Common ante-natal anxieties

In addition, as her pregnancy progresses, a woman may come to resent losing her figure, believing that she has also lost her sexual attrac-tiveness. She may worry that she will never regain her normal curves, and lose ‘the bulge’. Ana, of course, the growing size is a constant reminder of the enormous responsibilities to come.

If a woman has been very active, she may find the physical and mental slow-down, which generally happens in pregnancy, especially frustrating. Some women become very absent-minded and very angry about this! The gradual curtailment of activities such as certain sports, smoking and drinking may upset others. Women who have to give up their work – ‘a job which I loved, gave me great satisfaction, and helped me earn my own money’ – can find die break harder than they anticipated; the loss of independence and the new financial worries make them feel less than welcoming about the expected baby.

A certain loss of self-confidence is involved in all of these experiences, and so adds to the sense of vulnerability already felt by some pregnant women. Many complain that people – even friends – treat them merely as ‘baby-makers’ and not as individuals. All they ever talk about is, ‘When are you due?’ ‘What sex do you want?’ ‘Have you thought of names?’

Similarly, it’s not unusual to find many women who intensely dislike the interference in their lives which seems to descend on them from all sides as soon as they’re pregnant. In-laws and relations, neighbours and even passers-by will offer advice, often unwanted and ill-informed, | on anything from how to change a nappy, to the best school for the child!

When the time comes for a woman to have her baby, she has to rely on the professional ‘experts’ such as doctors, nurses, clinics and even books. And while these experts are necessary and generally very helpful, they can inadvertendy make some women feel as diough they are no longer in charge of their own bodies and that the whole business has become unnecessarily clinical and complicated, which adds to their resentment.

What effect might a pregnancy have on a couple’s relationship? Relationships cannot fail to be affected by a pregnancy, and some adjustment will have to be made every dme there is a new addition to the family. Naturally, if a man has difficulty in expressing his feelings about the event, his wife may jump to the wrong conclusions. For instance, if a woman already feels sensitive about her size and shape, she may interpret any passing interest in the female shape as confirmation that he no longer finds her attractive. A man may simply be taking it for granted that he loves his wire, not realizing that she may need a lot of extra reassurance at this time.

Certainly, too, a couple’s sex-life will alter somewhat when a woman is pregnant, and it’s most important that the pair are able to discuss what this means to each of them. Many women, for example, show an increased interest in sex during the middle five months of pregnancy (due, probably, to hormonal changes) just at the dme when some men may be starting to worry diat intercourse may hurt either their partner or die growing baby! Talking openly can prevent unnecessary emotional problems arising from such conflicting needs and worries. Research has shown that in a normal pregnancy there is no need to fear that intercourse is a risk to the baby or mother except during the last month, when it is wiser to avoid it. Those in danger of miscarrying or having a premature delivery must follow their doctor’s advice. Throughout pregnancy love-making posiuons will need to alter (to avoid deep penetration which in any event can become uncomfortable), but that may just help to make things more interesting!

Why do some men seem changed or moody at the prospect of becoming fathers? Apprehension can have a lot to do with the way in which a prospective father reacts to pregnane}’. It’s easy to forget that he may have to face just as many new situations and changes as the prospec-tive mother, and so undergo his own emotional upheavals. Since society, especially in the past, decreed mat childbearing was a woman’s business only, men tended to play very much of a background role. Now, however, they are gene-rally encouraged to participate in antenatal training programmes, to be present at the birth and, in most hospitals, can visit their wives and infants freely during most hours of the day.

While these changes have helped gready to reduce the anxieties men may have towards childbirth, and can help a couple establish a special bond with one another, would-be fathers may still have difficulty in coming to terms with their feelings. Some secredy remain very worried about the well-being of their wives and babies. Others simply dread having to be present at the birth for rear that they will make fools of themselves or break down in some way. Such reactions are very normal and should be shared with the woman, who more than likely under-stands them best, as they are not unlike her own anxieties and apprehensions.

It is in fact very common to find that a man feels excluded when his wife is pregnant. He may feel that she is so absorbed in what is happening to her that he is left out in the cold, or he may be a litde jealous of all the extra attention she is receiving. If it’s a first child, he may be very concerned about the changes to their relationship that are bound to occur. Will his wife reject him in favour of the baby? Will they (or she) become so tied down with responsibilities to the child that their social life disappears? And, above all, will he be able to provide the emotional support needed by the child, and be a good father? If his wife is giving up work financial worries, too, can make a man depressed or apprehensive about becoming a parent In all these instances his reaction may be to draw even further away from the experience, by ‘burying himself in work, for example.

II a man has been at the centre of his wile’s attentions, the coming of a baby can bring out all sorts of insecurities in him. And what is even worse is that he may be afraid or ashamed to talk about them – after all, being a man he is not supposed to have such emotions! Once again, a woman who can be sensitive to and patient with her partner’s altering attitudes and moods may be the greatest help to him. Getting him to talk with friends who have gone through some of the same things themselves can also oe reassuring. Doctors, midwives and health visitors are all very aware of the anxieties prospective fathers may have. They may be especially helpful in letting a man know that he is certainly not the only one to have such feelings and that his wife and baby will be given the best of care by experienced medical and nursing teams. Above all they can make him aware of how much his support means to his wife and of how rewarding the shared experience of having a baby can be.

Why do some parents become so anxious about which sex their baby may be? Very often the cause of such an obsession lies far deeper than the parents realize, and has its roots in psychological and cultural considerations. Because of this, such anxieties are often not easy to overcome, or even to recognize.

Some people, men more frequendy than women, will (desperately want a son as their first child, in order to inherit the family name, tide, business or wealth, and to act as ‘head of the house’ in the father’s absence. Men, too, will sometimes feel that it is ‘inferior’ to have daugh-ters, or, conversely, they may be afraid that sons will challenge their authority, and so want only girls who, tney feel, will be more docile.

