Even though it's commonly referred to as a "joyful time," the truth is, pregnancy is a mixed bag of emotions and experience that is very personal and different for each person. Depending on a variety of factors, from health to personal life, one person's ecstatic pregnancy could be another person's debilitating and miserable pregnancy. This fact is important to consider as you encounter and talk with others about their pregnancy. It's also important to consider this when you "talk" to yourself during your own pregnancy.
I am currently reading "The Gifts of Imperfection," a book on living "wholeheartedly" by Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW. In the book, Brown talks about the concepts of shame and vulnerability and how not talking about and "wading through" our experience with them gets in the way of love, belonging, and living from the heart. In doing this, we often find ourselves practicing negative self talk, repeating a series of phrases and ideas that create more shame and keep us from experiencing more joy. Of course, this can happen to anyone -- pregnant or not. But pregnancy is a time of heightened emotions and vulnerability, and often stirs up old scars and wounds from our own relationship with our parents as we prepare to become a parent ourselves.
So, what are these common barriers to joy in pregnancy? What do the phrases on repeat look and sound like? They will vary from person to person, but here are a few examples:
- I won't be a good parent.
- Why don't I have a cute round belly like everyone else?
- I should be able to handle pregnancy better.
- I'm not as excited about this like everyone else is.
- What will they think of me? (for getting pregnant, for doing ______ during pregnancy, for what you look like during pregnancy, etc.)
- I'm going to pretend like everything is ok, like I'm so excited about this pregnancy.
- If I do ________, everyone will approve (and like/love me more).
- When I do _________, I will be a better parent.
What these phrases boil down to is one central theme: I'm not good enough, or I'm not worthy of love (from others or myself). If you find that one or more of these phrases resonate -- you are not alone. So many people experience these feelings. Which is why, it's helpful and important to step forward and speak your truth. The more you do, the more you will squash your feelings of shame, inferiority, and "not enough." The more you speak up and out, the more you will connect with others and grow your sense of love and belonging. It's certainly not easy -- as Brown says throughout her book, owning your story and sharing your story with others takes courage -- but the payoff is priceless.
So instead of listening to the same shameful ideas on repeat in your head, know this:
- It's OK to feel worried about parenting -- we all do! You are just what your child needs. You are enough for your child.
- Your pregnant body is uniquely your own. "Cute" round bellies are what magazines have you believe is the ideal. The reality is that there are SO many different kinds of pregnant bodies. Yours is perfect for you and capable of growing your baby perfectly. Your pregnant body is enough.
- Everyone handles pregnancy differently. There's no one "right" way to experience pregnancy. No one else is walking in your shoes and likewise, you can't walk in any one else's. Your circumstances may make dealing with pregnancy more difficult. Regardless, you are enough, exactly as you are.
- Not everyone is excited about pregnancy, no matter what you read in magazines or blogs, or hear from friends. Share your story of fear or detachment and I promise, you will find others who are experiencing the same.
- Let go of what others might think of you. When you share your true self and your true stories of yourself, you will still be loved and find connection. Who you are -- your real self -- is enough.
- When you let go of shameful thoughts and mantras, you open up to vulnerability and a love for yourself that supersedes the need to seek approval from others. You will see that you are enough.
Of course, so much of this falls under the "easier said than done" category. Like anything worthwhile in life, it takes practice to live from a place of worthiness and joy. For some, it means a daily recommitment to practicing love and truth. I encourage you to begin to work to break down these barriers to joy in your pregnancy. Call on the support of your loved ones and perhaps a good therapist or counselor. Sometimes, our barriers to joy are too deeply seated to overcome alone. Your pregnancy does not have to be all joy all the time, of course, but if your lack of joy is caused by feelings of "not enough," there are ways to move forward and feel love and belonging in a place of "enough."