Monday, April 7, 2014

How to Respond to Your Pregnant Partner's Emotions

I've shared this before, but it's worth repeating that my pregnancies have been emotional roller coasters, fraught with emotional outbursts. They were rough experiences for me as well as those around me, and especially those closest to me. So, especially difficult on my partner, Jason. During one outburst last year, when he was trying to be helpful, I actually yelled at him, "You're not being helpful at all!"

When he asked what he could do to be helpful, it just frustrated me further. I was so upset that I couldn't think straight and I certainly couldn't feed him the right lines. I eventually calmed down enough to express that thought and to tell him that he was going to have to be resourceful and figure it out on his own. I encouraged him to talk to his friends or google some resources.

Later, I wondered if that was the best idea and I did some googling, myself, to see what he might find. In my opinion, some of the advice was pretty bad (steer clear, put your head down, keep your mouth shut, and just do as told, etc.). There was also some good advice, but it focused more on prevention (keep her fed, do more chores, rub her feet, etc.) and what not to do (don't try to fix it, don't make her feel worse). What was missing was what to do or say in that moment when you see your partner totally melting down or flying into a rage and you feel like a deer in headlights.

This is what I wish I had been able to articulate and convey to Jason in those moments:

I feel crazy, and it's really scary. 

The intensity of emotion I felt during pregnancy was nothing I had experienced before (though, it's hard to accurately recall toddler hood and adolescence). A part of me could recognize that my reactions were out of proportion, but it felt as if I had no control. Once my emotions had escalated to a certain point, it took a long time to get back to baseline - and the trip back usually included an unpleasant visit through guilt and remorse-ville. I barely recognized myself and I wondered how I could possibly succeed at being a mom (or being a mom to two kiddos). I felt like a horrible person, a bad mother and wife, and an unloveable being.   

I need to feel safe and loved. 

With all of that negative talk going on in my head, what I needed more than anything was to know that it wasn't true. When Jason would keep quiet or just "give me space" in response to my outbursts, it made me feel like he was agreeing with the voices and that I shouldn't be around other people (that was not his intention, of course!) What I actually needed was the opposite: a demonstration that even when I was at my worst and felt worthless, that I was loved unconditionally. For me, that meant physical closeness, a hug, reassurance that everything was going to be okay.

I need to feel understood. 

While I knew that my feelings were out of proportion, they were still real and based in some truth. I needed to have those feelings acknowledged - otherwise, the hugs and reassurance may feel less loving and more patronizing. 

Clearly, I can't go back and tell Jason how he could have been more helpful in those moments - so I offer this wisdom to anyone who is currently, or will sometime in the future be, supporting a loved one through the emotional trials of pregnancy: 

Remember that in addition to the anger/sadness/frustration she is currently feeling, she is probably also feeling scared and unlovable. Remind her that she is loved and show her that she is loved. Provide a safe place where she can feel supported in expressing whatever she is feeling. Listen and demonstrate your understanding by reflecting her feelings. Repeat as needed.   

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Image credit: Mouth (2) by Alisha Vargas, cc license

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