I remember feeling a strong sense of responsibility and desire to protect my unborn baby, in every sense. I wanted to physically provide a safe shelter. I wanted to provide the baby with sufficient nutrition and oxygen. I took precautionary measures to avoid certain ingredients and exposures. I wanted to give them the best chance of physically developing in a typical way. I also had a distinct instinct to shelter them mentally and emotionally. I didn’t want this innocent to feel pain or stress or sadness. I didn’t want this little bean of a being to know about the ugly parts of humanity, the horrors and the injustices that exist in the world, the heavy disappointments and the terrible, senseless tragedies.
One day, I was cradling my belly and connecting with the baby, trying to communicate these thoughts. Without speaking, I was letting the baby know that they are safe and have nothing to worry about. Through this gesture, I experienced an epiphany. The fetus is not separate from me, it is completely synonymous with me. It is connected to me via the umbilical cord, and as such, experiences every emotion that I do. When my body experiences a physical, mental or emotional stimulus – shock, anxiety, joy, fright, anger, hunger, connection, sleep and so on – there are physiological occurrences – chemical reactions, release of hormones, muscle tension, etcetera – that happen. The fetus will receive those same hormones that are coursing through my body in real time. I came to understand that the best way – the only way – I could protect my baby is to protect and care for myself.
It’s impossible to take on a high level of stress and simultaneously spare your baby of that; though you may want to, though you may try. I am of the belief that the mother’s temperament in pregnancy influences the baby’s temperament. I believe that trauma and upset experienced by the expecting mother impacts the baby’s stress response after birth. If your wish is to give your baby the best start in life, it is beneficial that you manage your own mental and emotional health during pregnancy. This is a beautiful time to pamper yourself through rest, relaxation and the classic foot massages that pregnant women need and deserve. But it’s also a beautiful time, if you feel called to do so, to address unresolved issues, to seek counselling, to practice meditation and mindfulness, to do some journaling or creative work, to clear clutter and to generally work on mental health, self-improvement and breaking negative patterns and generational trauma. While you’re at it, begin working through letting go of the expectations you may have for your child as well. To your ability, practice accepting them as they are; they are already exactly who they are meant to be. It is unrealistic to avoid stress in pregnancy entirely, so manage your expectations here and remember to exercise grace and compassion towards yourself.