Coping with unknowns: reclaiming control whilst pregnant in a pandemic
Rosie is a lifestyle blogger who has written about her experience of pregnancy through the coronavirus pandemic. She talks about allowing yourself to feel a sense of being 'robbed' and to treat yourself kindly whilst trying to regain a sense of control.
I am currently 39 weeks’ pregnant with my first baby. One thing I found myself reflecting on in the early stages, was the extent to which you surrender all control and are forced to learn to live with so much uncertainty. We learned this the hard way when we went for our 12-week scan. We thought that what would follow would be a carefully curated pregnancy announcement for Instagram, and instead we were met with several months of tests and extra scans.
For someone who usually likes to retain tight control over even the smallest of life changes, this has been a real adjustment for me, and I know that many others feel the same. Pregnancy really is a lesson in ‘taking our hands off the wheel’ and accepting that very little can be predicted or planned. Although of course, I could never have known quite how unpredictable this pregnancy would end up being.
We spend so much of our pregnancies pondering unknowns ("Will we have a boy or a girl? What might they be like? How will we parent?" It’s therefore natural that we find ourselves creating moments that can be noted in the diary, occasions that we can visualise in our minds (and through countless Pinterest boards). When we finally got the ‘all-clear’ that our baby was healthy at our 20 week scan, after several months of tests, I allowed myself to constantly daydream about these events. I filled my diary with things to look forward to, my baby shower, a ‘babymoon’ a few weeks before the due date, an afternoon tea with my Mum to celebrate the first day of maternity leave. That same leave being punctuated by hair and nail appointments, shopping trips to Mamas and Papas, NCT classes and a course of prenatal yoga.
Of course there are also the memories we imagine will be created that can’t be noted on a calendar. I imagined my excited Mum feeling the baby kick for the first time, the goodbyes and well wishes of colleagues on my last day at work, my partner and I filling the trolley in the supermarket with nappies and wipes, having friends visit with frozen casseroles and cuddles for the baby when she arrived. Pregnancy is one of those rare periods in your life where everyone can share in your joy and happiness - where people you meet will comment on your ‘lovely bump’ and ask with genuine care and interest how you are doing. These parts of the pregnancy journey feel somehow important; part of the celebration of the enormous (and magical) task you are undertaking as you move through those nine months and carry around all of that uncertainty and excitement.
Like so many of us, I now accept that these events I planned for will not happen. The baby shower banners remain tucked away in the drawer, the baby-moon has been cancelled, baby clothes and accessories arrive via the postman, and my yoga classes are viewed through a laptop screen. The word that I hear so many expectant mothers use is ‘robbed’ - we did not expect to spend our pregnancies (and for some of us, the post-natal period) shut away at home, our calendars empty of plans, with one day blurring into another. It feels like we are missing out on something special, perhaps something we have dreamed of or imagined for some time.
If you feel sad, or anxious, or afraid, find those people who will tell you that they understand - people who reassure you that these feelings are valid. This is a time to carefully curate the group of people who you trust to share your experiences with, and to notice who makes you feel supported and who doesn’t.
Along with the loss of these moments is of course the anxiety around the birth itself. Whilst we might at times feel like missing out on a baby shower or a shopping trip is somehow inconsequential (which I don’t believe it is), it’s certainly no small thing to be worrying about having to give birth without a birth partner, or having to give up on the idea of a home birth, or a water birth, if these were preferences we were hoping for.
The size and shape of this anxiety will vary from person to person (and for me, from day to day). It would have seemed unthinkable several months ago, to lie awake worrying about becoming ill and having to give birth alone in a segregated area of a hospital, surrounded by nurses in masks and PPE. It is already build within us to protect these precious babies growing inside of us, and to keep ourselves safe and well in order to do so. Yet, we are living in a period of time where it is almost impossible to feel safe. That feeling of loss of control presents itself, not as a question of when the baby might arrive, but an accepting that ourselves or our partners might still have to go out to work, or perhaps a question of who will look after our other children when the baby arrives. These are incredibly difficult things to have to grapple with at an already stressful time.
I think perhaps the most important thing is to recognise that these feelings are entirely valid and understandable. Whilst well-meaning individuals might comment that we are so lucky to be pregnant (which of course we know) and that none of these things really matter - they do matter. They all matter - from those things that might seem superficial (the small things nearly always feel like the significant things, in my experience) to the things that keep us awake at night, wracked with worry. We need to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion at this time, and seek out friends and family who will do the same. If you feel sad, or anxious, or afraid, find those people who will tell you that they understand - people who reassure you that these feelings are valid. This is a time to carefully curate the group of people who you trust to share your experiences with, and to notice who makes you feel supported and who doesn’t.
When your mind starts to run away with itself with all of the things that might be different or that you can’t depend on, come back to this list and focus on the things you can do to prepare.
Finally, if, like me, you are struggling with the ‘loss of control’ presented by this situation, and finding the changing circumstances very difficult, try and engage with and prioritise the things you can control. You can prepare for your birth with calming music and affirmations and pack your headphones in your hospital bag. You can pack a blanket or muslin spritzed with your favourite scent or essential oil. You can write a birth plan that has a plan A, B, C, D and E! You can find groups online offering support. You can build yourself the perfect ‘nest’ for when the baby comes home. You can practice breathing techniques. You can have all of your favourite foods stocked up in the freezer. There are so many things that we can rely on now, and so many options that are still available. When your mind starts to run away with itself with all of the things that might be different or that you can’t depend on, come back to this list and focus on the things you can do to prepare.
This is a new experience for all of us, and none of us know the right way to approach it. Be kind to yourself, go with the flow, and allow all of the emotions to come and go. Your baby is already so lucky to have you.
Follow @arosieoutlook on Instagram.
We have more information about things you can do to manage anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.