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Pregnancy

Emotions during pregnancy

People experience strong emotions in pregnancy, both positive and negative. Especially in a first pregnancy, feeling a new life growing is exciting and awe-inspiring, totally unlike anything else. Parents often say it takes a while for the reality to sink in. Feeling the baby move or seeing scan pictures can suddenly change people's feelings.

 

She was scared of having a baby boy because of past abuse by a man, but when she saw him on the...

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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I was, I was abused as a child and have a, have issues about men and it was very difficult because I had a little girl already. I was, I was petrified, actually, that I'd, I'd have a baby boy and I wouldn't love it, that I would hate it. On the day of my 20 week scan I was, I was saying in the morning, 'I don't know what I'm going to do, I'm so scared they're going to tell me it's a baby boy. I don't know what I'm going to do; I'm not going to be able to cope.' And during my scan I got to know this baby, he was lovely. It, this baby kicking about on the screen and then it came to sex of the baby and she said, 'Would you like to know the sex?' So I said, 'Yes.' And my sister was with me at the time and so she zoomed down and in this, in his little true male character [laughing] opened his legs and there, there it was. And it was just so funny the way he did it and my sister looked at me as though I was about to cry but it was, it was fine from then on, it was fine. But that, that was actually a huge issue, a huge, huge thing. Not many people understand it at all; very few people understand it.

So what made it okay, because you did have a little boy?

Yeah.

What was the moment where you realised, I'm going to have a little boy and it's okay?

I think I fell in love with him while I was having the scan. I think I just fell in love with him and I, I just thought, it doesn't matter. He's so gorgeous, you know, you see their face and, and you, you kind of see a personality shine through those scans and during the scan it just came across that it didn't matter at all. And I was actually quite proud that I was going to have this little boy in the end but it was, it was, you know, it was ruining the pregnancy, the fear of having a boy which, like I say, not, not many people understand.

Several people said finding out the sex of the baby helped them bond, and scans helped their partner share the pregnancy more closely. (See more experiences of scans in pregnancy). One woman described how being pregnant with her first child was “scary” but “you could rub your belly and talk to them. And they were sort of like, I would, you know, they could hear your voice. And they sort of like, I would tend to kick back sort of like, like, “I could hear you” sort of thing”.

Most people find that any tiredness and sickness improve in the second trimester, and they can physically enjoy feeling pregnant and watching their body change. Some people said they felt quite relaxed and even healthier than usual, and that their hair and skin was in really good condition. One woman enjoyed pregnancy so much she did not want it to end. 

 

She really enjoys being pregnant and seeing her body change shape.

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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Did it change your sense of your own appearance, of your own attractiveness when, when your shape started to change? Did that worry you at all?

It worried me because I'd always been reasonably slim and looked after my appearance. And I think the, at the beginning, you know, sort of you get to 3 to 4 months and you don't, you don't feel pregnant, well, I didn't feel pregnant at all. And I just felt that I looked like I'd put on loads of weight, you know, there wasn't a specific tummy shape or anything like that and nobody really knew I was pregnant. And I think that hit home a little bit. And I was finding it really hard to do my jeans up and I was like, 'Oh, no' which sounds silly but, you know, it was just, but the more I've progressed and the, you know, obviously the, the more shapely I've got as far as my bump is concerned, I've just loved it, absolutely loved it. And now I just, I just love being in maternity clothes and I, I just really enjoy being pregnant. So, yes, so it hasn't really bothered me at all.

 

She enjoyed pregnancy so much she did not want it to end.

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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Yes, I felt I was blessed with an amazing pregnancy. Whilst it had been difficult to get pregnant, actually being pregnant was wonderful and I really didn't want it to end. I felt that 9 months wasn't long enough, which does make people laugh. Every, everything was straightforward. I did have a slight hiccup when I was 5 months pregnant; I, I had a heavy cough and cold, mild 'flu, and I couldn't feel the baby moving. So I was admitted to hospital, just for a night, and I was actually dehydrated, which meant that the baby was dehydrated and so had been a bit sluggish. The baby had never been in any danger but I did find that my pregnancy was closely monitored and I had frequent scans. Once I'd got to about 30 weeks I had growth scans every 4 weeks. But I really did love being pregnant, felt very healthy and I didn't feel worried at all.
 

People looked forward to meeting their new baby and being parents. One father said he suddenly felt more grown-up and responsible. Some people felt they needed to take more care of their own safety for the baby's sake, for instance driving more carefully.

 

He is really looking forward to being a dad and playing with the baby.

