Having a baby can be one of the most rewarding and enriching experience life has to offer. It can deepen our sense of purpose, give us new meaning, great happiness and open our hearts more fully to love. At the same time it can be stressful, bringing many underlying issues to the fore.
When you discover you are pregnant, a certain degree of stress and anxiety is natural and common. Having a baby is a significant life transition, affecting self-image, purpose in life, working patterns, finances, and relationships.
On a psychological level all sorts of deep-rooted fears ranging from childhood issues to relationship with your own mother and replicating familial patterns can emerge. Pregnancy may also be a time of introspection, where you consider what type of parent you want to be and how your current life situation will change to involve your new baby.
On a physiological level hormonal changes can heighten anxious thoughts and feelings, which may at times become quite overwhelming. Your body, mind, and emotions go through a lot of changes in pregnancy and after delivery. Unplanned pregnancies can create more intense strain in all these areas and extra support is important.
For all pregnancies, planned or otherwise, cultivating external support networks as well as developing your inner resources will prove invaluable during the time of pregnancy, birth, and post-partum.
An interactive field between mother and baby
In addition to the psychological effects on mothers-to-be, early developmental psychology and modern neuroscience show that the foetus is affected by the mind-state and emotions of the mother and her environment.
There is an interactive field between mother and infant in which energetic, emotional, instinctual, intuitive, and spiritual transmission occur as a field experience. Initially this ‘holding field’ is through the umbilical cord, however there are environmental factors that affect this field, such as the mother’s environment and her support community – the father, her family, friends, her society, culture, and set of circumstances the mother finds herself in during pregnancy.
For many expectant mums here in Hong Kong, these environmental and social factors have an emotional impact . Away from your original culture, community, family, and support network, it can leave expectant mothers feeling more vulnerable, perhaps even with a sense of isolation. The need for supportive networks is natural and understandable at this time.
The holding field during pregnancy
So the holding field – that is of mother and the environment she finds herself in – is of great importance. In the womb (and the early years) the infant is extremely vulnerable and absolutely dependent. A safe, empathic relational field between mother is important for healthy personality development; a coherent sense of being, fluid, stable, self-system.
After the baby is born this continues and the way that the little one learns is mostly through empathic mirroring of the other (be that the mother or the primary care-giver). Simply put, if mum lacks a sense of inner stability and support outside of herself, she will not be as available to her baby disrupting the empathetic maternal holding field. If she is constantly struggling with worries and overwhelming emotions, then the baby may experience her as distant or emotionally unavailable. If these impingements in the maternal holding field are continually experienced then the little one develops defensive and protective states as a natural instinct to survive.
To reassure mothers-to-be, this does not mean that negative or powerful emotions cannot be experienced, or that happy, peaceful mind states are continually required. It is quite normal for new mothers to feel down at a time when they are expected to feel joy about having a baby. It is more about the holding field during and post-pregnancy, being ‘good enough’: allowing negative emotions such as fear, hurt, anger or jealousy to be experienced in a safe way, which is far healthier than continually denying or repressing them.
This is where a skilled counsellor can give you a safe place to experience and relieve strong emotions or worries during pregnancy and/or post-partum. Moreover, a skilled counsellor can help ease the life transition and support expectant mothers to cultivate their inner resources at different stages of pregnancy: child-bearing, childbirth, and post-partum. On a very practical level, relaxation techniques and breathing practices can help with lack of sleep; supporting birth, and even breast-feeding.
At IMI we help mothers-to-be identify and build positive support networks and the capacity to cope with the stress that comes with being a new mother – leaving you more space to enjoy your newborn while regaining your confidence and feeling normal – like ‘you’ again.
Carole offers one to one Core Process Psychotherapy sessions, which is a form of psychotherapy that integrates early developmental psychology with mindfulness and awareness practice.