It's the rare woman who doesn't feel anxious at some point during her pregnancy (and that woman might be a robot), but can pregnancy cause anxiety? Romper spoke with Jeanne Faulkner, RN, podcaster, and author of Common Sense Pregnancy about the nature of pregnancy anxiety, and how women can best navigate such emotions.
The many changes associated with pregnancy are likely causing those sleepless nights, Faulkner tells Romper, reminding us that during pregnancy, women experience changes from the cellular level up. As well as sending us on a hormonal rollercoaster, pregnancy naturally affects our relationships, our careers, and even our sense of self.
Additionally, the times moms-to-be live in aren't exactly soothing. "Women today are getting pregnant at a time when they’re bombarded with more stimulation, responsibility, and information than women have ever been at any time in history," says Faulkner, and she's right.
Thinking back to my own pregnancy, my mother was shocked at the sheer number of ultrasounds I received, and the seemingly endless tests I underwent. (Anyone remember the glucose shake? Ugh.) According to Faulkner, 85 percent of women will have perfectly healthy pregnancies, and today I wonder, were all those prenatal tests completely necessary? I never had any problems, and statistically, I wasn't going to. So did the barrage of tests and monitoring simply slap another layer of worry onto an already anxiety-inducing time of life?
If you're an anxious person, Faulkner advises that you try to protect yourself as best you can, while also respecting and embracing your natural sensitivity. Some of us have really vivid imaginations, and sometimes that leads to catastrophic thinking. (On the bright side, it also leads to awesome Pinterest boards, art, and your list of a thousand strange-yet-beautiful baby names.) She says:
"We approach our prenatal care based on fear. But what if instead we approached our prenatal care in a way that really respected how normal and healthy we probably are, and gave you all kinds of support for being normal and healthy?"
For Faulkner, that often means midwifery care. While most doctors are trained to see pregnancy as a potential danger, midwives specialize in supporting normal, healthy pregnancies, and only refer women to obstetricians if a problem arises. She also notes that it's totally possible to get midwifery-style care from an obstetrician — just be sure to communicate with them about your wishes. You don't have to consent to every test, and it's OK to interview obstetricians until you find the right one for you.
Also, the internet. I remember combing the web for the effects of stress on an unborn baby, and finding enough studies about the negative impact of cortisol to give me anxiety about my anxiety. Yep. I worried about my worries, and soon my husband was worried about my worrying about my worries, and, well, it's all down the rabbit hole from there. I even spoke about pregnancy anxiety with Faulkner on her podcast, Common Sense Pregnancy & Parenting.
So if you're predisposed to anxiety, should you avoid the internet altogether? For Faulkner, that seems a little outdated.
"I think that it’s more appropriate to coach patients and women where to get their information, and who is going to be a valued source of information, and who is going to send you down the rabbit hole," she says.
I also asked her about the moment when anxiety turns into something darker — namely, guilt. Like anxiety, guilt seems to be a universal handmaiden of motherhood, and I'm not sure that's right. Some wise words from Faulkner:
"We don't boost women's confidence in this country ... We teach mothers they’re not good enough right from the get go, and that’s nonsense. If we could tell women anything at this time in maternal history, it’s that honey, you’re fine."
Also, hey internet? It's not cool to make pregnant ladies feel guilty for occasionally giving into those crazy-strong cravings. The occasional bite of cake won't make you a bad mom. This, I swear to you.