Do it for the baby> A newfound selflessness can inspire a pregnant woman to take needed action on behalf of a baby—something she wouldn’t normally do for herself. Women, Fossel says, are programmed to put others ahead of themselves. This can be especially true for those with low self-esteem. Such a woman may find the strength to get out of an abusive relationship only when a baby enters the picture.
A pregnant woman or new mother also may seek assistance she previously shunned—getting help for longstanding psychological problems such as depression or eating disorders, for example. “Such women know they need to [get help] for the sake of their children,” says Carol McRann, an admissions coordinator at Remuda Ranch, a Wickenburg, Ariz., treatment center for women who have eating disorders.
Make healthy choices for the future> Pregnancy can be a rite of passage for many women. “They move from girlhood, fun-loving and present-thinking, to womanhood, matriarchal and future-thinking,” says George B. Elvove, M.D., a family-care physician in the Chicago area who has been delivering babies since 1977.
It was this new role that inspired Sue Bertoldo of Pueblo West, Colo., to adopt healthier habits. “In college I lived on Diet Coke Big Gulps,” says the mother of seven. “But I wanted to have a big family and had to stay healthy in order to give that goal the best chance.” Now she eats well and works out; good muscle tone, she believes, is essential to recovering from pregnancy and caring for her children.
Take advantage of the hormonal changes> It may be impossible to prove scientifically, but pregnancy can lead to greater introspection, says Bethany Hays, M.D., an OB-GYN at True North, a health center in Falmouth, Maine. Hormonal changes can trigger mothering instincts, which have a powerful influence on a woman if she chooses to act on them. What’s more, elevated estrogen levels boost serotonin, which can enhance mood, Hays says. McRann points out that anorexia and bulimia sometimes go into remission during pregnancy, though they typically resurface afterward.
Rise to the challenge> The process of being pregnant and giving birth can build strength by pushing women to meet greater challenges than they ever thought possible. “In getting through pregnancy and labor, many women see themselves as competent, healthy and strong for the first time,” Hays says. The opportunity is there; if a woman chooses to seize it, pregnancy can be a uniquely powerful chance to change her life and fulfill her potential.