by Stephanie Greunke, R.D
Imagine: You’re in the bathroom, anxiously standing next to a cheap, plastic stick. You’re waiting to find out if your life is about to completely change. Whether you’re looking for a double line; a plus sign; the actual word “pregnant;” or maybe one of each, those two minutes feel like the longest minutes of your life.
After checking your watch (for the fiftieth time) to see if enough time has past, you finally allow yourself to peek at the results. And … YOU’RE PREGNANT! Just as fast as your brain gets the message that you’re pregnant, your mind goes a million directions. You may feel ecstatic because you’ve been dreaming of this moment for months or years. You may feel nervous because you have no idea what this means for your life, your career, or your relationship. Or, you may feel completely scared and deny that this is really happening. You promptly run to the store to buy eight more tests.
My Personal First Trimester Experiences
This last part was my experience. During both of my pregnancies, I struggled a lot during the first trimester. The strange thing was that it wasn’t the physical symptoms of pregnancy I struggled with, it was the mentality. Something as magical as pregnancy, something that I should be completely head-over-heels excited about, became one of my biggest fears.
I was incredibly afraid that I would lose the baby. The fear of miscarriage or something happening to my baby overwhelmed me the entire first trimester of both of my pregnancies.
From talking with moms across the country, I know that I’m not alone in my first trimester fears and struggles. First time moms, second time moms, moms that have had a pregnancy loss(es), or have supported friends and family with pregnancy loss all understand that the first trimester can be a roller coaster of emotions. You’re excited about your expanding family one minute and in tears about the thought of things not going as planned the next. While this is happening, you have endless guilt about not enjoying this special time in your life.
As a coping mechanism, you may even stop talking about the pregnancy. You may consciously or subconsciously deny that you’re pregnant. You rationalize that if you don’t let yourself get overly happy about your pregnancy, then it will be “easier” if something happens. This is a tough place to be!
First Trimester Mama: You’re Not Alone
Why do I even bring up this touchy subject? Because it needs to be said.
For some women, these feelings end once the first trimester is over and they finally feel comfortable to sharing their news with friends and family. For other women, these feelings continue until they receive confirmation of their baby’s gender and see the detailed ultrasound around 20 weeks. And some women may never feel completely secure until the baby is safely in their arms.
Can you relate to this? If so, please allow me to give you a big hug and let you know that it’s okay and you’re not alone. And while everyone has their own way of coping, I’ll happily share a few things that worked for me, in hopes you’ll find some reassurance and comfort:
Pick someone in your community that you can be honest with.. I worked with midwives during both of my pregnancies and they allowed me to cry on their shoulder while talking these feelings out. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about this with your healthcare provider, consider hiring a doula or opening up with another mom that you trust.
During my first pregnancy, I had a first-trimester ultrasound scan. I had hormonal imbalances prior to getting pregnant, so my provider wanted to get a better look at what was happening. During my second pregnancy, my provider didn’t push for a first-trimester ultrasound, so I opted out.
Looking back, the physical conformation and audible heartbeat helped me bond with my baby during the early stages of pregnancy. While the jury is still out on the safety of ultrasounds, the FDA recognizes that “fetal imaging can promote bonding between the parents and the developing fetus.”
If you wish to avoid fetal ultrasound imaging, but feel that a heartbeat would help you bond with your baby, you can consider having your practitioner use a Doppler fetal ultrasound heartbeat monitor. This will allow you to hear your baby’s heartbeat. While this option doesn’t allow you to actually see the baby, hearing the heartbeat is always reassuring. Just know that you may not be able to hear the heartbeat until late in the first trimester. Checking for a heartbeat too early could cause even more panic and anxiety, so hold off until your practitioner is certain they will find it.
Since I had a hard time feeling connected with my baby in the first trimester, I took extra steps to build that bond. I set aside time in my day to be present with my body and talk to my baby. This was even more important with my second pregnancy, since I was running around all day chasing my toddler.
A few things you could consider doing to connect with your growing baby include: prenatal yoga, taking a quiet walk, meditating (I like the app Headspace since they have a special section for pregnancy), or journaling.
Sounds obvious, right? But since you may be busy denying that this miracle is happening, you could be neglecting self-care.
For example, you could spend a few minutes figuring out how to incorporate pregnancy superfoods in your diet. Could you add a tablespoon of sauerkraut to your morning eggs or have a salmon salad for lunch? Maybe you could end your night with a warm cup of bone broth? If you’re dealing with morning sickness and healthier options are just not happening, make sure to check out my past blog for strategies on how to navigating morning sickness.
In the first trimester, you’re likely pretty tired, so instead of pushing through, allow yourself a few minutes to rest. After all, you deserve it! As a bonus, use this time to do some light yoga stretches or do a quick 10-minute meditation.
You may find acupuncture really helpful during the first trimester. Acupuncture can help relieve morning sickness, improve blood flow to the uterus and placenta, and promote emotional health and relaxation. Seeing an acupuncturist on a weekly basis required me to set time aside to connect with my body and baby. It also helped me feel a sense of control over my pregnancy, since I was actively doing something to support fetal development.
The more you start treating yourself like the goddess you are, the more you’ll start to believe it. (Plus,these are all fantastic things to do for your health anyway, so you can’t lose.)
This is especially true if this is your first baby. Being around other moms will help get you mentally prepared for what life will be like once baby comes. Also, being in the presence of silly, cuddly little ones will surely bring a smile to your face. If you are comfortable, this may be an opportunity to open up about how you’re feeling. You may be surprised to hear these other mamas confirm that your feelings are normal.
Something I struggled with early during my current pregnancy is comprehending how I can possibly love another baby as much as I love my first child. My mom friends flooded me with love, support, and similar stories of their experiences.They assured me that my heart will undoubtedly have room for two (or more!). It is refreshing to know that I’m not alone or a terrible person for feeling this way.
Of course, being around other moms may not work for everyone. The key is to know yourself and trust what you’re feeling. There is no right or wrong way to deal with these big feelings.
Find the Emotional Support that Works for You
Mama, I feel you, and I hope you find comfort and reassurance in my story and strategies. If you are really struggling, please reach out for the kind of support you need. There are incredible bereavement doulas, perinatal psychologists, midwives, OBs, friends, and family who truly want to support you with your pregnancy, no matter how you’re feeling. On my podcast, Real Food Mamas, my co-host and I have episodes in our archives about miscarriage and pregnancy loss, and the first trimester.
Even the Whole30 forum has a fantastic section for pregnant and breastfeeding mamas where you can ask questions and get advice from other women.
This month, our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby webinar is called “The Unspeakable Topics” because I want to reach out to mamas in our community and let them know that what they’re secretly feeling or are ashamed to admit is actually very normal.
Our monthly webinars are available to mamas who purchase our VIP package. This month we’ll discuss a variety of topics such as these first trimester fears, perinatal depression, fear of weight gain, and physical complaints (gas, constipation, skin issues). If you’d like to further explore these topics with us, I hope you’ll consider joining our HMHB VIP program.
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice, RockYourHormones.com.