Becoming A Mother

In the third trimester, dreams of large animals are common. They represent the power you'll need during labor.


In our previous issue, the first installment of this three-part series took you on a head-to-toe tour of the pregnant woman’s body. Here, we provide insight into your evolving emotions, relationships and identity. If you’re wondering why you’re thinking and feeling the way you are, you’ll find all the mysteries revealed here.

Out With Your Old Life, in With the New

When you’re pregnant, you’re apt to feel happy, sad, hopeful, sentimental, depressed, joyful, guilty, excited, resentful, ecstatic, doubtful, confused, confident, anxious, blissful and fearful. All within the space of about five minutes.

It’s perfectly normal for a pregnant woman to be on cloud nine one minute and in tears the next. “You move from one feeling to the other very rapidly as your life changes irrevocably,” says Diana Dell, M.D., director of the maternal wellness program at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and assistant professor in the departments of psychiatry and OB-GYN.

Indeed, a lot happens between that positive pregnancy test and the birth of a child. “Numerous profound and life-changing transformations go on during pregnancy,” says Ellen Sue Stern, author of Expecting Change: There’s More to Pregnancy Than Having a Baby (Meadowbrook Press, May 2004). The relationship between you and your husband or partner can change as your priorities shift and you make space in your lives for another person. You also begin the emotional separation from your free-and-easy childless life, your body changes drastically, you face career decisions, and you may wonder about what kinds of parents you and your partner will be.

Shifting priorities can cause stress. A woman who likes to travel, dine at upscale restaurants and devote long hours to her career may begin to realize that where and how she spends her time and money will have to change after she gives birth.

When Depression Darkens A Pregnancy

We often think of pregnancy as a joyful time, but for some women it is just the opposite. “Pregnancy doesn’t protect against depression,” says psychiatrist and obstetrician Diana Dell, M.D.

In fact, as many as 20 percent of pregnant women experience symptoms of depression. But few get help for it, according to a study conducted at the University of Michigan Depression Center in Ann Arbor. “Doctors used to think of pregnancy as a honeymoon away from the risk of depression, but this is turning out to be a myth,” says study co-author Sheila Marcus, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the university’s medical school. Prenatal depression is more likely to strike if a woman has a history of depression, if her pregnancy was unplanned or mistimed, if she is having marital problems or if she is suffering from medical complications. “We see a lot of women who are on bed rest

It’s crucial that pregnant women who are suffering from depression be treated: Research shows that women who are depressed during pregnancy have a higher risk of postpartum depression. Furthermore, their babies aren’t as healthy as other infants. Depression can be treated with psychotherapy, medication or both. Dell points out that certain antidepressant drugs appear safe to use during pregnancy. Some mood stabilizers are associated with birth defects, however, so be sure to tell your doctor that you’re pregnant before she prescribes any medication.

The Many Moods Of Pregnancy

If you find yourself bursting into tears—of sadness or joy—at the least provocation, blame hormonal changes. These are believed to contribute to the emotional ups and downs that occur during pregnancy, says Charles J. Lockwood, M.D., chairman of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. For example, levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which is known to induce anxiety, increase during pregnancy, peaking at the time of delivery. Progesterone levels also rise, and this hormone affects different women in different ways. For some, it behaves as a sedative (which would explain why some pregnant women feel so sleepy). In others, it promotes anxiety and depression.

Of course, the emotions of pregnancy aren’t all negative. “Some women report increased feelings of calm, optimism and enthusiasm,” psychologist Chambliss says. Here are the primary emotions you’re likely to feel while you’re expecting:

Joy/Excitement If you planned the pregnancy, your happiness probably began the moment your pregnancy test read positive. For 80 percent of women, pregnancy is, overall, a time of joy, positive anticipation and excitement.

Sadness/Regret It’s not unusual to experience a kind of mourning period as you think about the life you are leaving behind. Pregnancy also may stir up feelings of sadness about a parent, sibling or friend who has died and thus can’t share your pregnancy or meet your baby.