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Male
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One of the things that I am looking forward to most about being a dad, being a father, fatherhood I suppose is taking the baby for a walk in the countryside. Not necessarily walking but having the baby on my back or on my front and walking with the dog, just out, me, the child and the dog. And my partner hopefully at home having a sleep or, yeah probably just having a sleep, maybe a bath and a sleep, usually sleeping - if she is anything like as tired as she is now when she's actually had the baby, that would be a lot of sleeping. So that's a, an image that I can hold on to. It seems quite real to me. Looking down on a sleeping child and smelling a sleeping child are things that are fantastic things and I look forward to very much. And seeing, seeing a child just feeding, just breast-feeding is a beautiful thing, I think, and to know that's my child and my partner's is something that I'm really looking forward to very much indeed. 

Obviously teaching my child to do all the sad things that I enjoy doing as they grow older. I don't know, playing computer games or, obviously looking forward to getting Scalectrix. Never really had Scalextric as a child and I think it's very important that I should, whether it's a boy or a girl playing Scalextric. This growing and learning to play and finding out what that child likes. Telling stories, I like telling stories and that will be fun.

 
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A group of colleagues were having children around the same time. He suddenly felt more grown-up.

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Male
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Father' Well, it's quite funny because at work there was just a big group of us all of a sudden were, were having children - people I already knew quite well, so, and had worked with. There must be about four or five of us all had children in around four months of each other. So it did feel quite like we were in part of a gang because we were all talking about the same sorts of things and sharing experiences so.. And it also made you, because the company I work for, everyone's quite young, and so all of a sudden I felt quite grown-up amongst my peers because I was married and was having children. And some of the people I still spoke to were single still, were going out every night and getting drunk or whatever. So all of a sudden life had changed quite dramatically.

Mother' Poor you.

Father' Exactly.

Mother' [laugh]

Father' Poor me.
 

People who had problems in an earlier pregnancy or with their own health sometimes worried that something else might go wrong, but also felt joy and hope at the prospect of new life.

 

Being pregnant again after donor insemination was something happy coming out of all the sadness. ...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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I think once we sort of went ahead and then, you know, everything was going smoothly with the pregnancy, I started getting a bit more positive, but it was worrying at the same time. But it was, you know, it was finally something happy coming out of all the sadness that we'd been through. And it was like making you believe again in life, I think. 

That was important for me because I thought life was not worth it. If it's like that, then it's not worth it, but now it is worth it. And that's been a turning point in our life, I think. To realise that, yes, miracles happen and, you know, because I always feel she's a miracle anyway, because first of all most people don't get pregnant first time - and she's been always healthy and so, you know, she's our little miracle, I think.

Going ahead with a pregnancy when you know there is something seriously wrong with the baby's health can be very difficult and emotional, but one mother who knew her baby might not live still wanted to embrace the feeling of being pregnant and wanted other people to acknowledge that she had had a baby. (See also 'When something is wrong with the baby' and the Healthtalk Antenatal screening website.)

 

Despite the baby's problems, she wanted to experience a whole pregnancy, in case she never had...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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Yeah, nobody [laughs], you just don't get, you know the feeling when you go along for your antenatal check-up and you get excited hearing the baby's heart beat and looking - because I didn't buy anything for him, didn't buy any, any equipment or baby clothes, nothing. So I, I just wanted to be sure he was here first.

You said you bought one thing for him, did you?

A little babygro, which said 'I grow in my sleep' on it.

I didn't, well, I haven't, I haven't felt embittered or anything about that, you know - oh, all that wasted time, or how unfair it is, or anything like that. I haven't really thought about those sorts of things.  I also wanted to continue with the pregnancy because I thought, I don't want to cut this pregnancy short. I want to experience pregnancy to full term. I might not have another chance.. Because I'm thirty-nine now and I never know what's going to happen, do I? So I wanted that experience as well, and I thought it just felt more natural to go through a life cycle and to have a funeral.  Because if you terminate a baby, although you grieve over them it's very private, people don't acknowledge your grief.. the same way that they do, if the baby's been born and died.  

Alongside the enjoyment and excitement, anxiety or low mood are common in pregnancy. Sometimes this can be minor worries or just a temporary feeling, but in some cases can be quite severe and troubling*.

Some people felt uncomfortable with the changes to their body and appearance, and just wanted it all to be over. People who felt very sick or had a lot of back pain sometimes felt resentful. (See 'Sickness and hyperemesis' and 'Pain and discomfort').

 
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It was emotional feeling the baby kick, but she hated feeling so big. (Played by an actor.)

