It is incredibly common for women to struggle with fear and anxiety during pregnancy. Perhaps it is because pregnancy opens us, not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. It is a time when we are more in tune with our emotions and also when it feels like so much is at stake. Sometimes the fear and anxiety are easy to pinpoint and address but often, they may just hang over us like a cloud, feeling both nebulous and weighty.
If this is you, first know that you are not alone and that this is incredibly common. And next, know that there are things you can do to address it. Consider this an opportunity God is giving you to grow, be sanctified, and address things that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Here are ten ways we can respond to those common fears and anxieties:
1. EDUCATE YOURSELF.
A whole lot of fear is rooted in the unknown, much of it stemming from our culture's ignorance and terror surrounding childbirth that gets actively or passively passed on to us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear" (CCC 1784). When we understand something better, especially as it is seen through God's eyes and through the lens of virtue, it can help remove the fear that may surround it.
When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, the more we understand the design of God for the physiology of the body and how it all works, the more the fear begins to dissolve. If we have a fear of a complication happening, we can learn more about what causes that, how to prevent it, and how to respond to it. If we have a fear of pain, we can learn through a great childbirth class about what increases pain, how to better interpret and respond to the pain, and coping methods to work with the sensations of labor. If we have a fear of the whole process we can access positive birth videos online to help us normalize what birth can look like and what to expect. If we educate ourselves on the options we have during birth for place, provider, interventions, rights, and more, we can have more control, better outcomes, and replace fear with empowerment and virtue.
2. ADDRESS THE BODY.
Fear and especially anxiety can often be rooted in physiology. Pregnant women are very often deficient in magnesium and magnesium is incredibly important for nervous system function. A deficiency in magnesium can play a huge role in how anxious or jittery a woman feels. If we are not sleeping well, that can also play a big role in how our nervous system is regulating and how anxious we feel (magnesium also plays a role in better sleep so it can be a snowball effect!). So addressing magnesium and sleep as best as possible may help calm some of that anxiety. (Find magnesium recommendations here.)
Vitamin D is another big player in mood and mental health and one that is quite commonly too low in much of the population but especially pregnant women. Getting vitamin D direct from the sunshine, about a half hour a day, is best but if needed, pregnant women should also be supplementing vitamin D. This is especially critical in colder climates, if you spend a significant amount of time indoors, and if you are having a winter pregnancy. (Find some vitamin D recommendations here.)
The fluctuating hormones of pregnancy can also play a role - some women find the increased progesterone of pregnancy lowers anxiety while others notice the opposite. Some women on synthetic progesterone supplements report that it increases anxiety. Our diet can also play a huge role in our mental state. If we are getting adequate protein (80-100 grams a day) we feel more stable, have more energy, and it can stave off blood sugar imbalances and crashes that also play a significant role in how we feel mentally.
3. BRING IT TO THE FOOT OF THE CROSS.
If you can name your fears, bring them to Jesus by name, laying them down at the foot of the Cross. If you don't know where they stem from, ask Him to reveal what is needed to you. Take time often, weekly if possible, to go to Adoration and sit with Him and give the fears and anxieties over to Him as many times as needed. Journal them out if it's helpful. During Mass, and especially at the moment of the Elevation of the Eucharist, symbolically place all those fears and anxieties right on the altar as well, uniting them with the Sacrifice of the Cross. Use the prayers on the Made for This Birth app to invite grace into those fears and anxieties.
4. FIND A TRUSTED EAR AND SPEAK THEM OUT LOUD.
It might be a doula, friend, midwife, or your husband but find someone you trust and speak your fears or anxieties out loud. Sometimes just saying them out loud is all it takes to get it out of your system and take their power away. Sometimes saying it out loud allows us to hear from a more objective place that they are either totally normal or sometimes that they are even a bit absurd or incredibly unlikely! If it's a real fear, they can help or remind us to make the best choices we can in the circumstances we are in but ultimately our hope lies in God and not in any earthly outcomes. Choose someone who, of course, will listen without judgement and only offer helpful or encouraging advice when desired.
