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Ambivalence in Pregnancy

Ambivalence and Pregnancy

by Samanda Rossi, educator, doula and owner at Naturally Prepared for Birth. 2/22/19

This study was recently published.

When I saw it smatter across social media, my first reaction was, “DUH.” Did we really need a study to illustrate this? You could just talk to a large group of women. They will tell you that A LOT of them have a variety of feelings regarding pregnancies, despite whether they are planned or unplanned. Or maybe they wouldn’t, because sharing that you aren’t excited and thrilled to be having a baby is largely shamed in our culture. Sadly, usually by other women. I wrote the post below over a year ago, and remembered it when I saw the published article and decided to finally share it with you all. Only 1 of my children was a “planned” pregnancy, and each pregnancy held different feelings, including regret, ambivalence, and fear. I am grateful my experiences and feelings allow me to hold space for these feelings in my clients, whether they are fleeting, “Oh shit, what have I done?” moments or deeper ambivalence. Babies change our lives, they should provoke more than happiness or excitement that we’re expected to feel. I can honestly say, three years later, I sometimes feel regret and ambivalence and longing for life before 3, 2, 1 children. It does not mean I don’t love or want my kids. It doesn’t mean I am a bad mom. It doesn’t mean I wish life was different. It just means I am a woman, with her own needs and journey, that’s been interrupted by the most amazing and challenging journey of her life. And it’s both hard and valuable. All feelings are valid.

You can read a bit more about my journey and some other Naturally Prepared Mamas who were brave and vulnerable enough to share bits of their journeys. I love and adore each one of them and thank them for contributing.

I had two sons, ages 11 and 8. For years I had wanted another child but my partner did not. So, instead of following my heart, I relented (and mourned). I got on with life, savored my growing boys, began Naturally Prepared, and life was busy and fulfilling. I always secretly hoped for a “surprise” baby but as my 30’s were coming to a close, I figured it wasn’t going to happen.

And then it did happen. A surprise pregnancy. 39 years old. I really thought it was impossible. I knew I had really low progesterone, figured I was peri-menopausal. I was super busy! My mom was sick and I was taking care of her, she died when I was 5 months pregnant. We moved during this time. I was teaching and doula-ing a ton. Now, instead of being excited about a surprise pregnancy, I was in Disbelief. Shock. Sad. Scared. Mostly, AMBIVALENT.

Ambivalent is not a word used often in conjunction with pregnancy. It’s really not tolerated in our culture. Babies are blessings. So many people would love to have a baby, you are so fortunate. It’s God’s Will. How exciting! To feel in this place of uncertainty, in between, regarding a pregnancy is unfathomable to many who haven’t felt it.

Every test and ultrasound just provoked worry and fear. I had an intense need to nest, but it was totally biological. With my first, I remember strolling the aisles of Babies R Us and registering and washing babies clothes and it was just dreamy. With this baby, I refused all offers of baby showers, I set up a nursery of just essentials, didn’t decorate at all. I didn’t get my birth kit together until I was 37 weeks and thought I might be in labor. I cried a lot.

Yet it is what I felt. And since, what several women have confided feeling to me:

My third was completely unplanned (in fact, we were diligently trying to avoid) and awful timing (in the middle of my master’s degree). I wept for weeks. I felt like a horrible human being for not “wanting” my pregnancy. As time went on I adjusted and of course went thru those memorable phases of loving my body for the hard work it was doing, being amazed at the beauty of birth all over again, and now I have a completely sweet little one who I wouldn’t trade for anything. But pregnancy is hard on your body, children are demanding and cause your life to shift in unexpected and inconvenient ways, and the beauty of it all is often coupled with difficulty, if not directly precipitated by it.

I definitely feel apathetic with this pregnancy and I feel really guilty about it. I’m 26 weeks now and i didn’t have morning sickness, no indigestion, I’m not showing, and even though i can feel the baby move I just feel very disconnected. Even at the ultrasound i had no attachment or emotion.

