‘It’s not always an easy journey but there is something quite astonishing in the reserves that we can find in times of great challenge and great joy’
It was amazing to speak to Dr Emma Svanberg aka Mumologist on Instagram Live recently. We talked anxiety, emotions and different responses we may be experiencing, through pregnancy but especially in pregnancy during COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s some of the highlights from Emma’s compassionate insights about our emotional journey at this time:
We bring our whole selves in to pregnancy and parenthood
Pregnancy, birth and parenthood are times of great change and it’s natural to experience some anxiety. However, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic we’re hearing more from parents and birthing people about the anxiety they are experiencing. We’re also hearing from others who are feeling a numbness about the situation. As we begin our conversation, Emma reminds us that we are all individuals and we have different responses and coping mechanisms. She argues that the literature around pregnancy and parenting has a tendency to promote ‘sameness’. The idea that our bodies respond in the same way as others when we’re pregnant and that our babies should behave in the same way as others. Somehow, in pregnancy our individuality disappears. She highlights the importance of recognising that we bring our whole selves into pregnancy and parenthood: our individualised personality traits, upbringing and previously successful coping strategies.
We can be more vulnerable to outside pressures and expectations
Emma explains how during pregnancy and parenthood we can be more vulnerable to the pressures placed on us by external sources. Be that friends, family, social media, books and even our midwives. This can lead us to question, ‘Is this ok?’ ‘Am I doing it right?’ and can lead to more anxiety. A useful tool when you find yourself feeling anxious in this way is to stop and ask yourself ‘How does it feel for me?’ We can so often lose our sense of self but it’s important to remember what is right for us. It can be helpful to consider our own personal values when we explore this. She also encourages us to ‘try things out’. During a time of great change and identity transitions it’s ok to sit with different ideas and try different techniques to find something that works. It’s often not a simple black and white choice.
Fight, Flight or Freeze – recognising our response and supporting ourselves
In explaining our varying responses to anxiety Emma talks more about the Fight, Flight and Freeze responses. Some may experience anger and frustration (fight) others may feel panicked or scared (flight) and for some they may turn off and shutdown (freeze). Our responses can often be a place we ‘return to’ based on our previous experiences and individual circumstances.
Emma suggests exploring some simple techniques for supporting ourselves during times of anxiety and transitioning ourselves out of a ‘stress response’ to a state of ‘rest and digest’.
Breathing exercises, grounding practices that focus on the sensations in our bodies and mindful observation can all be helpful in reducing anxiety and telling our brains that ‘we are safe’. Our online course offers great tools that you can use throughout pregnancy, in any birth situation and after birth too to help you to regulate your stress.
However, it can be scary to look inwards to explore our feelings. Particularly if we’re in the ‘freeze’ response. This is more relevant if we don’t feel that we have a safe space to do this or that we don’t have people around us who can help to contain those feelings for us. She suggests looking for that safe environment as a first step and that sometimes it can be found in unexpected places. Perhaps it’s not with your partner but with a friend, an antenatal group or with a psychologist.
Navigating change and creating new certainties
When dealing with change (perhaps in your birth plan and choices) Emma reminds us that we often crave certainties. It’s ok to feel a sense of grief for what we wanted or to feel angry or upset. However, she reminds us that when things are changing that make us feel uncertain we can often look for new certainties and focus on those things which are within our control. Finding new certainties can be a useful exercise for coping with change
Honouring your experience
To acknowledge and honour our pregnancy and parenthood journey in these extraordinary times Emma suggests considering journaling, video diaries, chatting to other pregnant people and reading the birth stories of others. She reminds us that that despite the additional challenges that exist at this time, birth is still happening and babies are being born – there is great joy in that.
Want the summary? Here’s the lowdown and watch Emma on the video
- We’re individuals and we bring our whole selves in to pregnancy and parenthood. We respond differently to all situations.
- Pregnancy and early parenthood is naturally a time of change and anxiety. We can be more vulnerable to outside pressures and expectations.
- The key thing is to work out what feels right for you. Ask yourself: ‘How is it for me?’ ‘How do I feel about that?’, ‘Does that work for me?’
- Fight, flight or freeze responses are natural anxiety responses. There are tools we can use to support ourselves.
- Seek space where you can access your inner thoughts and feelings safely
- We crave certainty and it’s ok to feel angry or sad when things change. We can however create new certainties for and use these to support ourselves.
- Honour your experience. Birth Still Happens. Consider ways to capture your experience and remember the exceptional and unique nature of your pregnancy, birth and early parenthood journey.
Thank you Emma!
Emma is a Clinical Psychologist who specialises in the perinatal period; the time during pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. She is the co-founder of Make Birth Better and she also runs The Village, a parenting community on Facebook.
We are big fans of Emma’s work so please check it out. Emotional safety and support is a important factor in your journey and we want to help you. Join our Facebook group and see our online resources plus let us know in the comments, how have you felt during pregnancy and COVID – anxious, numb, easier…?