5. RECOGNIZE SPIRITUAL WARFARE.
It's important to remember that the devil is real and he hates marriage, he hates motherhood, and he hates new life. If he can't keep a couple from welcoming a new child - a new image of his enemy God - into the world, he will do everything he can to make it a miserable experience. He will do this through tempting the mother toward fear, anxiety, despair, selfishness, grasping at control, division with her husband, and anything that will keep her from entering into it with joy, peace, and hope. He actually fears pregnancy and birth because it DOES hold so much spiritual power. The answer is not more fear but to simply to recognize this reality and strip it of its power by not clinging to it or giving it too much weight. Allow that reality to bring you peace that you must be doing something incredibly good if the devil is threatened. Stay in a state of grace, stay close to the sacraments, and respond to any attacks of fear with acts of faith, hope, love, the St. Michael prayer, and the power of Scripture.
6. THE WORD OF GOD
That brings us to the next very important way to confront fear and anxiety. The Word of God holds true and effective power. Speaking Scripture verses of courage, boldness, trust, peace, and faith are spiritual missiles against the intrusive fears and anxieties that can attack us during pregnancy. See if you can memorize a few Scriptures to speak in moments of fear or trial. Ask your husband to speak them over you. Surround yourself with those reminders and the power of the Word through printed affirmations, frequent recitations, or music. Bring these reminders right into your birth. (Our affirmations in the shop and the Scriptural Encouragement track on the Made for This app are both designed to do just that!)
7. ENCOURAGING STORIES
Hearing others' positive pregnancy and birth stories is incredibly powerful in combatting our own doubts and fears. Listen to women who love birth tell their own stories. Find podcasts with encouraging birth stories (check out our resource page for recommendations!). Check out all the amazing stories that we've shared on Made for This Birth. Go on Instagram and search hashtags like #homebirth, #birthstory, #waterbirth, and find accounts that share positively about birth. Very importantly, also discern having very strong boundaries during this vulnerable time with people and media that only make you more anxious or fearful. Don't be afraid to tell people that you need to protect your mind and heart during pregnancy and can't listen to their unhelpful negative stories or projections of fear.
8. CONNECT MORE WITH YOUR BABY.
Scripture tells us that, "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18) and also that "love bears all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7). While we will never love our children perfectly, the more we intentionally connect with them, the more our love does grow. Love is not stagnant and we can actively increase our love for our unborn baby. The more that love and connection grows, the more we are willing to endure for them and that does a great deal to dissipate fear, or at least, give us the courage and motivation to be brave in the midst of it. So take time to connect with your baby. Sit quietly and feel them move, Talk out loud to them. Write letters to them. Picture them in your womb. Later in pregnancy, learn how to "belly map" and know how they are positioned. Take a few moments each day with your husband to pray over them.
9. FIND THE GOOD BEHIND THE FEAR.
What is the GOOD behind the fear? Recognize that often fear or anxiety is a good motivation that has been twisted or disordered and that can help us respond to it better or untwist what has been twisted. Very often we can see that our fear is rooted in wanting our baby to be healthy, wanting to feel safe, wanting to be a good mother, or some other truly good desire. Those are all good things that we may have allowed to become disordered or where we have not allowed God's love and true faith to permeate. We can have a healthy curiousity about these fears and anxieties and instead see them as an opportunity to grow in faith and trust that God is a loving Father who wants the BEST things for us and will take care of both us and our babies even if that doesn't always look how we think it should.
10. DO IT AFRAID.
We can do what we can to address fears but in the end, we may still battle fears and anxieties. But that's okay! It is those times, sister, when real courage is born, because we can feel those fears and we can still move forward anyway. Saints are usually not created in comfort or ease but through encountering difficulty, pain, fear, loss, and yet still going forward in faith. This is the virtue of fortitude and God will answer our prayers for an increase that virtue as well as give us opportunities, like pregnancy and birth, to grow in it. The Catechism tells us, "The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions" (CCC 1808). As part of our vocation, motherhood is meant to bring us to the perfection of virtue and to ultimately make us saints in heaven. So then it is not surprising when these significant moments of motherhood of pregnancy and birth clearly invite us to grow in the virtues we need. God intentionally designed pregnancy and birth as a rite of passage into motherhood. It is through them that He will make you into the mother He designed you to be. For many of us, this means encountering fears, anxieties, struggles, and more and then, in and through Him, doing it anyway.