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Did you, when you, when you started to sort of, you know, get bigger and your body was changing and stuff, how did, how did that feel to you?

Different, weird, it was really weird because I was still only slim when she was kicking me. I'd only had like a little pop and she was kicking away. So to me it felt weird because I had this like little tiny bump. And then it come to about, I think it was about six months, and I just ballooned out, and I went enormous and you could see her moving her arms and things like that. But it was, I felt dead weird, I felt disgusting.

Did you?

Yeah. Although it was in the middle of summer I was wearing trackie bottoms and big baggy T-shirts, to try and hide the bump, because I felt massive, I felt huge. They were saying, everyone was saying, “Oh, you've got a dead neat tiny bump” and things like this. I didn't, to me it felt huge. I felt enormous and it was just knocking me sick. I just wanted it over with so I could have my body back to myself, that was it. So, that's the only thing I'd have felt. It was emotional though when I first felt her kick and I first seen her move across my stomach and things like that. I did get a bit upset because you - as you do, don't you, when you're, you're lying there and nothing happens and then all of a sudden you get this big boot coming out, this big foot coming out your stomach or this big arm, and it's the first time you'd seen her and things like that. So I did get emotional with that. But that was it, I just wanted my body back to myself. It was knocking me sick being fat, [laugh] knocking me sick having this bump in front of me, because I felt like I was walking like a Womble.

Like a Womble?

Mm. I felt like I was walking like a Womble. And my auntie used to actually sing to me, “Remember you're a Womble” because I used to say, “I walk, I look like a Womble. I'm walking like one and I look like one”.

Many parents said that until the baby was born and they could see it was healthy, they felt uneasy that something might go wrong. This was especially true for people who had had previous problems such as miscarriage or a baby with health problems; one mother described how she coped with anxiety by just focussing on a week at a time. Psychological counselling also helped. 

 

She coped with anxiety by just focusing on a week at a time. Psychological counselling helped too...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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How did you cope for such a long time with all the sadness and all the trauma and all the difficulty and all the decision making? What got you through?

To go through all this five years of waiting for our daughter to finally be born, I think I spent enough time to grieve, especially for the termination. The miscarriage I didn't allow myself time to grieve, I only was off from school [as a teacher] for a week, and that was a big mistake. Because I think when the next pregnancy started I was really very, very, you know, emotionally exhausted and I don't think it was right. 

But for the termination I took six months. I didn't go to work, and I just sort of took time to grieve and think over, and talk to the psychologist. I think that helped a lot. Me having the kitten as well helped me a lot. And then once I'd got over that, and I went back to work I obviously continued to focus on how to have a baby and all that.

With the pregnancy itself, my last pregnancy, seeing the psychologist as well helped me. Unfortunately I couldn't do sports any more, at five months, but I, what I also remember is just having a diary and every week that I was advancing in my pregnancy I used to turn the page and tear a piece of paper from, in the corner, to say I've gone another week. So I think I was taking a week at a time. I was not, I was trying to not sort of look too much ahead but just taking one week at a time. And every time I had passed another week I was saying, "You see, I'm getting closer, I'm doing another week this time, another week, another week, another week", and then suddenly it came to 40 weeks. 

And that's how I coped as well, trying to - but it was very stressful. But I was, I was actually - in a way it's very strange - but I thought, this time it's going to work. It has to work. So I had a lot of faith in a way, at the same time I was so scared as well, but I had some faith that it was going to work. But the psychologist was definitely helping, definitely helping.

Another was worried because other members in her family have had children with disabilities, and had heard marrying one's cousin could increase the risk. (There is only a small added risk from first cousin marriage, unless there is a family history of abnormalities caused by a recessive gene - in this case there is a higher risk that a couple who are related to each other will both be carriers and that their baby will have the condition).

 
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She was worried whether the baby would have a disability. She had heard marrying one's cousin...

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Age at interview: 28
Sex: Female
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(Translated from Punjabi) 

My Aunty - Aunty had two children who were abnormal, disabled. I am also scared about that my baby should be normal. That it should be OK.

Right. So did you talk to Aunty about that, that there are disabled children in the family?

No, she married within her close family, to her paternal aunt's son, they marry mostly in their family so that is why they have children like that. They were saying that it is not always the case, that my family and their family were separate, that it wasn't necessary that our children would be like that, that I shouldn't worry about it and put myself under tension.

This thing you said that if you marry within close family, there is a greater risk of having disabled children, where did you hear it from?

