Transitions: friend or foe?
Ah, the days of summer are here! As I see the welcome flood of children in our Calgary neighbourhood and the infusion of energy and vitality they bring, I’m reminded of the transition to summer that families go through this time of year. And – of how pregnancy is a significant transition in the lives of couples and families.
While having a new baby is a family matter and partners also experience change, women walk through several transitions along the path from pregnancy to motherhood, including:
- body changes
- emotional changes
- identity changes (e.g., from woman to mother, mother-of-one to mother-of-two)
- role changes (e.g., from taking care of myself to taking care of myself-plus-one)
- work changes (e.g., from working to maternity leave to working-after-maternity leave)
Each of these transitions comes with its own set of internal and external responses – some exciting, others unnerving and daunting. And when transitions are hard, we can feel irritable, unsettled, and uncertain.
Transitions can also hit at the very heart of our confidence, making us unsure about ourselves, our ability to manage the new situation, and our capacity to make the shift.
Why are some transitions harder than others?
In previous posts, I’ve shared how the way our brain interprets our everyday situations affects our responses to those situations. Your brain is a natural threat detector. It lights up, and alarm bells start ringing up when it detects something around you that may put you in danger. Uncertainty, confusion, and ambiguity are three big dangers where the brain is concerned.
When your brain doesn’t know what’s ahead or how to plan or prepare, it perceives that you are in mortal danger. It launches into battle mode, signalling the body to release stress hormones and chemicals that will allow you to run fast or fight fiercely, should that danger materialise.
Transition can be the perfect storm for the brain. When we’re in the midst of change (like a first pregnancy…or second or third!), we often can’t see the full path before us. It’s unexpected. We’ve never done this thing before. So, the brain responds by feeling threatened, and we feel the physical and emotional effects of stress.
Creating healthy transition: it’s up to you!
We often think when we’re in the midst of a transition that we are at the mercy of the changing situation and that whether that change goes well or not is dependent on the circumstance itself.
But, healthy transitions begin with you – in your brain. You control how your brain perceives your world. Either your brain perceives the changing situation you are in as threatening and dangerous – or as a welcome shift for the possibilities it brings.
It’s a matter of managing your thinking around the transition.
For example, these thoughts will likely put your brain into threat mode….and lead to you feeling stressed:
- I have no idea what’s ahead, but I’m sure it won’t be as good as the way it was.
- I worry about what is coming because I might not be able to handle it.
- I feel nervous because I don’t know what to expect.
On the other hand, these thoughts will keep your brain out of threat mode and keep you thinking clearly and decisively – and better able to handle your new situation:
- I don’t know what’s ahead, but I’ll gather as much information as I can to be as well prepared as I can be.
- I’ve never been through this exact situation before, but I’ve been through other changes in my life, and I’ve been able to manage those by doing…….
- I don’t know what to expect, but I’ll focus on what is made possible because of this new situation.
It’s hard to believe that the way transition plays out in your life depends on the way you wrap your brain around it – but, it’s true!
How do I know whether I’m a healthy transition?
So, how can you tell whether you are going through a transition in a healthy or unhealthy way?
When you’re in a healthy transition, you:
- See the positive side of the change
- See the possibilities that could open up that were not available to you before
- Embrace the change
- Recognise when you feel nervous or worried about the change, and you manage those feelings with questions that redirect your thoughts, such as: What is made possible because of this new situation?
When you’re in an unhealthy transition, you:
- Focus on the negative aspects of the change (most change has both positive and negative sides!)
- Focus on loss, e.g., what you may lose in the transition versus what gains are likely
- Resist the change, staying stuck in your irritability and worry rather than moving ahead with a sense of expectation
- Ignore your feelings of irritability, worry, fear, and loss, e.g., you don’t process your responses
A big tip for handling pregnancy transition
Pregnancy is one of the most significant life transitions that women go through. It’s like that one point where everything is different after – your body, your emotional health, your identity, your role, what’s important to you, your relationships, and how you manage your life. And, it can be daunting because you’re forging a new path ahead. One of the best things you can do to keep your brain in a healthy transition state is to realise that it’s not ALL new and different.
You’ve been through change before.
You’ve succeeded at new things before.
Take all that experience and put it into your pregnancy transition. Ask yourself these questions about your past experiences:
- What did I do to make THAT transition easier to handle?
- What did I learn about myself that I could take into my pregnancy transition?
- How did I think differently about THAT situation that helped me to cope with the changes?
Remembering your strengths and the strategies you used to manage past transitions, and then taking them into this new situation will give you a new appreciation for your capabilities and strengths and help you to build upon them as you walk through change once again.
I’d love to hear your experiences and strategies for managing your pregnancy transition.
Dr. Dawn Kingston