I spent many midwife appts crying, spent most of the months I was pregnant telling myself I will get it together and be happy about it… I was physically sick for 2 mos with pneumonia, worn out because of financial stuff that kept piling on, marriage wasn’t right, we were in the middle of a lawsuit. Didn’t have the same feeling at the ultrasound that I had with my first. Went through the motions but really wasn’t feeling it. About a week before he was born I felt ok about it and ready to meet him. I honestly think not knowing the sex made it very difficult for me to connect with “the baby.” I really needed to know if it was a boy or girl but wanted that moment of finding out when the baby was born. The picture of that moment is beautiful but I’m sad I think I could have connected with him a lot more while pregnant if I had just pushed the issue with my partner and found out he was a boy while I was pregnant. The pregnancy was very much a struggle for me, so much so that I really cannot fathom going through another pregnancy.

So, what can you do if you feel ambivalent about a pregnancy?

Give yourself permission to feel that way. There might not be anything like the guilt that comes with not wanting or not being excited about a pregnancy. But it’s okay. All of the mothers who shared their feelings above are all mothers I admire and adore. Be real with yourself. Cry. Simmer in your anger.

Talk about it, with people who will be loving and affirming. I was so grateful to have a doula and midwives who listened to me, who didn’t try to minimize or judge my feelings. Most of my prenatal appointments were about what I was feeling and thinking about at the time. Love that midwifery care gives the space for this, but I also had a few friends who were great listeners.

Celebrate. I was totally not willing to do this. I had several offers for baby showers, and I said no to all of them. My sweet Naturally Prepared community planned a surprise one for me. It was a combo Blessingway/Baby Shower and was just what my soul needed. I ugly cried a lot that afternoon. But I also allowed myself to be loved, and for my baby to be loved. There is power in community support, love and excitement. Allow yourself to experience it.

Prepare. I remember teaching a Refresher class towards the end of my pregnancy and thinking, “I shouldn’t be teaching this class, I need to be IN this class!” One mom shared, “With the first we tried for 9 months so I was elated the entire pregnancy. The second was unplanned and I was so shocked. I cried and I remember telling my husband to wipe that smile off his damn face. lol! All I could worry about at the time was money of all things and I was SO stressed about how we could afford another. I didn’t feel “connected” honestly until that first night in our refresher class. I had a moment that night where I was like holy shit we’re actually having another kid. After that it was different. I think I needed that class if only for the connection.” If a class isn’t do-able or if one that focuses on connection/emotional and mental preparation isn’t available, consider doing birth art (the book, Birthing from Within is a good Springboard for this), doing a prenatal yoga class, listening to positive affirmations or meditations while focused on your baby.

Plan. I did a terrible job of this. I was in such denial that I was actually going to have a baby that I didn’t really plan for postpartum beyond making freezer meals. This made my postpartum extra challenging. I asked my partner, who owns his own business, ‘What is your company’s paternity leave policy?” He replied, “We’re for it.” Did I figure out what this meant? Have a discussion about how and how long he would take leave? No. I was in total denial it would be an issue. So I didn’t pursue it any further, he didn’t take any leave, and it was a magical but horrible transition.

Therapy. Having someone listen, and be able to help your sort out your thoughts and feelings is so helpful, especially at such a vulnerable time. I did take some time for therapy, and it did help with my confidence to deal with my situation. There are some therapists who specialize in pregnancy, infertility, loss and birth trauma.

At 39 weeks I finally felt ready and willing to have my baby. And he came.

And it was LOVE. Intense LOVE.

I can honestly say I didn’t want him until he tumbled out of my body. But now he is an extension of me. And though it is hard and there are days when I remember what freedom I had, or how things were easier, I cannot imagine life without him. I am completely enraptured by him.

And this, this is what I heard repeatedly from Mamas who shared their ambivalence, “I’ve never been baby/child oriented and I just had no idea what being a mom would be like. And then he was born and we, two educated and practical people, became blithering idiots (baby talk just came bubbling out of us). But yes, I was actually a bit embarrassed to be pregnant the first time, felt really private about it, and annoyed by some of the gushing/getting all up in your business people do. I didn’t feel in love with the baby until he actually came out, and then of course it was life-changing love.”

Life changing love indeed, overwhelming enough to make the heart find peace.