Both my aunts' children were like that. One had a son who died aged one year. He was abnormal, he could not even sit. She was married to her aunt's son. The other aunt was married to her aunt's son, her son could not speak. The doctor told them that the whole problem was due to cousin marriage. Our marriage is also cousin marriage so naturally I am a bit scared.

Do you believe that it is true?

Yes I do. I have seen many cases of cousin marriages.

Due to cousin marriage?

Yes

Has anyone talked to you that it may not always be the case?

Yes, a friend of mine said that it is not always the case, because only one in ten children may be like that due to cousin marriage.

Has any one ever told you that these are just tales people tell about cousin marriages?

No, they show it on TV and there is a lot about it in books as well that you shouldn't marry with cousins, because there are many cases like that.

Right, so the book they gave you to read, does it have a mention about it?        

No, it is not mentioned in that.

Which book did you read it in?

I do not remember the name of the book, but books like digests have things in them, and there is more in TV programmes.

In Pakistan?

In Pakistan they show quite a lot of programmes that cousin marriages should not take place, because if two children are normal then there is a chance that the third might be abnormal.

Right, so you have this fear...?

Yes I am a bit afraid.

(There is only a small added risk from first cousin marriage, unless there is a family history of abnormalities caused by a recessive gene * in this case there is a higher risk that a couple who are related to each other will both be carriers and that their baby will have the condition).

Of course, things do occasionally go wrong, and you can read more about people's feelings in these circumstances elsewhere on the site, for example 'Bleeding and miscarriage', 'Rarer complications', 'When something is wrong with the baby', and on the Healthtalk Antenatal screening website.

But many people who had no special reason to feel anxious also wondered whether the baby would be all right.

 

She worried something might be wrong with the baby right up to the birth.

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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Did you worry with the first one about something going wrong or about miscarriage or something like that?

Yes, of course. Yes. I worried about miscarriage, although that wasn't the sort of biggest concern. I mean obviously I was concerned about that, I think everyone is, but that wasn't a sort of major concern because I haven't had a lot of history of problems and there weren't many histories of miscarriages in my family and things, so I didn't - that was obviously an issue but it wasn't a sort of overriding issue. I suppose I was more worried about there being something wrong with the baby, because we didn't have many scans, we only had the twenty week scan with my first baby because we realised that, just for us personally, the scan result wouldn't have made any difference, so there was no point in having them. And I wasn't particularly encouraged to have them by health professionals. They didn't - it seemed to be something that one would have to go out of one's way to organise and they didn't seem to imply that they were particularly necessary, so, and we didn't feel they were particularly necessary either, so we didn't have the scans, but then subsequently that meant that we didn't actually know that everything was okay. So we still had that doubt right until up until he was born. So it was kind of a mixed blessing whether we had the scans or not.

Did you feel that you didn't want to have the scans because you wouldn't have done anything about it anyway?

Exactly, yeah, yeah. I had that discussion with the midwife and she said, 'What would you do?' because when we were talking about the scans she said, 'What would you do if you had a certain result from this scan?' and I said, 'Oh I don't think we would do anything.' She said, 'Well there's no point in having them then'. Which was quite right, but it did mean that there was the added anxiety of not having been told that everything was fine. And I understand that the scans can't do that necessarily so in fact it probably - we wouldn't have been able to be told that everything was fine anyway, but you we still didn't have any kind of medical confirmation until, except for the twenty week scan, which was fine.

Several said they did not rush to buy clothes or equipment, because it might be 'tempting fate'. Because you cannot see what is happening to the baby, feeling it move is usually reassuring, but occasionally people panicked if the movements felt different or less frequent.

 
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She panicked if she couldn't feel the baby kick. She was especially anxious because her sister...

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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I think my main fear about being pregnant was that something would happen to the baby and I wouldn't be able to carry her to term or something would happen to her immediately afterwards. For example, whenever she stopped kicking I would have a panic about that. I mean I got to the stage where literally I would try everything just to get her to kick, which is a shame [laugh]. I would lie down on the bed and see if I could feel her kicking. If I couldn't feel her kicking I'd turn round the other way and of course then I'd feel her move as she got herself comfortable again. I think I drove my husband to distraction with that. But I was, I was terribly anxious because obviously I couldn't see her. So when I felt her kicking I knew she was all right. But obviously she slept and things in the womb. And some days she wouldn't kick till - she had quite a, an established pattern - but some days she wouldn't kick till lunchtime, and so I'd spend all morning going, 'Is she going to kick?' [laugh]. The reason behind that anxiety was that my sister had lost a baby at 37 weeks. And my, until I actually saw my baby out safely I, whatever the midwife said to me, oh, that it wouldn't happen or that these things don't run in families, and the midwives were really good at trying to explain to me that the chances were it would be fine, until my daughter was actually born I was quite anxious about that.
 

