By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
We are expecting our first child in a few weeks, iy’H. I have been having so much anxiety about this pregnancy that it has not allowed me to enjoy any of it. When I was in the first trimester, I couldn’t wait to be done with it and get into the second trimester because the risk of losing the baby goes way down. I felt better for a few days in the beginning, and then my anxiety resurfaced. At the time when you are supposed to feel the baby kick, I couldn’t go ten minutes without waiting to feel movement. I would drink some orange juice and lie down, just waiting to feel something.
Now, among many other things, I am worried about childbirth. When I think of all the things that could go wrong, it’s simply too much for me to take. In my community we do not buy anything for the baby before it is born because it is considered to be an ayin ha’ra. For me, this is the worst because I cannot prepare for anything. I think about coming home and having nothing for the baby. My mind races with thoughts of having to run around getting diapers and formula, clothing, a crib, bouncy seat, and the list goes on and on.
I see my friends pregnant and they appear so calm. I should feel so good that b’li ayin ha’ra my baby is healthy with a strong heartbeat. But I don’t feel calm; I am super-stressed.
I should also mention that I’ve been married less than a year and this pregnancy has caused considerable stress in my marriage. My husband does not understand all that I am worried about and tells me to calm down. He tells me that I hid my anxiety well while we were dating, and this is so hurtful. I didn’t hide it; I don’t think I had it. Hurricane Sandy also has made me extremely anxious. Baruch Hashem we weren’t even affected by it, but I have been on edge since it happened.
I feel like I missed out on what should have been a joyful experience and all I want is to enjoy the last weeks of my pregnancy, the childbirth, and what is to come. I feel so bad about not being the wife my husband envisioned. These are not the types of things I talk about with my friends, and my parents certainly wouldn’t understand. My mother is tough as nails, and she has seven children! I feel so alone and down on myself. My baby deserves better than me. Is there anything I can do to calm down and relax? Thank you so much.
Anxious First-Time Mother
Dear Anxious First-Time Mother,
B’shaah tovah! Carrying a child is a miraculous gift. It seems to me that you are well aware of the miracle inside of you and take your role as first-time mother very seriously. While a handful of women may breeze through pregnancy without a care in the world, this is not the case for you, and you are not alone. You would have a difficult time finding any woman who didn’t have a negative thought cross her mind. Many women worry throughout their pregnancies, and who can blame them? You are growing a life inside of you yet have no way of knowing how this precious baby is managing day to day. It seems that the amount of worry and anxiety you have has been uncomfortable, to say the least. Your complete lack of enjoyment and inability to put your anxiety to rest, even momentarily, is what concerns me. It is for this reason that I advise you to see a professional. You can explore your anxiety and learn to manage it in a therapeutic setting.
Where there is anxiety, there is a need for control lurking close by. The person who has anxiety before speaking in public wishes he would know with certainty that his audience will approve. There are many of us now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, who are experiencing anxiety. Whether the water rushed into your home, or you were without power, or you listened to your friend’s account, you probably experienced anxiety about the unknown; it was a time of complete lack of control. An expectant mother really has very little control over the destiny of her unborn child.
This lack of control only becomes greater as children grow older. When they are small, you create the routine and choose their friends. As they grow older they are exposed to outside influences. There is bound to be a bully on the school bus or a child who makes mean remarks toward yours. There will be a teacher who gives too much homework or doesn’t appreciate your child’s personality. Your child may exhibit certain qualities that you do not relate to or enjoy.
There will be so many outside and genetic influences in your child’s life that you may not approve of, but you simply cannot control all of these forces. Parents are essentially coaches. We can motivate the players, take a man out of the game for a violation, or throw a great pizza party after for a success or a loss, but we cannot dictate who wins the game. You can only offer your baby what is in your control–eating healthfully, taking prenatal vitamins, going for routine checkups–and everything else is up to Hashem.
I suggest speaking to a trusted rav or rebbetzin about the anxiety you have been experiencing and also regarding the state of your marriage. Becoming pregnant right after marriage is a blessing but it can also bring with it a slew of issues that a young frum couple is simply not prepared to handle. I cannot predict if the rav will allow you to prepare for the baby in the form of buying baby items, but maybe he will have words of chizuk for you. From your letter it seems as though you are isolated because you feel there is no one with whom you can speak about this. It is my understanding that in certain circles more to the “right,” there is an issue of modesty surrounding personal topics. While I have the utmost respect for all walks of Yiddishkeit, I do think this is a mental-health issue and should not be ignored.
Often, talking to a girlfriend or a woman who has walked in your shoes can take some of the weight off your shoulders. It has been proven time and again that women need female friendships. Women need to talk. And not just about home renovations or where to buy the freshest fruit platter in town. A woman needs to unload and “go there,” to speak.
As my mother-in-law, Esther Mann, writes (and always tells me in real time), in life there are no guarantees. Sometimes things go horribly wrong, and we figure it out as we go along. We somehow pick up the pieces and carry on. But sometimes, things go overwhelmingly right. And when they do, there is no greater feeling. As a frum woman, you can daven, say Tehillim, bake challah, and take general comfort in the beautiful opportunities to connect to Hashem, who is truly in control of your pregnancy.
Don’t rob yourself of the opportunity to enjoy the remainder of your pregnancy. Speak to a trusted rav and a good therapist. You can learn breathing techniques, practice mindfulness, and learn how to manage your anxiety. Build your relationships with these people now, before the baby arrives, so you have people in your corner when the baby is born.
Wishing you all the best.
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.