I spent some time in my last post processing my own experience of the first trimester (in a totally brutally honest manner) and also offering some information as to why those first few months are so hard.
As a reminder, not everyone's pregnancy is difficult in the same ways. Therefore these posts may not resonate with everyone. However, if you are looking to become pregnant or have just found out you are, I think it's still a valuable read. Preparation and expectations lay the foundation for how we emotionally experience seasons of life: and health in these areas can set you up for mental health success in pregnancy.
I'd like to offer some support and encouragement to you by sharing some insights into coping and improving some of these stressors. These are a compilation of coping skills I have learned about as a psychologist, believe in as a practitioner, and/or utilized in my own pregnancy. My most sincere hope is that it can somehow provide you support on those tough days.
1. Dear friend, meet my bestie: Breathing Exercises
One of the most powerful psychological tools I can offer you is the calming and centering breath work. This breathing technique can be particularly helpful for anxiety, coping with morning sickness, and insomnia.
For me, rumination and worry late at night became a huge issue, as did nightly disturbing dreams. Using my deep breathing techniques really helped to calm my mind and fall asleep.
Rhythmic breathing can be done a million ways but here's an EASY way to get your psychologist-approved breathing on, without a $200 therapy session :)
1. get into a comfortable position, either lying down or sitting.
2. imagine you're in a calming beautiful place. where is that place for you? I allow my mind to take a visit to the Florida beach, and I listen to the waves crashing in, and imagine the warmth of the sun on my skin and gulls in the air. be in this place for a few moments.
3. begin to inhale a slow long breath through your nose, filling up your lungs, and hold this breath for a few counts. 1 - 2 - 3...
4. then exhale slowlyyyy, allowing the air to leave you gently through your mouth. purse your lips for this exhale, almost like you're exhaling through a straw.
5. pause for a few moments, and then start again. as you do this a few cycles, you may notice your breathing becoming easier, more rhythmic, and almost wave-like.
There are many online resources out there for breathing techniques. I don't like them all, and not all of them are science-based, but here are some good resources. Use these psychologist-developed audios as a guide to your daily breathing sessions.
Why is breathing so good for you? The simple act of breathing has a huge influence on your entire body. It regulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. That's fancy for - it can regulate your perspiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. As you engage in breathing, you calm stress and worry by reducing blood pressure, slowing heart rate, and calming the nervous system.
A note on breathing skills:
As a Catholic Christian, I do see problematic themes in certain meditation and mindfulness skills. Emptying our minds or separating from ourselves isn't edifying spiritually, nor does it bring us closer to Christ. Therefore, I intentionally recommend breath work because it doesn't have those spiritual connotations and can be safely done within the context of our faith.
Seek out these skills prayerfully and cautiously.
2. You deserve professional support.
Mental health issues commonly change or worsen during pregnancy (yes, even very early on!) I cannot stress enough the importance of having a strong Christian counselor or psychologist (and in many cases, a psychiatrist too) whom you trust in your corner. Whether you struggle with depression, anxiety, panic, bipolar, or eating disorders, you need your team to support you through the process.
If you haven't seen your psychiatrist or counselor in a while, make a booster session and address any issues that may be emerging through the pregnancy process. You'll want them in your corner in the event of worsening symptoms or increased stressors.
3. Turn to the Lord, over and over and over.
He is so good and His mercy is great. During my early pregnancy, the more I experienced fears and complications, the more I felt the tangible love and comfort of Jesus. I clung to it for dear life because I realized that my baby's life depended totally on Him. He is the Sustainer. Pregnancy has given me a totally new understanding about how fragile and miraculous life is.
During the special time of pregnancy, my prayer life changed. I hope you give yourself some grace if your morning sickness replaces your time in the word. Here are some cognitively-oriented prayers you can do at home, even if you're laid up in bed.
Start a special novena for your pregnancy and baby
Offer up in prayer your physical pains and suffering for your baby, or for another loved one
Don't forget to pray for yourself
Embrace rote prayer, such as the rosary or divine mercy chaplet/ the divine mercy chaplet gave me so much comfort in those tough weeks of illness.
Ask for prayers! Ask your friends or family to pray for you, even if that means they find out about your pregnancy in the early stages. We would never want to go through birth alone, so why do we allow a third of our pregnancy to be spent alone, without spiritual and emotional support from our community?
4. Watch your thinking and keep an eye on negative-self talk.
As mentioned, pregnancy can land you in the think of new worries pretty quickly. It's an absolute fact that what we think about and spend time pondering affects our mental health and can cause emotional symptoms.
