Midwifery consultant and researcher Dr Diana du Plessis reassures moms-to-be that feeling overwhelmed, experiencing extreme mood changes and worrying are all expected during pregnancy. “It’s normal to fluctuate between feeling happy, sad and angry in five seconds flat, because of the surge of pregnancy hormones,” she says. However, knowing the facts and addressing any concerns you may have can put your mind at ease and help you to enjoy your pregnancy.
Read on for some practical solutions.
I don’t feel prepared for motherhood…
Since you probably don’t know what to expect if you’re a first-time mom, this is a normal feeling. If you’re welcoming a second, or third child, the fear of the unknown is still relevant. Dr du Plessis recommends keeping a journal. “Start at the very beginning – what parenting skills did you admire in your childhood? Write them down and indicate how you would improve on them. Also write down what you experienced as poor parenting,” she explains. You could also take it a step further by comparing notes with your partner or spouse.
“Attend parenting seminars and join chat and support groups, but avoid extreme parenting advice,” she cautions. It’s also a good idea to approach a person you admire to ask for help and advice.
Gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Tom Mokaya recommends a support partner to discuss issues with. “Good examples include someone who has had their own children, older relatives, and healthcare providers who you
can ask and receive advice from,” he says. Reading parenting books and attending antenatal classes will also make you feel more empowered.
Will I have a normal pregnancy?
Dr Mokaya says he often has to reassure his patients that “this depends on many factors, including age, medical conditions and genetic factors.” He adds that the occurrence of foetal abnormalities is, generally, low.
Dr du Plessis agrees that fears regarding complications and a possible miscarriage are common. “Those who have experienced previous pregnancy complications may be more concerned about the outcome of the current pregnancy and risk of developing a complication,” she adds. This emphasises the need for early antenatal check-ups to address any developmental issues. Dr du Plessis acknowledges that it is difficult to be excited about a pregnancy when you’ve experienced a loss. “Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that something won’t go wrong, so try to stay focused on the positive and force yourself to talk about the pregnancy in a positive manner,” she advises.
Should I be taking supplements?
“Folate and iron are generally advised in pregnancy. It’s important to discuss what medication you are taking when planning to conceive, or visit the doctor as soon as you find out you’re pregnant,” advises Dr Mokaya. Also, if you’re not sure whether you should continue the medication you were taking before falling pregnant, consult your healthcare provider.
My partner is distant and unsupportive, how do I cope with this?
Remember that communication is key, especially when you need support. Dr du Plessis explains that it could be difficult for your partner to understand your emotions and attachment to your unborn child. “Tell him what you need and how he can assist. Things may change once the baby is born,” she says. If your partner is panicking because he feels unprepared, it’s commendable that he expresses his discomfort. “Antenatal classes are a great place for him to be more hands-on,” she adds.
Can I still be intimate with my partner?
It’s important to stay connected to your partner during pregnancy. If you’re concerned that being sexually active could hurt your baby, Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Professor Elna McIntosh puts your mind at ease. “From your first trimester to your last, pregnancy and sex are a healthy combination, assuming that yours, like most, is complication-free.” Gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Peter Koll agrees, “The foetus is safely contained within a fluid-filled amniotic sac that, essentially, acts as a shock absorber. The entrance to your cervix is sealed by a mucus plug during your pregnancy, so, in the absence of complications, there isn’t much to worry about.”
I fear giving birth − I’ve heard so many horror stories.
Fears around labour and delivery may be invoked by some women’s past experiences or information shared by friends or relatives. Dr Mokaya advises that most of these fears are addressed during your antenatal visits where the birthing process will be explained in detail by your healthcare provider.
The experts agree that a detailed birth plan should be in place. “Write down what you hope for, and work through each issue with a trained professional,” says Dr du Plessis.
I’m not excited about this pregnancy…
According to Dr du Plessis, it’s not uncommon for pregnant women to suffer from prenatal depression and advises seeking the help of a trained therapist. Dr Mokaya notes that first-time moms may worry more, because they are experiencing pregnancy changes for the first time.
I’m not naturally maternal…
The transition to motherhood doesn’t always happen automatically, so don’t be too hard on yourself. “Learning to love a new baby takes time, and the more you work with your baby, the easier it will become,” explains Dr du Plessis. Worrying excessively takes away from the joy of pregnancy, and anxiety is generally caused by being fixated on the past and future. Striving to be present will allow you to enjoy this amazing journey.
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.