Stress This can be a particularly stressful time for many reasons: Your pregnancy was unplanned; you’re facing financial, work or marital problems; you don’t feel well; you’re suffering pregnancy complications; you have a history of miscarriage or premature birth.

Anxiety/Worry It’s normal to feel anxious about your impending new responsibility. You also may feel anxious about your job as you decide whether you’ll return to work after your baby is born. Likewise, if you decide to stay home, you may worry about losing an income and interrupting your career.

A Family Is Born Every expecting couple worries about whether labor will go smoothly, their baby will be healthy and if they will be good parents. Especially if it’s kept bottled up inside, this anxiety can express itself as bickering or avoidance.

A couple also may wonder how their relationship will change when they become parents. “Both people may be thrilled about having a baby, but there’s also a low-level concern that they will have to share the love,” Chambliss says. The woman may wonder if her partner will help out and provide emotional support for her and if he’s really willing to do what’s necessary to be a good father. And the man is most likely to worry about whether his partner will be so focused on the baby that she’ll pay much less attention to him. The solution is open communication about these fears.

Sex Could Get Sexier Both partners’ desire levels can change dramatically during pregnancy. Some women withdraw sexually, either because of their growing size or because their libido declines. Others feel aroused in an entirely new way, perhaps because they are enjoying the freedom of intercourse without birth control or because pregnancy is teaching them to enjoy their bodies in a new way. A man may find his wife sexier than ever, or he may be afraid to make love to her for fear he’ll hurt the child. He also may fail to share his wife’s excitement about the baby. “For a lot of men, it doesn’t seem real until there is an actual baby,” Expecting Change author Stern explains.

Your Parents Will Become Grandparents Expecting a baby can alter a pregnant woman’s relationship with her own parents. “For some women, it’s a wonderful opportunity to develop new family relationships, especially with their mothers,” Stern says. If you have had problems with your parents, pregnancy can facilitate healing, though experts warn that you shouldn’t necessarily expect a reconciliation. Your pregnancy also can invite conflict, particularly if your mother is overly involved and offers endless unsolicited advice. “Pregnant women don’t want their mother to co-opt the experience,” Stern says.

Things May Change At Work Most of your co-workers probably will be supportive, but some may feel that you’re not doing your fair share because you are tired, aren’t feeling well or are missing work because of doctors’ appointments. They also may be concerned that more tasks will fall on them during your maternity leave. If you sense that your co-workers are feeling shortchanged, try to make amends by thanking them for doing extra work and offering to help them out when you do feel rested and energetic.

Your Friendships Will Evolve Relationships with your friends—particularly childless ones—may be put to the test during pregnancy. You may not have much in common anymore, particularly if your friends want to go out and party and you’d rather curl up at home and read parenting books. If this happens, it’s important to sit down and explain to your friends that they’re still important to you, but that at least for a while your priorities are changing.

At the same time, start building a support group of friends with young children. If you can’t find such people, start your own group by hanging a poster in your doctor’s waiting room or a local community center. Or introduce yourself to the people in your childbirth-preparation class. After you have your baby, you’re going to want to have friends with babies the same age so you can share experiences, discuss concerns and trade advice about motherhood and babies.

Dealing with your Changing Body

Body-image issues tend to surface during pregnancy, as women in our society grow up surrounded by images that endorse thinness. Even if a woman recognizes that it’s healthy and necessary during pregnancy, gaining weight can cause distress. “Women feel out of control when their body changes,” says Catherine Chambliss, Ph.D., chairwoman of the psychology department at Ursinus College in the Philadelphia area. “It’s hard to set aside all of that earlier programming.”

On the other hand, some expectant moms learn to accept and even love their bodies like never before. In fact, says Expecting Change author Stern, “Some women feel a real heightened sexuality during pregnancy.”

If you’re worried or apprehensive about anything related to pregnancy or impending parenthood, be sure to talk with someone—your spouse, your mom or a good friend. If you think you may need some extra help, discuss your concerns with your doctor or midwife or with a therapist.