So many mothers-to-be have told me just how unprepared they were for the emotional side of pregnancy. The physical effects were obvious enough, but apparently not everyone knew that the crazy hormone cocktail the pregnant body is continually swilling can momentarily propel even the most relaxed, jovial mommy-to-be into states of belligerence, hopelessness, or fury over things as trivial as a television commercial or a missing tub of ice cream. Tack on common pregnancy concerns, such as what the future will be like, the state of your fetus’s health, strained familial relationships, or how your marriage, job, or friendships will change after you’re a mom and you’ve got every excuse to have full-blown freak-outs on a regular basis.
If you’re not feeling funky, don’t future trip that you will. Not everyone internally combusts. Some mommies are in a perpetual state of pregnant bliss, others find the experience to be about as fun as an IRS audit, and some cruise through the trimesters hitting the occasional PMS-like road bump with nary a bruise to show for it. But should you find yourself falling into a deep dark hole of sadness, anxiety, fear, or just plain pregnancy insanity, read the following measures that can help you find your emotional footing.
Accept that you are no longer in control and go with the flow.
Recognizing that you are not in the driver’s seat and relaxing about it makes for a far easier ride. This general pregnancy truism was best exemplified for me during labor. I was in my hospital room with incredibly intense 60-second contractions that were three minutes apart. As the waves started to hit my first instinct was to jump out of my body and make a run for it. But since that wasn’t an option I went with my second choice, which was to brace myself, squeeze my eyes shut, clench every muscle in my body, and resist with every ounce of energy I could muster. However, I quickly discovered that the exact opposite tactic was the best way to get through them. When I felt a contraction coming on I got into the most comfortable position: bent over a tall table with my head resting on crossed arms and my legs spread like a police suspect being frisked. Then I focused on deep breathing and relaxing every muscle in my body, from my jaw to my shoulders to my legs to my toes. Doing a mental inventory and attempting to relax each muscle was a great diversion, made the pain easier to bear, and allowed me the mental capacity to become more fascinated by my body’s performance than anguished by it (though that didn’t stop me from later requesting an epidural). Similarly, fighting your newfound lunacy is infinitely more exhausting and traumatizing than simply embracing the things you cannot control.
Don’t hang out with people who piss you off.
Pregnancy does a funny thing to relationships. It can bring you closer to friends who have children, clarify just how supportive people in your life are, and bring new depth to familial ties. But it can also alienate you from pals who are feeling envious of your new status or don’t want you to change, dredge up your childhood grievances against family members, and make usually pleasant enough people seem extremely annoying—especially if they yammer on with unsolicited and unwelcome maternal advice. In the latter instances my recommendation is to steer clear of irritating people as much as you can. You may not be able to dodge your patronizing boss or grumpy husband, but you can easily put some distance between yourself and that judgmental friend or know-it-all neighbor. Give yourself a little space from stressful relationships and you may even find a place in your heart to be gracious toward them later on.
Spend time with positive people.
It’s just as important to surround yourself with people who are upbeat and support your status right now. Seek out sunshine people who can share your excitement with you.
Screen your calls.
Letting the answering machine pick up is an intelligent way to stop yourself from getting worked up by anyone you’re not in the mood to talk to.
Incidentally, this preemptive measure becomes even easier after the baby arrives when you officially have a lifetime excuse to abruptly hang up without explanation (a huge boon when your mother is nagging you), not answer the phone at all, or take your sweet time to return calls. (Months are not unheard of among friends.) This, ladies, is one of the secret bonuses of motherhood—from here on out you are officially off the hook.
Edit your calendar.
If you’ve become less Dr. Jekyll and more Mrs. Hyde, an overbooked schedule can make matters worse. Clear your calendar of unnecessary dates during especially emotional stints. That way rather than biting off a seldom-seen relative’s head at a business dinner, you can let your inner wild woman loose at home on someone who will still love you tomorrow.
Get some exercise.
Breaking a sweat isn’t addictive for nothing. Getting into a workout groove encourages your brain to release endorphins, the body’s naturally occurring painkiller that is deployed whenever you are subjected to pain or stress. Try a brisk walk or take a swim. It is likely to put you into a happier headspace.
Watch what you eat.
If you’re trying to tame your inner fire-breathing dragon, gulping down sugar, caffeine, chocolate, or all of the above may be like gargling with gasoline. Eliminate foods that can throw your body off balance and see if it helps smolder your emotional flames.
Keep food on hand at all times.
