Nothing is as it was. Everything everywhere has changed and although life in lockdown has begun to take on a shifting and evolving form of normal, our responses to the things that happen to us in daily life are anything but. The extent to which the world has been turned upside down is so cataclysmic that we barely know how to respond to situations that two months ago would have been entirely routine.
From passing someone in a shop aisle to taking a simple walk, every step and every turn brings new and alien worries about risk and how to counteract and mitigate it. It’s hardly surprising, then, that to be pregnant in this rampant pandemic supercharges the fear and panic that has become a daily companion to this abnormal life.
Just nine short weeks ago, to discover you were pregnant would already have been enough to spark a mild state of anxiety, mixed – in most cases – with extreme levels of joy, happiness, excitement, and anticipation. But for many people, the Covid-19 pandemic has even changed that dynamic, superheating that part of our subconscious that works tirelessly in heightened protection mode to keep us safe. In this context, the need to manage stress at every level, to dissipate and erode its negative impact on emotional and physical health is vital.
If more than 1 in 10 pregnant women felt anxious at some point in the 9-month journey to birth before Covid-19 rampaged across the globe and landed at our doorsteps, imagine how many more are in a heightened state of fear knowing they have to bring a baby into an acutely more dangerous world than the one in which it might have been conceived.
Even the practical questions about birth – the logistics of physically getting this small miracle into the world – had easy answers pre-pandemic: Can I have a home birth? Is it safe in hospital? Who’ll be with me? What about my partner? How will I get support and learn about all the aspects of birth? But depending on individual circumstances, these once perfectly straightforward questions have complicated answers – if they have answers at all.
As pregnant women, we rely entirely on the certainty of others. We feel reassured that whatever our worry or fear or concern or ignorance, somebody somewhere has an answer. Our obstetrician can answer our ante-natal issues; the midwife offers reassurance around birth; the health visitor takes care of the post-natal labyrinthine bewilderment that many new mothers experience. Not having that certainty unsettles us. The unknown causes us stress. Knowing the experts may not be able to offer definitive answers to the questions we have leaves us feeling out of control.
In life, we have three main areas: our locum of control (what we ingest, what we consume, our own behaviours and conscious decisions), our area of influence (suggesting to our partner for example that it’s a very good idea indeed to give up smoking); and the areas of which we have no control (which is where Covid-19 currently resides). But it’s important to pause. Remember that your baby is safe and getting stronger every day. Trust that your baby and body know what to do, just as nature intended.
Your baby is oblivious to the world. All s/he needs is for you to provide everything necessary to bring him or her into it. And that happens when you’re relaxed.
Being relaxed means not worrying about the things you can’t control. It means accepting that your only priority and focus is to focus on giving your baby the best start in life. And if you can do that by focusing on today, your baby automatically benefits from a calm and nurturing environment. It’s sometimes easier to make that choice for your baby than it is for yourself!
Humans are naturally inclined to confirmation bias: we will always seek to prove what we already believe. And that goes for negative thoughts as much as it does for positive ones. So, if you’re fearful and stressed and anxious, you’ll instinctively look for evidence to justify those emotions. It’s a real challenge to not get caught up and overwhelmed. So, what can you do to reduce your stress levels, step away from Covid-19 and keep your baby happy?
Learn slow breathing
Be aware of your breath and let it flow in/out as slowly (not deeply) as possible. Let it flow fluidly as, if you hold your breath, your body will tighten up.
Focus on today
The mind is like a puppy that constantly wants to run off and play. Train it to focus on what’s needed right now rather on what may (or may well not!) happen in a few days/weeks/months’ time.
Make time each day to relax
Connect to and with your baby. Set fixed times to do this or use triggers (e.g. every time you walk into a certain room). Use hypnobirthing mp3 downloads to guide you into a beautiful period of relaxation and time out.
See this unexpected time at home as time to relax, to feel fully prepared and to enjoy quiet time with your baby away from the usual daily external demands on your time and attention.
Revisit your birth plan and focus on the bigger picture and outcome rather than on small details. Set yourself up for success – a healthy, happy baby, regardless of how, when and where your baby arrives!
Continue to plan for your birth and continue to ask or research the questions you have, using independent sources and experts to support you if your NHS midwives can’t.
Kristin Hayward is an associate at Zoe Clews & Associates in Harley Street and a qualified and experienced hypnotherapist and fertility, pregnancy, and birth specialist. Her hypnobirthing courses have helped couples around the world achieve a calm, safe and beautiful birth experience and her website is an essential resource during the current restrictions.
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