You know yourself. Do you tend to be an anxious person? Do you tend to worry and micro-analyze, finding it difficult to turn off your mind? If this describes you, I sincerely recommend that you spend some time processing your pregnancy without diving headfirst into books and internet articles about having a baby, childbirth, newborn essentials, and youtubing women laboring casually in a stream of water (yeah, take it from me, don't do that last one).
Let your body start to experience some of the newness of pregnancy without microanalyzing and scanning yourself for the symptoms you read about. Be you, now, here, without the extra worries and junk. It's a beautiful gift to give yourself and you deserve it. You have so many months to prepare for baby.
Especially if you have prior issues with body image or eating disorders, you may experience a lot of negative self-talk about your body's changes. It's easy to allow the Enemy to tell you that your bloated tummy or rounding thighs are "just not okay." This type of thinking just has to be rejected, in our hearts, our minds, and our souls. If you find these thoughts at the forefront of you mind or affecting your daily life, please, I encourage you to find a solid counselor who can help you untangle these thoughts from your mind.
Here are some ways to rejuvenate your self-talk and cognitive process and bolster positive thinking. Setting a foundation for positive and affirming thinking can propel you towards a mental wellbeing in pregnancy and beyond.
Journal your fears
Write affirmations to yourself and post them throughout your home
Jot down your prayers for emotional healing
Read the psalms, which are incredibly comforting
Keep a list of things you are grateful for and add to this list each day
Limit your online surfing about physical symptoms or pregnancy to 30 minutes a day
Talk to women about their pregnancies: it's so comforting to know you're not alone!
5. Seek the Sacraments.
There was a period during pregnancy during which my husband and I were extremely worried about miscarriage. I experienced spotting and bleeding routinely and had to have close follow up by my OB. This, naturally, weighed heavy on my mind. It occurred to me to discuss this with our priest and ask for a special blessing. It turns out, that I got to experience the incredible grace of the Anointing of the Sick, a sacrament I had never received up until this point. For those non Catholic gals out there, this Sacrament has been evidenced in Scripture, both in the gospel of Mark (6:13) and James (5:14-16).
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"1511 The Church believes and confesses that among the seven sacraments there is one especially intended to strengthen those who are being tried by illness, the Anointing of the Sick:
This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed by Mark, but is recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James the apostle and brother of the Lord.
1512 From ancient times in the liturgical traditions of both East and West, we have testimonies to the practice of anointings of the sick with blessed oil."
The Sacraments are such a gifts and are incredibly powerful signs of God's grace here on earth. The Anointing of the Sick gave me such peace. To my amazement, it also instantly took away the intense pain of a migraine I was experiencing that day. I was filled with joy and an unexplainable peace.
If you are sick physically or experience emotional pain, the Anointing is a precious gift and it's available to you.
6. Self-Care. Self-Care. Self-Care.
Self-care is proven to decrease stress and improve mental health functioning. For whatever reason, many devoted Christian women have a hard time giving to themselves, even though they so readily give of themselves to others. I encourage you to give yourself the great gift of compassion and kindness; a taste of the lavish love that the heart of Jesus has for you.
Give yourself a little bit of time to do whatever it is your body and heart needs on a daily basis. Whether that is eating some donuts, taking a second bath for the day, popping a tylenol for that nagging headache (without guilt!), self care is so key to getting through these tough months.
After a few days of not eating and vomiting frequently in my second month, I realized I had to talk to my OB about medications for nausea. I had tried it all: ginger, nausea acupressure bands, saltines, pregnancy teas...My OB explained that if I didn't take care of myself, I could potentially deprive my baby of nutrients or wind up hospitalized with dehydration. Taking prescription Zofran was a big decision - I experienced a lot of guilt since it was a prescription. However, I was informed that the studies have shown it doesn't harm the baby, and that it was something that I could do for myself.
To this day (week 16), I am SO grateful for an OB who encouraged me to take the care offered to me without guilt. I still take Zofran often and now feel so close to Zofran that I plan to send Zofran and her family a Christmas card. #notanadvertisement I promise.
Another quick self-care story I know my hubby will never forget: when he walked into our bathroom at 3 PM on a Monday and found me in a bubble bath polishing off a king size Twix bar - his absolute favorite candy. Two for me, none for you. No guilt. See picture below of my little blossoming family.
Do what you need - you're growing a person.
If you're not one to self-care readily, schedule and plan little moments that you can offer to yourself. Give yourself the gift of space to rest or do something luxurious such as take that bubble bath and eat that Twix :) Whatever works for you, give yourself that precious moment of psychologist-approved self-care.
Prayers and love sisters in Christ, Rose
Disclaimer: The above information is educational in nature and not intended as medical advice or meant to replace medical advice and care.
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