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Coping with Disappointment: Pregnancy During COVID-19

Pregnancy is a time of expectation typically filled with celebration and joy as you eagerly await your little one’s arrival. Throughout your pregnancy, there are milestones you anticipate and look forward to: the first time you hear your baby’s heartbeat, seeing that tiny little face on an ultrasound, a gender reveal party, a baby shower surrounded by friends and family, and the first time you get to finally hold your new baby in your arms.

Throughout these special moments, you look forward to sharing them with your partner or spouse, other children, friends, and family members. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has completely changed and shattered the expectations many women have had about their pregnancies due to concerns over the risk of exposure to the virus.

I found out I was pregnant with our second son a month before the world shut down in 2020. Going into this pregnancy, I was so excited to get to share all the pregnancy milestones with friends and family because we were not able to do so during my first pregnancy since we lived in Hawaii at the time. My husband and I couldn’t wait to announce the news of our pregnancy in person during our families’ spring trips to visit us. I expected my husband to be able to be  present for certain milestone doctor appointments, just as he had for our first son. And I was so excited for my oldest to come to the hospital to meet his new little brother for the first time!

But as COVID-19 began to force social distancing and limits on crowd sizes, all those plans – and more – became distant dreams rather than anticipated realities. “I really thought this pregnancy was going to be different” is something I found myself saying through tears throughout those nine months.

I know that I am not the only woman who has been pregnant during the pandemic who has felt this way.

The grief you are feeling over the loss of experiences you’ve had during your pregnancy is real. While people like to say that a healthy baby is all that actually matters, and yes, ultimately that’s true, you are still allowed to be sad. Pregnancy is such a unique, sacred, and special experience, and it is okay to grieve over the loss of the dreams you had for this time. Unfortunately, there are experiences you are losing because of the global pandemic that you will never get back, and that can create feelings of loss. While those losses are real, your pregnancy does not have to be defined by your grief. Here are five ways to cope with your grief while pregnant during COVID-19.

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

That little internal critic may want to try to convince you that you shouldn’t feel this way. “Just get over it!”

Avoiding or ignoring how you actually feel will not help you in the long run. It is important to give yourself permission to feel your grief. Identify the experiences or moments you had looked forward to and anticipated with your pregnancy that will now have to look or feel completely different.

It is okay to feel and recognize these losses and try to take back control of things you don’t currently have power over. So, rather than pretend like you’re fine with not getting to have all your friends physically at your baby shower, or try to say you don’t mind that you can’t have your family at the hospital after the baby arrives, acknowledge your feelings and offer yourself some compassion for your grief.

Loosen Your Grip on Your Expectations

Every woman approaches her pregnancy with certain expectations and dreams of how she wants delivery to go. As we prepared for the birth of our first son, we worked with a doula who helped us develop our “birth preferences” rather than our “birth plan.” Approaching an experience with a specific plan can create expectations of how that plan is supposed to go. While we yearn to be able to control how our labor will turn out, the reality is we are not in control of how our body responds in the birthing process.

In the same way, you have very little control over the ways that COVID-19 has impacted your pregnancy. While you may have wanted your pregnancy to go a specific way, try gently loosening your grip on those plans and instead, loosely hold them in open hands. Acknowledge that while these plans may be what you had hoped for, you’re opening yourself up to be flexible to other possibilities of how the plans may turn out.

Ask Other People for Support

When friends and family find out you are pregnant, they usually want to know how they can help and support you during this time. But because of COVID-19, the people who typically would just show up at our door might not be able to be there in person.

You may still need their support. It can be challenging at times to ask for it, but now is a time to practice advocating for your needs and let others know, “Hey, I could really use your help.”

You might worry about asking others for their support since it seems like everyone has been going through so many challenges over the last 20 months, but the people who love and care for you still want to be able to help and support you in whatever way they can. Maybe you’re too exhausted to run to the pharmacy, or you need someone to stay with your kids so you can go to a doctor’s appointment or the grocery store, or you just need someone with a kind ear to listen to you. Your friends and family still want to help you but may not know how best to provide support during this time. So, when you need that support, do not feel guilty for advocating for your needs by reaching out to them.

Talk About How This Isn’t What You Expected

I can guarantee that no one had “being pregnant during a global pandemic” on their wish list for their pregnancy. Allow yourself to be honest and to share with your partner, family, and friends how you feel about this crazy and confusing time. Give yourself permission to express whatever frustration, sadness, disappointments, anger, fears, grief, or whatever emotions you are feeling through all of this.

It can be very tempting to just keep those thoughts and feelings inside, but I encourage you to be open and share these emotions with those who care about you. Talking openly can be a form of release and gives you the ability to name what you are experiencing, while giving the opportunity for others to have awareness of your emotional struggles.

Talk With a Professional

Do not be afraid to be open and honest with your OB-GYN or midwife if you find yourself struggling with the grief you’re experiencing. She wants to be able to support you throughout your pregnancy and delivery, and she understands the impact that stress in pregnancy can have on you and your baby. Bring up at your next appointment how you had hoped your pregnancy and delivery would go, and that you are sad that the plans you had envisioned are not turning out. Your provider may be able to work with you to help you get as close to those preferences as possible. Additionally, Postpartum Support International has weekly online support meetings for expectant and new moms to be able to join together and process their experiences and emotions. If you feel like you are in need of more support than your doctor can give right now, reach out to an online therapist or counselor. Being able to process your grief during your pregnancy may help you be more prepared for the birth and lower your chances of postpartum anxiety or depression.

While the world right now may not be the one you pictured bringing your little one into, you are not alone. But if you are able to use some of these coping tools to work through your grief, you may begin to find relief from the sadness and be able to enjoy this special and sacred time as you eagerly await the arrival of your little one.

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Ashley Comegys is a licensed clinical social worker with an online therapy practice that helps anxious women navigate transition, loss and trauma. She is licensed in the states of Louisiana, Hawaii, Colorado, and Florida and specializes in working with moms who are experiencing anxiety or depression, military spouses, and women who are experiencing postpartum anxiety or depression.

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