Updated: Nov 9, 2022
More often lately, I've heard people say that they shouldn't be feeling certain feelings. Usually these people are pregnant and afraid of what might happen, afraid of the unknown, afraid of birth, pain, and even the ever-present (though slight) possibility of death. They say, "I'm trying not to focus on fear, because I've heard that when I'm stressed it affects my baby". Anger? Not allowed. Frustration? Shut it down. Worry? Stop it! Think of your baby!
This message is not helping pregnant people. Guess what, folks? Fear is going to show up. We are human beings, living with the full spectrum of human emotions. We can not go through an entire pregnancy and birth without Fear crashing the party. And frustration, anger, doubt, grief, and all of their brothers and sisters are going to pop in from time to time, as well. We're taught from a young age that these feelings are 'bad', and that things like happiness, calm, peace, and love are what we should strive to be feeling all of the time. The thing is, we can't maintain that. Stressors are going to show up in our lives, and we need to learn to be with all of the feelings. I love this quote from Miriam Greenspan:
"Emotions like grief, fear, and despair are as much a part of the human condition as love, awe, and joy... These are the dark emotions, but by dark, I don't mean that they are bad, unwholesome, or pathological. I mean that as a culture, we have kept these emotions in the dark-- shameful, secret, and unseen".
We need to stop scaring pregnant people into suppressing the full range of their emotions. It may be true that babies are affected by high levels of maternal stress, so we don't want folks to be in a heightened state too often, if it can be helped. But to hold in any fear, sadness, or other 'dark' emotions does not mean they are not present, and it doesn't mean there is no stress.
We as a culture need to learn to hold space for these 'dark' feelings, to allow someone who is facing something that triggers their fears to say, "I'm afraid. I don't know what to do," and to let them feel their way through the fear without trying to fix it or bring solutions. We can encourage people to welcome fear when it shows up, as one of the big family of emotions that make us human. We can remind them that fear may be present, but so is courage, wisdom, and discernment.
I have seen pregnant people have a big shift in their energy when they are given the time and space to allow their particular fears to show up, to be named, to be held and breathed through, and released through the breath. Many times, other dark emotions that have been held in for a long time show up as well- like old grief that may seem unrelated, but needs to be moved through now. Time and again, they feel a weight lifted from their chest, they feel themselves unwinding and grounding into their centre of self. The fears and grief aren't solved or dissolved, but they hold less weight after they are given the space to be held and felt.
And I believe that the baby feels that relief and grounding, too. I encourage pregnant people to bring the baby along on their emotional journeys, if that feels right for them. Put your hands on your belly while you breathe with your fear or cry out some grief, or when you feel angry, and say, "Baby, I am feeling ______. Maybe you are feeling it with me. This feeling is okay, even though it might feel hard. We will move through it and make room for something else."
On the other side of fear, you may find courage. On the other side of grief is love. On the other side of anger may be peace, or joy. We can strive for that ever popular idea of living in 'love and light', but if we don't give ourselves permission to feel our way through the dark emotions, we can't truly find our way there.
I leave you with this poem, which I first discovered in the marvelous book Holding Space, by Amy Wright Glenn. I invite you to practice holding space for your emotions, and those of the people you love. If you are pregnant and this is speaking to your heart, reach out to someone in your life who you can trust to hold space for whatever you are need to move through. If you can't think of anyone to ask, my inbox is always open.
The Guest House
This human being is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.