One surefire way to incite the wild animal in you is to let yourself get good and hungry. When that happens, pity the fool who stands between you and your next meal. Show mercy on the minions by making sure you have snacks on hand at all times.
Everything seems a little harder to bear when you’re cranky. Get as much beauty sleep as you can finagle. It’ll help you to remain resilient.
Hormones aside, pregnancy can be stressful—especially since you probably have to trudge through everyday responsibilities regardless of how you’re feeling (unless you’re on bed rest, which can be stressful for other reasons). Carve out some pamper time just for you—downtime is likely to make you feel better about yourself and give you a refreshed perspective.
Go ahead and have a good cry.
Long before I became pregnant I fell into a deep depression over some unresolved family issues that were magnified during a trip to Europe with my father. My deadline for my first solo book, The Last-Minute Party Girl: Fashionable, Fearless, and Foolishly Simple Entertaining was looming and I couldn’t type a single word. Struck with writer’s block for more than a month, I embarked on walks of my neighborhood each morning, fighting back tears and searching for a lifeline to pull me out of my darkness. When it didn’t come, I went to Plan B: I gathered every single pillow I owned, placed them on my bed, and punched and screamed all of my anguish into them until I was too weak to even make a fist. I emerged from the bedroom a new person—lighter, relieved, and borderline giddy as I walked into my office, sat down at my computer, and marveled at how the words immediately began to flow onto the page. Whether pregnant or not, I believe that repressed emotions can bubble, ferment, and become truly toxic when they’re not released. Given that you need all the help you can get right now—and the fact that your fetus feels everything you feel, including anxiety, depression, and anger—it’s worth cleansing your emotional house whenever the dirt starts to build up. While it may not be safe to go full-on Mohammed Ali when you hit an especially rough patch, finding ways to free pent-up emotions—such as screaming into a towel or crying on the bathroom floor, as I did more than once—may be just the ticket.
Watch for deep depression.
It’s perfectly okay if you feel like a Jane of the Jungle wildly swinging through the forest of pregnancy emotions while bellowing and beating your newly enlarged chest. But the beauty of mood swings is that they do just that—sway from one end of the emotional spectrum (fear, sadness, anger) to the other (elation, joy, optimism), and usually include plenty of time spent somewhere in between. But if you find that you plunge tummy-first into the deepest parts of your emotional jungle and can’t reemerge and see the forest for the trees, seek help from your practitioner. Depression is not uncommon during this very pivotal time (or afterward, for that matter) and a professional is likely to have some ideas on how to pull you out of the pregnancy dumps.
Don’t make any rash decisions while you’re feeling crazed.
Making any major commitments while in the midst of hormonal heresy is like getting a tattoo while drunk. Spelling “O-Z-Z-Y” across your fingers may seem like the perfect thing to do while you’re riding the crazy train, but the next day you’re in for one hell of a hangover—and potentially permanent repercussions. Plainly put, hormones can drastically skew your perspective during the maternity and postpartum months. (I know one mommy who inexplicably couldn’t stand her husband for the entire duration, but felt just fine about him afterward.) Make a point of thinking things through and perhaps getting a second opinion from someone you trust before doing anything drastic.
When asked about their wildest pregnancy mood shifts, mommies gave us some prime examples. Read on…
The Mommy Menagerie On…Maternity Moodiness
I posed the question, “Can you offer a scenario that would exemplify a wild pregnancy mood shift?” Here’s what some mommies said:
“I didn’t have momentary mood shifts. I think I had long cycles of hormonal swings—a few weeks of sad (boo-hoo), inexplicable rage for two weeks, and then content (resigned?) for the rest of it.”
“I was totally psychotic. I was so snappy at my husband it was awful. But the worst part was, I couldn’t control it.”
“My hysterical laughing. A lot of women cry. I would laugh over the silliest things and not be able to stop. Eventually I would start tearing up, crying, and laughing.”
“Honestly, I think I was just cranky through the whole thing. Pretty consistently.”
“I didn’t have major mood shifts, though every once in a while something super-bitchy would come out of my mouth out of nowhere.”
“On occasion, I would go from ‘Oh, how wonderful to be pregnant’ to ‘What the hell am I doing, thinking I can handle this responsibility?’”
“The hunger that would seize me in the first trimester was unreal. I would go from happy mock cocktail girl to snarling starving crazy woman in 60 seconds.”
“One minute you are the sweetest person in the world, the next you have realized someone has eaten all the Fruit Loops and left you none and you go hysterical.”
