Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: A friend confided that she is pregnant and feeling decidedly unexcited about it. Her current life checks all of the boxes for “ready for baby,” including a lovely, excited husband. She doesn’t seem depressed, just reasonably apprehensive about how much her life is about to change and whether she is ready for a child.
What is the best way to be a supportive friend in this situation? I don’t have children myself, and all of my previously pregnant friends have been excited about their pregnancies — even as they expressed reasonable reservations about childbirth, never sleeping again, the usual. I don’t want to minimize her concerns by saying she’ll be excited once she feels the kick/finds out the gender/whatever. For what it is worth, she is a great person and I am 100 percent confident she will be an awesome mother, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she will be a happy mother.
Tell her you’re confident she’ll be a great mom, but also say you won’t judge her or offer empty assurances about how she’ll eventually feel.
Her misgivings are normal, but to many they’re also taboo, so she might feel uncomfortable sharing them again. Even those friends who were excited about their pregnancies could also have had doubts they didn’t express. Ambivalence can seem like the third rail of pregnancy, so make sure your friend knows you’re a safe place to talk.
To Friend: Oh! Oh! This was me! Your friend I mean. And God, I felt SO ALONE! Everybody expected me to be thrilled to the gills, and here I was wondering how I was going to manage my (incredibly cool, new) job and baby, how I was never going to be able to drop everything and go skiing for the weekend, etc.
Acknowledge that this whole thing can be scary. Remind her that for some women pregnancy is a lot like PMS magnified by a zillion and lasting much longer. Which is actually comforting because, well, it’s hormones, not a basic personality change. Tell her a zillion people feel this way.
Nowadays (not when I was pregnant) there are books and support groups for women who have prenatal depression. Tell her she can seek help. And also, remember that she is still the same friend you’ve always known and loved. Remind her you still love her for all of the same reasons you did before. Pregnancy can feel like you are drowning, that you are expected to become someone completely different. Remind her that she’s still herself, that she will always still be herself, and that’s totally OK.
I don’t know what I would have done without my best buddies there to remind me that they liked me for ME, not the baby I happened to be incubating.
I wasn’t really excited about having a baby until my daughter was actually born. My mother said, “See, this is why pregnancy lasts nine-plus months. It gives you the time you need to actually get used to the idea of having a child.”
Yes, some new parents bond to the ultrasound heartbeat, while others bond at birth — and still others need time to get to know their babies. No single way is “right.”
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