In other cases people may want a child of their own sex to ‘re-live’ tneir own lives – to have the advantages and experiences they themselves wanted out never had. The ‘ballet mother’ or ‘rugby father5 are just two, almost cliché, exam-ples. Then again, some people who are very insecure about their sexuality may believe that they can ‘prove’ themselves by producing a child of their own sex: a woman who seriously doubts her feminine appeal may believe that by giving birth to a daughter she will be demonstrating her womanliness to the world.

In contrast, if a woman has had a difficult relationship with a parent, she may feel threatened at the thought of having a child of that sex for fear of repeating a painful pattern all over again – she may, for example, fear having a daughter because her own mother was very critical and over-possessive with her.

Finally, many women still feel frightened of disappointing their husbands, or even losing their love, if they don’t produce the child of the sex he desires. This is ironic, as it is the father’s chromosomes which primarily determine the sex of the child, not the mother’s.

Is it usual to feel worried about the baby being normal? Yes. Almost without exception women worry at some time during a pregnancy that they may be carrying an abnormal child, or that the baby may be harmed during birth, although in Western countries having a baby is generally considered to be safer than going on a long car journey.

Naturally, there are certain general precautions which all women can take to avoid any special risk of harm to the growing child – eating a sensible, balanced diet, taking regular, moderate exercise, cutting out smoking, drinking stricdy in moderation and taking no drugs, unless speci-fically prescribed by the doctor.

In some cases a woman may have a rather primitive superstitious fear – that as a ‘punishment’ for some slight wrongdoing in her past, her baby may be abnormal. However, a woman who continues to worry about having a handi-capped baby, in spite of reassurances to the contrary from doctors, may really be afraid of something slighdy different – that she won’t be a ‘good’ mother maybe, or will ‘fail’ to go through labour and birth easily and successfully.

The so-called ‘maternal instinct’ is something which large numbers of women claim not to have – especially in a first pregnancy. And, in fact, it is not any one identifiable emotion. With no previous experience of handling babies or caring for young children, it’s not surprising that many women feel quite devastated at the thought of being totally responsible for another human being. It’s easy for self-doubts and fears to project themselves on to the unknown baby growing inside the womb – and to make yourself believe that because you don’t seem to be coping with pregnancy well enough, the baby won’t be 100 per cent healthy.

Any woman who is isolated from friends or family during her pregnancy may be more prone to such worries, and it is especially important for her to be able to talk with others and share these anxieties. Antenatal classes, run by almost all hospitals and various private groups, generally provide an excellent opportunity for having chats with other prospecdve mothers – where you are sure to find your own fears echoed – as well as with trained nursing and maternity staff who will almost certainly be able to reassure you.

Is it normal to be frightened about the pain involved in the birth? Probably the most common antenatal fears are those concerned with the actual birth – and these are perfecdy understandable. For many women, having a baby is still the only occasion on which they will have to experience pain. A woman having her first baby will naturally wonder, ‘What is it really like? Will I be able to cope? Will I lose control or make a fool of myself?’ Even those who have previously had children may feel somewhat apprehensive if they have unpleasant memories of earlier births.

Unfortunately, no one can tell a woman precisely what will happen, as each birth proceeds differendy and, more importandy, each person will react to the experience differendy; a sensation of mild discomfort to one may be felt as extreme pain by another. Simply having to go into hospital may frighten some women gready.

Natural childbirth methods are based on the principle that not knowing what to expect makes a woman more tense than need oe during labour, and so increases the experience of pain. It follows that learning all you can about labour-about what causes contractions, how they will alter at different stages of labour and what you can be doing to relax – will be the best way of confronting fears about giving birth.

By all means go to the special classes held for expectant mothers (and fathers). If going into hospital worries you, then don’t simply avoid thinking about it; make a point of going along to the labour ward and ask about the policies and techniques practised there. If there is anything you don’t understand or don’t particularly want for yourself, then discuss it with the staff and your doctor beforehand. Labour is not something which happens just to one part of you – it is a very intense, concentrated effort involving your whole body, mind and emotions. It can be an extremely rewarding and even pleasurable experience if you prepare for it, and deal with any queries regarding techniques or medical help (drugs or methods of delivery) before you are actually in the thick of it.

Above all, remember that giving birth is not a performance which you will pass or fail; your own capabilities are not being tested. Do not be ashamed to ask for any help you feel you need and that includes asking your husband for his presence and support at the birth, if possible.

Most hospitals are quite willing for fathers to help out during labour, recognizing that pain ana discomfort are gready eased when shared with someone you know and love. Remember, too, that the pain of labour is unlike that of most injuries or accidents – it is the pain of creating. Knowing that there is a purpose to it can help you to cope with it positively. And many women find that once labour is over any pain is soon forgotten.

What should a woman do if she feels seriously trapped by being pregnant? A woman who comes to feel utterly ‘trapped’ by her pregnancy will need to seek help and advice. The first person to turn to for sympathy and support is her partner, but the depth of her anxiety may require expert help.

Various difficulties are often brought to light by an understanding counsellor. Is the woman in a stable relationship? Is the baby wanted? Is the woman’s career being interrupted at a crucial point? Has the woman several children already? These are all examples of concerns which often underlie feelings of being trapped.

Having said all this, however, it is often the woman in an apparendy happy situation who suffers from this feeling. Motherhood can be made to seem horrifying if you think you have to give up all the other facets of your life. Don’t drop friends or leave work, ana close all doors behind you when you enter the final stages of pregnancy. For your own peace of mind, work out a plan whereby you can continue doing at least some of the things you find most satisfying.