No one really talks about how most pregnancies are not spent being blissfully happy or symptom-free. In fact, you’ve probably heard it a million times: Pregnant women glow. It is something we all want to believe; wouldn’t it be wonderful to be radiant for 10 months? The reality of pregnancy is not so glittery or glamorous.
During pregnancy – especially the first months – you are far more likely to be gagging than glowing. In fact, it’s common to feel all kinds of surprising physical and emotional symptoms. Then, on top of it all, pregnant women often feel guilty because they don’t feel fabulous. Even if you are totally thrilled to be pregnant, you’re likely to start your 10-month journey experiencing some of these uncomfortable symptoms:
Fatigue and pregnancy go hand in hand. In fact, fatigue is frequently the first pregnancy symptom that women notice. (The other is breast tenderness.) Pregnancy fatigue is unlike other kinds of fatigue; it makes you feel heavy and exhausted, not so much tired, but just burned out.
What causes this? The most likely culprits are the hormonal changes of pregnancy. Another contributor is the fact that other pregnancy symptoms – for example, having to urinate more frequently – can interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Even low levels of stress or anxiety wear on you, increasing fatigue levels and making you feel less energetic. Studies show that stress and anxiety have an effect on our ability to fall asleep, to stay asleep, and to wake up feeling refreshed.
With all that fatigue, it might seem counterintuitive that most pregnant women experience insomnia. After all, when you are exhausted, sleep should come easily. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case during pregnancy. Insomnia is one of the most frequently reported symptoms during pregnancy. Getting up in the night to pee does not usually result in falling back to sleep immediately, because your mind tends to take over and you find yourself lying in bed, thinking, worrying and planning.
Next up on the pregnancy symptom hit parade is nausea. Personally, I refuse to refer to this noxious ordeal as “morning sickness” because I had it during both my pregnancies and, believe me, I wish it only transpired in the morning. Unfortunately, it can come on at any time of day (or all day). The low point of my second pregnancy? When my 4-year-old realized that she could count the number of times I vomited. As in, “Guess what, Daddy? Mommy threw up seven times!”
Even if you know that your pregnancy nausea is likely to disappear by 13 weeks, you’re still dealing with a lot of crummy feelings. I remember one day, early in my first pregnancy, hanging over the toilet with tears in my eyes thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Nobody wanted a baby more than I did, and yet, as I endured wave after wave of nausea, I questioned the whole idea of pregnancy – which left me feeling shocked, bewildered and ashamed. If I couldn’t handle a bit of nausea, I wondered what kind of a mother would I be?
The definition of anxiety is a feeling of worry or nervousness, usually about the uncertain outcome of a future event. Anxiety occurs throughout life, but it is more likely to happen when we have something big on our radar screens for the near future – like, say, having a baby.
Pregnancy brings out our anxious inner voices the way few other life experiences do. I can’t tell you how common it is for pregnant women to be plagued with anxiety. Here are just a few of the common questions that nag at them:
• Is my baby healthy?
• What if something goes wrong with my baby or my pregnancy?
• Will I be able to endure labor and delivery?
• What if I do something embarrassing during labor?
• Will I be a good mother?
• Will my partner be a good parent?
• Will I ever lose all this weight I’m gaining?
• If I go back to work after my baby is born, will my baby get the right kind of care?
• If I follow my dream to be a stay-at-home mom, how will we pay our bills?
• Will I ever feel like myself again?
Bummed by the Blues
Because pregnancy mimics depression, to determine the cause of your symptoms you should focus on the emotional rather than the physical symptoms of depression. Ask yourself the following questions:
• Do I look forward to things the way I used to?
• Do I look forward to the future?
• Am I content or happy much of the time?
• Do I get as much pleasure from activities as I used to?
• Am I as interested in things as I used to be?
If you answered no to two or more questions, it is possible that you are in fact experiencing depression.
Pregnancy has always caused stress, but it’s even more stressful in today’s overly wired world. When our moms were pregnant, they felt concerned about their pregnancy and their baby’s health. But today, a pregnant woman’s list of pressures is so much longer, fostered by social-media-fueled perfectionism, alarmist news reporting, celebrity baby-bump watching and intense product marketing. All of these contribute to a widespread belief that if you do everything just right, your baby – and your life – will be perfect.
Although stress is a normal reaction to a new situation and there are multiple reasons why pregnant women feel stress and anxiety, it is important to find ways to reduce stress for your own peace of mind and the health of your baby. Research shows that excessive stress during pregnancy can be truly harmful: It’s associated with premature birth and low birth weight, which can lead to a range of health problems for babies.