Pregnancy Fear Factors
The first time I saw a no-doubt-about-it positive reading on a pregnancy test, I was elated. Excitement was such a dominant emotion throughout the entire pregnancy, to say I had that “pregnant glow” was an understatement. Fear never played a part in the process, as joy provided the surge of adrenalin I needed to endure insomnia, unsightly swelling and labor pains with ease. It was only when I found out I was expecting our next son that I felt conflicting emotions for the first time. Giddiness, shock and pure terror all coursed through my body instantaneously. Only one month prior to conceiving my second son, I underwent a miscarriage that left me rattled and questioning my body’s ability to maintain pregnancy. What caused the miscarriage was unknown, which only added to my fear that history might repeat itself. Thankfully, as my baby grew in utero, my fears decreased.
Apparently, I am not alone in my concerns. Most moms-to-be find themselves afraid of some element of pregnancy or childbirth, whether it be the unknown or a repeat of undesirable past outcomes. However, when fear takes the driver’s seat in a pregnancy, it can actually cause harm instead of preventing it. New York School of Medicine reproductive psychiatrist Sharri Luskin, MD, notes that when a woman is driven by fear, not only is she unable to enjoy the gift of pregnancy, but also is at an increased risk of postpartum depression. Significant anxiety throughout pregnancy also can cause headaches, lowered immunity, high blood pressure, as well as an increased risk of prematurely delivering a low-birthweight baby. One of the greatest ways to diminish your fears, she concludes, is to arm yourself with facts.
Fact: One of the most pressing concerns on a mother’s mind is miscarriage, the loss of pregnancy within the first 20 weeks, as it is known to occur in as many as one in five pregnancies. Most miscarriages take place during the first few weeks after conception because of chromosomal abnormalities, before many women even know they are pregnant. These miscarriages are often mistaken for late menstrual cycles. The likeliness of miscarrying decreases over time, dropping to less than 5 percent by the second month of pregnancy (the time when most doctors can detect a heartbeat). If you do miscarry, seek the support of loved ones and others who have been there, as grief is a very natural response.
Fear: Harming my baby.
Fact: This isn’t the time to start a new high-impact workout routine or a stringent diet plan, but moderate exercise and a well-rounded diet can do good for both your body and your baby’s. Consult your doctor about your eating habits to devise an appropriate meal plan. Avoid smoking while also refraining from alcohol, uncooked meats, lunch meat (known to, at times, be contaminated with listeria) and excessive caffeine. And abide by the phrase “when in doubt, go without.” Liberty mom Elizabeth Korthanke says fear of eating or inhaling something harmful constantly plagued her when she was pregnant with her daughter. “I was afraid of eating something I shouldn’t or consuming chemical fumes,” she says. “I googled information about food constantly. One time I even started crying in a restaurant because the waitress was unable to answer my very specific questions about what was in the Thai food I wanted to order. I hope to be less fearful next time!”
Fear: Genetic disorders and birth defects.
Fact: Genetic disorders and birth defects are rare. The likeliness of a child being born with one ranges between 3 and 5 percent. If having elective tests to determine whether or not your baby has one brings peace of mind, go for it. But be prepared that having additional tests has its own drawbacks. Namely, the process of waiting for results can cause anxiety.
Fact: Labor is one of the biggest hurdles to bringing a baby into the world. Many women are fraught with fear because of horror stories they’ve heard from family members, friends or television. Others bring fear from past labor experiences with them into the next one. A substantial fear regarding labor is known as tokophobia, and while the number of women within the United States who suffer from it is unknown, studies show there are many effective ways to combat it. First, identify what you dread the most. Talk to a friend or counselor and journal your thoughts to determine what they are. Then take steps to redirect your concerns. If pain management is top priority, look into taking a breathing or relaxation technique class, such as a Lamaze, Hypnobirthing or Bradley Method course. And don’t beat yourself up if you need pain medication. Lawrence mom Mary Coachman found the best way to overcome her fear of labor was to reward herself with a surprise. “Waiting until birth to find out the baby’s sex gave me something to look forward to!” she says.
Five Steps to Fight Fear.
1.Tune out the horror stories. Avoid watching overdramatized childbirth scenes on screen and ask those around you to withhold sharing their negative birthing experiences.
2.Get the facts. Inform yourself with what to expect throughout labor and delivery so it does not take you by surprise.
3.Find ways to relax. Take a prenatal yoga class, memorize Scripture, listen to soothing music or take peaceful walks, long baths and power naps.
4.Build emotional health. If you have a history of anxiety, depression or abuse (particularly sexual abuse), seek professional help as soon as possible.
5.Seek support. Let friends and family know how you feel and surround yourself with those that encourage you to feel confident and strong.
Lauren Greenlee has three boys, each one of their pregnancies and labors as unique as they are. She and her family reside in Olathe.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.