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Connecting With Baby Before Birth

Pregnancy can be daunting. Prenatal gadgets tempt expecting mothers at every turn, as the market is saturated with ever-changing options for mommy, daddy and baby. But underneath it all, we are simply driven by a common desire to fulfill the ideals of motherhood and to connect with our babies. Stroller technology alone is enough to baffle the mind. Maybe next year we’ll see an organic, Tempur-Pedic stroller manufactured with recycled diapers that makes the Orbit seem old-school. It will cost a small fortune, of course, but will elevate one’s eco-parenting status beyond compare.

As our bellies expand, advice from sisters, mothers, friends and countless strangers streams in, solicited or not. Somehow, even when seasoned women talk about their choices and experiences in pregnancy, labor or motherhood, there is often a tinge of pressure. The subtext of these conversations, consciously or not, urges budding moms to either “be like me,” or “avoid my calamities and regrets.”

The feedback from other mothers might even be paradoxical: “You should do what I did, even though I don’t feel great about the choices I made. I wish I knew what you know now.” Of course, these other moms don’t intend to create a sense of insecurity, contribute to anxiety, or manifest feelings of stress and depression. Nevertheless, some pregnant women report having an uncomfortable, nagging sense of unrest as they approach this transformative time in their lives.

Pregnancy is an opportune time to invite women to focus on their developing baby in utero—to slow down and create space for connection, prenatal bonding, reflection and wonderment. Instead, there is often societal chatter about what to buy and how to decorate, as well as inherited concerns about how to lose the baby weight before the baby even arrives. All of these factors contribute to externally focused desires.

A mantra missing from mainstream society is one of trust— trusting oneself, and knowing oneself. We need to carve out time to get familiar with the feelings associated with parenting, rather than avoiding them.

Who am I as a woman, a mother-to-be, a partner? How does my childhood impact how I see and understand myself? Are issues lingering from my family life that might be worth attending to now, before I blaze a new path of parenthood? What kind of role model do I want to be for my child? If I find myself concerned about enduring postpartum struggles, how might I bolster my internal resources now so that I feel more centered when my baby is in my arms?

Although these questions might stimulate a variety of complex feelings, the benefits of exploring these emotions during pregnancy will strengthen your core, subsequently engendering a more mindful childhood for your baby. In-depth psychological investigation is potentially a lifelong preventative investment, paying dividends along the way.

Research reveals that perinatal and postpartum mood disorders are often linked to the following: striving for perfection; unexplored and often unrealistic expectations of control; anxiety and depression during pregnancy; personal or family history of depression; ambivalence around issues of mutual dependency; helplessness; a history of early loss, trauma or abuse; previous bouts of postpartum depression; obstetrical complications; and lack of social support.

The prognosis for postpartum blues and depression is directly tied to the swiftness with which one addresses the symptoms. In other words, responding to internal uneasiness straight away can make a world of difference. Taking steps to deepen your understanding of who you are during this monumental milestone— pregnant and on the precipice of parenthood—can harness confidence and promote grace.

Here are some psychological meditations for cultivating a conscious pregnancy and postpartum period, with baby in mind.

Be Connected. Being present in the moment—being attuned to your body, your developing baby and your breath—can cultivate embodied awareness. During pregnancy and beyond, try to take time each day to notice your breathing, even if it’s only for two minutes.

Be True. Sentimentality around pregnancy and parenting can make moms-to-be feel alienated. Some women don’t necessarily feel overjoyed by all of the elements of pregnancy or postpartum changes. If you’re not 100 percent excited all the time, that’s okay. Be who you are. Take moments to reflect on what you truly feel, what your gut reactions are, and what feels right for you. For those who thoroughly enjoy pregnancy or want to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom, be true to those feelings as well. Honor that which is deeply you.

Be Bold. Step into the uncharted territory within. Mindfully wonder about your enthusiasm, your fears, your identity and your personal history. Challenge yourself to rest in uncomfortable places internally. Ask for help when needed.

Be Curious. Attachment and bonding during pregnancy and in the early moments of your child’s life set the framework for your relationship with your baby, and your baby’s relationship with the world. Cultivating curiosity while your baby is developing in your body—through noticing prenatal movements, talking or singing to your baby in utero, or touching your baby “bump” as you acknowledge this burgeoning life within—can create a sense of connectivity for both you and your baby. Reflect on attachment relationships in your family of origin, and consider addressing issues that might be pulling at your heartstrings. Consider how you might foster your relationship with your child similarly to what you experienced in your childhood, and how you might differ. Consider the subtleties of bonding and attachment, which can be as simple as gazing into your baby’s eyes. Try narrating your actions and thoughts as you and your baby transition from one activity to another throughout your day. Internal curiosity is important, too; a weekly visit to a psychotherapist while pregnant can help you explore unhealed challenges that you feel might inhibit postpartum bonding.

Be Generous. Making sure you feel soothed, balanced, or attuned with yourself might be just what you need to help stave off postpartum challenges. Taking care while pregnant may plant seeds of mind-body health and well-being. Some fortifying steps to take can include psychotherapy (individually or with your partner), meditation, massage, yoga, acupuncture, thoughtfully preparing a birth wish list, or pondering who you might want supporting you at your baby’s birth.

Being present with yourself in pregnancy will help you to be present with your child in parenthood. With the aim of fostering a dynamic bond with your baby, examine your internal landscape during the prenatal phase. This can yield increased clarity and space for connecting with this new addition to your family.

Emotional well-being is worth exploring and pursuing as early in pregnancy as possible. And as for whether the next generation of strollers should have a built-in iPod and solar panels, that’s something we can leave up to the stroller gurus.

About the Author:

Jessica Zucker, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, specializing in women’s health with a focus on fertility, prenatal and postpartum adjustments, and transitions in motherhood. She is a blogger for the Huffington Post and a key contributor to the upcoming PBS documentary, This Emotional Life, as well as a contributing author to Knowing and Not-Knowing and Sort-of-Knowing: Psychoanalysis and Uncertainty. Her research on female identity development and women’s health has led to an upcoming book, soon to be published by Routledge.