My first prenatal doctor’s appointment lasted an hour, but it felt like five minutes went by. A part of me was expecting to learn everything I needed for this new season during that one appointment. I felt thankful for my pregnancy and access to healthcare. Yet, I got in my car and could not find the words to express my thoughts. I felt nervous, clueless, and very lonely. Is this normal? I wondered. What now? What am I supposed to do for the rest of my pregnancy?
A friend, who happens to be a licensed therapist and mom, changed my pregnancy journey. Before asking about physical symptoms she asked about my mental health. “How are you taking care of yourself?” she asked me. I knew she was not referring to my extreme food aversions (to everything!).
This casual conversation gave me permission to be present—both mentally and physically—and take inventory of my thoughts without trying to find a solution. Subconsciously, I labeled my initial stress and fear as pregnancy hormones and—not surprisingly—I learned most of us do.
Mental health is maternal health, because taking care of ourselves means we get to choose how to navigate pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. It’s time we talk about it. With the help of Gabrielle Swanson, a Florida based therapist, we’re sharing more about pregnancy and mental health.
Remember, Your Feelings Are Valid and Normal
“The first step is to normalize your feelings,” said Swanson. As we embrace pregnancy and motherhood as important life changes—that look very different for every person—we can normalize the feelings that come along with them.
Every person and motherhood journey is different, so you might be feeling:
- fear or sadness
- gender disappointment
- insecurity about the future
- anxiety about change
- pressure about making decisions
Swanson noted involving your support system is also essential. “The people closest to you should be aware of how your mental health can play a role in everyday interactions.” They can be part of your process—as much or as little as you want them to—but they can make a difference.
I assumed Swanson felt more prepared for pregnancy and motherhood because of her professional background. I was wrong. “As a mental health professional I knew the theory, but it wasn’t until sharing my thoughts and feelings with other moms that I was able to normalize [them],” she added.
This advice empowered me to prioritize my well being as I enter the second trimester. Some of my feelings have not disappeared. I still have to remind myself I don’t have to finish the nursery in one day or read everything I find about sleep training over the weekend. But I’ve been able to be intentional about finding the space (and chocolate) to sit down, breathe, and look ahead with hope.
Preparation Can Be Empowering
Preparation helps put pregnancy in perspective: remember, our bodies are built to do this. “Women have been going through pregnancy and motherhood for centuries. Yet, today we have a chance to be better prepared by educating ourselves,” Swanson said.
I think about the women in my family who raised children without the resources I easily access. Some of them while migrating to the U.S. without speaking English fluently. There’s a beautiful lesson on resilience we can learn from previous generations—while making space for ourselves and helping transform what maternal health looks like now and in the future.
Just as we send out the baby registry and brainstorm color palettes for the nursery, we can be intentional about taking care of ourselves. If preparation is key, then we can take inventory of our feelings, personal circumstances, and priorities to find what wellness looks like for us during pregnancy (and beyond).
Change the Narrative
“You’re going to lose yourself. The woman you know today will disappear the day you give birth.” were words someone said after I shared my pregnancy news. In hindsight, I’m not surprised I spent a couple of days paralyzed by fear and intrusive thoughts.
Swanson invited me to unpack and change that narrative. She said, “Yes, you’re going to change, but because you’re adding something (a beautiful tiny human) into your life.”
From cultural elements to well-meant but confusing advice, we all have a concept of what pregnancy and motherhood might look like. Take the time to unpack those beliefs, keep what’s serving you, and change the narrative when needed.
I had internalized those words as say goodbye to who you are, and it was not surprising I had no idea what to do next. Changing my narrative has not been easy. I grew up believing moms had to be strong regardless of the situation. Emotions and mental health therapy were not regular words in my conversations until my late 20s, and I still catch myself second-guessing if I’m supposed to be “stronger” during this time.
I had internalized those words as say goodbye to who you are, and it was not surprising I had no idea what to do next.
“When you start becoming intentional about intrusive thoughts and finding balance, there’s a sense of guilt. Most people look back and question, but you can choose the positive route,” shared Swanson.
Choosing the positive route doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly be careless, but you’ll be intentional about taking a step back and reframing the narrative.
Allow Yourself to Be Proud (Today)
So much of pregnancy and motherhood is appreciated looking back, but I want to invite you to feel proud today. Yes, even if you have cried on your desk four times the past week (like me) or if you’ve finally found the perfect pair of maternity pants (send them my way).
As Swanson told me, “We’re all on the same path, learning how to be a mom. And a happy mom is the best gift for yourself and your child.”
You owe it to yourself to celebrate this journey. Because no matter our definition of strong, I believe the women in my family knew something worth remembering, we are all strong in our own way.