Suzanne Kerns has just finished her first trimester, a time she’d always thought would be radiantly happy. Instead, the 28-year-old psychology student from Columbia, S.C., finds herself feeling sick, tired and blue. “I wanted so much for it to be a happy time but it’s not,” she says. What has made it particularly difficult, Kerns adds, is other people’s enthusiasm. “Friends get so excited when you tell them the news, but you don’t respond the same way—after all, you have just finished throwing up,” she says. “It produces so much guilt.”
This conflict between joyful expectation and the unpleasant day-to-day symptoms of pregnancy is common, says Elizabeth Robbins, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Birmingham, Mich. “A woman may have been active before pregnancy, and now she has nausea and discomfort. And to top it off, she’s had to change her lifestyle,” she says. “It’s hard for her to talk about it because she feels guilty for having negative thoughts.”
Women who are pregnant for the first time are especially vulnerable to such inner turmoil because they have no point of reference, says Terry Patterson, Ed.D., a family psychologist and professor of counseling psychology at the University of San Francisco. “It’s common to wonder: Am I the only one this is happening to?”
Find people who will listen>Robbins advises establishing a network of support early in pregnancy that consists of family, friends and other pregnant women with whom information, advice and feelings can be safely shared. It can take some effort to find the right people to share your feelings with, but it’s important to persist. “It might take more than one attempt to find a friend or doctor who won’t minimize your concerns, but don’t give up,” Robbins says. “Having another person acknowledge that it’s a difficult time and understand your feelings can be a real lifesaver.”
Margret Della Maggiore knows this firsthand. The 30-year-old former dancer from San Jose, Calif., had just moved to be closer to her husband’s family when she found out she was pregnant. Suffering from morning sickness and chronic fatigue, Della Maggiore didn’t know her in-laws well enough to talk to them about her discomfort, and she had no friends nearby. She tried talking to her husband but says his response was that she was being lazy.
By her third trimester, when she had grown far beyond her former size- body and was suffering from insomnia and a severe itchy rash that covered her body, Della Maggiore began to resent her baby, and she blamed her husband for getting her pregnant. Looking back, she remembers those nine months as “the absolute worst time of my life.”
Della Maggiore decided she needed help. She began seeing a therapist, and her physician put her on anti-anxiety medication. “If it wasn’t for all that, I’m sure I would have had the baby prematurely,” she says.