel like? How on earth do I tell my boss?
Now that I am a mother of a wonderful little boy with another on the way, I look back on those conversations with a new sense of empathy and awe. I am grateful that both of my pregnancies were planned and I am buffeted by a support system that helps me to be successful.
At the same time, there are some common threads through every pregnancy that I've witnessed or experienced that is necessary to explore to help keep both mother, family, and baby safe and healthy.
One of my favorite senses in the human body is proprioception. Proprioception is the innate awareness of your body's position in space. If you close your eyes right now, you will still be able to know how your feet are touching the ground, how the chair is supporting your back.
During times of rapid change to our body, our proprioception sometimes takes a while to catch up to our current physical shape. When a teenager goes through a growth spurt, they are famously clumsy until their senses can catch up with their new gangly legs.
Given the sudden change in a pregnant woman's body, we also see a disassociation between our proprioception and physical selves. This gap between how we sense ourselves and how our body is moving through space can be confusing at best.
Do we still take ownership of our body if we're not sure where it is in space? This disconnection can be exacerbated by the sudden shift of a woman's body from a private vessel to a public announcement of fertility. Strangers asking medical questions, friends rubbing your belly, family members sharing intimate or disturbing stories of their own experiences. Women can often lose track of their physical identity, which can lend itself to feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, or depression.
As we navigate this shifting landscape of physical identity, a deeper identity shift may also arise. Before a pregnancy, women often choose how they are seen. Small business owner. Feminist. Cancer researcher. Funny. Bibliophile.
As they engage in the monumental task of creating a life, those identities tend to be subsumed by the weighty title of Mother. We all have different expectations of how mothers function in the world, but for many women, their rules of "How to Be a Good Mother" are rigid, unforgiving, and requiring a level of self-sacrifice that most adults could not possibly meet.
Many women grieve the loss of the pre-mother identity while at the same time blaming themselves for not being good enough. These feelings are often minimized by well-meaning onlookers, and their optimistic if myopic statements about "enjoy every moment!" and "being a mother is the best thing that ever happened to me!" It is a painful catch-22.
There are so many more aspects of pregnancy that can elicit a huge gamut of emotions. The reminder that you are literally creating a human out of that grilled cheese you ate for lunch. The first time the baby moves and you realize he's happy in there. And, oh my goodness the hormones!
However, I believe it is a disservice to our society if we minimize the challenges that women face during these times under the guise of optimism and excitement.
If you are pregnant, planning on becoming so, or recently had a baby, I would strongly suggest that you think about coming to therapy. Therapy is a weekly check-in to make sure you aren't exhibiting any precursors of postpartum depression.
It is a safe place to explore all these complicated emotions without feeling judged or guilty. And it can be a wonderful time to take a break from being a mother and explore how you can integrate who you are into who you are becoming.
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