“Bursting into uncontrollable tears in a restaurant when I am told it will be a 30-minute wait to get a table.”
“Driving on the freeway and having to eat RIGHT THEN and my husband missed the exit to get to the McDonalds. I started screaming at him and then threw a bag of pretzels all over the car because I needed the bag to catch my vomit. Luckily the vomit helped my husband to feel sorry for me instead of hating me for screaming at him.”
“Just a general feeling of anger that would come out of nowhere and was generally directed at my husband. It was like watching myself from a distance.”
“One minute I would want my husband to be the farthest thing away from me, for no reason at all, I would hate him. The next minute all I wanted was to be like a baby in his arms.”
“Screaming at my husband; feeling he didn’t care and wasn’t giving me and the belly enough attention. Hating him one minute, loving him the next. Ugh.”
“I don’t remember doing this, but my husband still likes to tease me about it. He calls it ‘I love you—what’s your problem?!’ because that’s essentially what I said in the span of 10 seconds. I was all affectionate, like, ‘Oh, I’m so glad we’re having this baby and isn’t it wonderful and you’re so great but you do this sometimes (or whatever it was) and I don’t understand why you do that—why do you do that? What’s your problem?!’”
“My husband sat down and ate an entire jar of pickles one day. I normally wouldn’t care, but I got mad and yelled at him for an hour! Over a jar of pickles!!! We still laugh about it to this day.”
“My husband would often say when I was moody about something completely juvenile like the weather or something, ‘Who took my wife and when is she coming back?’”
“At the end of the day, when I was looking forward to resting, finding out that my husband was coming home late would quickly shift my mood.”
“I came home one day from work and I’d had a good day. My mom was supposed to come over to my house that night for dinner and I was looking forward to it, but she was about 30 minutes late. I started to become intensely nervous, obsessively looking out the window, calling her. Then I started calling her friends. I was hysterically crying and convinced she was hurt. Turns out she was just running late at work in the field and her cell phone didn’t work where she was.”
“My mother and I were leaving to go shopping. I was in a great mood, excited about buying stuff for the baby and she had to run back in the house to get her coffee. I got so mad over having to wait that I had a fit and went home.”
“I was about to go into the grocery store with my husband when I ran into a woman with infant twins. Like I always did when I saw a woman with twins, I stopped her to ask how it was going and what it was like. She looked at me wide-eyed as she unloaded her baby girls and said it was really hard. I burst into tears and continued to cry inconsolably throughout the grocery store.”
“Sobbing when my husband saw me naked at 36 weeks and he offhandedly remarked how big I had gotten.”
“I’ve been down and very emotional this time around. It’s very disturbing to me that I can’t seem to get a grip. I feel out of control emotionally and my husband doesn’t get it.”
“Wild pregnancy mood shifts would usually be precipitated by something really important, like the shirt I wanted to wear being in the laundry, or dropping something I was holding, being out of chocolate, or my husband failing to read my mind.”
“I remember needing to re-arrange the house almost on a daily basis in my last two months, and the urgency of it. It was a dire need for some reason. I specifically remember that we were having a nice quiet dinner and I looked into the living room and decided the couch was not in the right spot, so I got up and had to move it and all the other furniture immediately. My husband innocently said, ‘Let’s just wait until after dinner, hon’ and—from my reaction—you would think he had just committed the most horrible sin on earth. I verbally attacked him. I don’t have any idea what I said, but I remember his eyes opening wide in fright, and him jumping up from the table to help me, without complaint. We moved that couch about 10 times in the final trimester and it ended up right back where it started. It’s the family joke now.”
“I didn’t know if we should take the perfect apartment because we could not park our car right outside our door. I actually made my husband call our Rabbi and ask him to make the decision if we should take the great apartment or not! He told me to run back and take it and not be crazy.”
Mommy and well-known lifestyle writer Erika Lenkert is a frequent contributor to In Style, Everyday with Rachel Ray, and dozens of other national publications. She has authored several lifestyle books, including The Last Minute Party Girl: Fashionable, Fearless, and Foolishly Simple Entertaining and Raw: The Uncook Book. Known for combining wit and wisdom, Erika is committed to helping today’s mommy-to-be shirk the prevailing pregnancy paranoia so that she can confidently revel in all the weird, wacky, and downright funky stuff that comes with making human from scratch. Check out her book, The Real Deal Guide to Pregnancy at Amazon.com