Fears about the birth itself were also common, including worries about pain and possible complications.

 

She was very afraid of birth after seeing a TV documentary as a teenager, and did not want her...

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Age at interview: 28
Sex: Female
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That's quite an unusual choice these days, to not have your husband there or your partner there?

I don't know. I just felt I didn't want him to see me in, in this state. The birth was a very scary thing for me. I suppose it's all psychologic, well, it is in fact psychologic. I think the first time I've seen a documentary on birth I was too young. I was a young teenager and I was probably too young to see, you know. It was just a mistake, flicking channels, and I saw something I should have not seen at that age and it just scared me. And all these years, the thought of the birth was just something so scary for me. Something you can't think of, it's just too much to take. And so I think I didn't want my husband to see me in that stage. It was a big, big step, the birth. Not too much the pregnancy. Even so the sickness was not nice [laugh]. Pregnancy was not that much of a big step, but the birth was the big, big step, you know, to go through, the big wall to go through for me. And because my expectation was so high, you know, the fear, the expectation of the fear and the, and the pain and, and the blood and all that was so high for me, I suppose that I had a pleasant surprise [laugh] that it was not as bad as I thought it would be.

 
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She was scared of labour and did not like the thought of an epidural or gas and air.

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Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
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I was scared of the labour because everyone was saying that it was painful, so I was scared of that. And because everybody, nearly everybody else had had epidurals, they were just telling me to get one because I'll fly through it and it won't be painful and things like that. And it just frightened me, because my boyfriend's mum, when she had an epidural, they'd clipped her spine and left her paralysed for like a couple of days, and I didn't want to have the epidural just in case it happened to me. And then I didn't want the gas and air because, when I was watching it on the TV, it's the thought of the mask going on your face, I didn't like that. So I didn't really, I wanted pain relief like about a week before my due date, but then once I was in there, well, I was fine. And it's awful when you go over your due date, that frightens you.

What did you worry about?

I don't know, that he was going to get too big to, like so I'd have to have a Caesarean. And I was frightened of that as well, I didn't want to get that.

Listening to other people's 'horror stories' could be frightening, and several people felt it was not a good idea to share these in detail with friends who were still pregnant. (See also 'Thinking about where and how to give birth').

In a first pregnancy, it can be hard to think beyond the birth and imagine life as a parent. Some people did not want to think about it. Others worried whether they would love the baby and whether they could be a good parent.

 
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She worried whether she would be a good mother and how she would react to the baby.

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Male
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Did the thought of becoming a parent worry you or was that also...?

Mother' [nods] [laugh]

Tell me more?

Mother' Well, I think it's things, for instance, you think about, well, how are you going to handle it when, if your child doesn't particularly like you? Well, you haven't been a parent before, so you think - well, I was thinking about these things - and 'If you need to discipline your child how will you feel about that? Will will you use smacking? Will you just reason? How will you handle things?' Those type of things, which is very far off. And I think I did think about, 'Well, how will I cope?' And 'Will I be a good mother?'  And those sort of things did run through my mind. But I just, and I just thought along the lines of 'What if I don't like the baby?' That was very strange though, because I just thought, 'Well, what if I really do not like this person?' But that hasn't happened [laugh].
 

There were also worries about how life would change and about taking on responsibility for another person. In a second pregnancy, people may feel calmer and more prepared, but it can still be hard to imagine how a second child will fit into the family. (See also 'Relationships and sex').

 

It is hard to imagine what it will be like having a new baby and a toddler.

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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And how are you anticipating life with a small baby and a toddler?

[laughs] Trying not to think about it, because I know it's going to be really, really difficult. I just - well, I know it is, we both know it is. But again you can't imagine what it's going to be like until it happens, so I'm not, I'm just kind of, hmm, not thinking about it, [laughs] but I know it'll be hard.

Do you kind of get those feelings when you, when you look at your first child and think, 'How can I love another one?'

Yeah. Because she just gets all our attention. We love her to bits and, you know, you think, 'Well, how can I give any love to another one?' But people you speak to say you do, you just do, it just sort of happens naturally, so that's what I'm hoping is going to happen. And just try and involve her in the new baby and not, you know - so she doesn't feel like excluded.

*For information and support on abuse see The National Association for
People Abused in Childhood

*For information on antenatal and post natal mental health see NICE guideline CG45 

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated
May 2017.

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