How to Preserve Meaningful Relationships During a High-Risk Pregnancy

Having a high-risk pregnancy or being prolonged bedrest can have profound effects on you physically, emotionally, and mentally, but these effects don’t just stop with you. The all-consuming nature of a high-risk pregnancy can significantly affect the lives and well-being of your partner, children and even extended family and friends. When your primary focus becomes the nurturing of the tiny life inside of you, it can become overwhelming to try to nurture – or even grow – the relationships with those around you. Additionally, when it seems that your loved ones have no idea how to help you, you may start to feel those relationships becoming less of a priority.

Research shows that women who receive strong social support during pregnancy have lower stress hormones. In fact, a strong support system may protect you from stress-related pregnancy complications such as preterm labor, as well as antepartum and postpartum depression (Morikawa, M., et al., 2015). Therefore, preserving these relationships and surrounding yourself with loving people who can support you is essential for your health and the health of your baby.

Nurturing Your Relationship with Your Partner

While your partner may not be carrying the baby, they are just as invested in the health of the baby as you are. When your life comes to a screeching halt due to a pregnancy complication, their life does as well, and the physical and emotional intimacy you once shared can easily become strained. You might be on pelvic rest during a high-risk pregnancy and unable to be physically intimate with your partner, which can take a toll on your relationship. You may be confined to bedrest either at home or in the hospital making you unable to help with the daily activities at home. You may be unable to work, which can put a financial strain on the household.  All of these things are stressful and can put a heavy weight on the shoulders of your partner.

Your conversations can easily become focused entirely around the pregnancy and baby and the tremendous stress you’re under, and you can easily forget how to relate to each other as partners in life instead of parents fighting for a life. This is a recipe for loneliness, resentment, and even more stress, none of which is healthy for you or baby.

Here are some practical things you can put into practice right away:

  • Take 10 minutes each day, every day to talk about non-baby related things. You both need the break mentally, and it will help you to connect again around something other than the baby.
  • Find ways to build intimacy with your partner, even if you are on pelvic rest. I have laid out some specific ways to do this here.
  • Tell your partner what you need. Even though we might think they should just know what we need, the truth is, it is up to us to communicate our needs. If you need a back rub, tell them! If you need them to just LISTEN while you talk, tell them! If you need that pint of organic double fudge ice cream, tell them!

Nurturing Your Relationship with Your Other Children

Older children might manifest their reactions to your high-risk pregnancy or bed rest through acting out or tantrums (even if they’re passed that age) because they aren’t able to effectively communicate how they’re feeling. They may be scared, worried and missing their regular routine. Children of any age may even withdraw from you and seemingly become disengaged, as if they are angry with you. This is their way of dealing with big emotions that they don’t understand.

Your response to their reactions may be to feel guilty for not being as available to them as you once were. You may feel guilty because you physically and emotionally can’t give them the care you normally do, your quality time together is suddenly limited, or feel you might be scarring them for life. (I promise you that you aren’t!)

Here’s what you can do to fight the guilt and strengthen your relationship with your children:

  • Include them in your new normal. Have them help you fill out medical forms by asking them questions you need to answer. (For example what’s your name or your address?) If they aren’t old enough, give them their own “forms” to fill out right beside you. Need new bedding for the nursery? Have them pick it out. Make their opinion matter and empower them to be a part of the new life coming into their world.
  • Reframe the problem. If your child wants you to pick them up but you aren’t allowed to lift, invite them to climb up on the couch with you for a snuggle. If your child wants you to go run around outside, but you are on bedrest, have a stash of fun, new games or projects you can do with them. Instead of feeling like you always have to say “no”, find something you can say “yes” to!
  • Set aside part of the day that is just for you and them. Whether it’s a special handshake before they get on the bus, reading time before bed, or time to just talk about their day, having dedicated time to focus just on your child will make a world of difference to them.

Nurturing Your Relationships with Your Extended Family and Friends

Your friends and family may not understand why you can’t attend certain events or why you aren’t in contact as much. They may not even understand why your high-risk pregnancy is such a “big deal”, and as a result, they may drop off communication altogether. This happens very frequently to many women with high-risk pregnancies and who are on bed rest. It can come as quite a shock at a time when you need your loved ones the most.

Focus your energy and attention on the relationships that build YOU up. You have enough stress right now, and the last thing you need is unsupportive relationships that add more stress to your life. If you have a friend you want to confront about their lack of support, wait until after the baby is born. The stress of that confrontation is not worth it. Instead, focus your attention on the people ARE present for you. Call them, text them, stay in touch with how THEY are doing and share with them how YOU are coping, too.

Building a nurturing relationship like this can be tremendously powerful in helping you have a healthy high-risk pregnancy.

  • Say “yes” when someone offers help. You cannot and should not be trying to carry the burden alone. Most people honestly don’t know how to help and need your guidance to know how to be most supportive. While you might feel weird or uncomfortable, take them up on it. Like with any new habit, force yourself to say “yes” and it will become easier every time.
  • Have a running list of ways people can help you. This will empower you to say yes and empower them to actually help you, rather than just offering empty words of sympathy. Laundry, dishes, meal prep, Target runs – whatever it is you need or want help with, be specific and be ready to let them help you when they offer.

I’ll be honest, I had a REALLY hard time with this. I was one of those “I can do it myself” type of people. What I didn’t expect was that when I accepted help, I actually deepened some existing relationships and even developed new ones. These friends have now become my family because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my son safe for as long as I did.

Nurturing Your Relationship with Yourself

The one relationship is almost always overlooked during a high-risk pregnancy is the one with ourselves.  So many women spend their days feeling guilty because they feel the complications they are experiencing are somehow their fault. They feel like a failure because they think they should have been able to prevent what has happened. They feel helpless because they suddenly have to rely on others for things they would normally do themselves. All of these negative feelings are overwhelming and add a tremendous amount of stress to you on top of all of the stress you are already under worrying about your baby.

In order to stop that negativity in its tracks and start building a positive relationship with yourself, here is what I suggest you do:

  • Stop blaming yourself. Is not your fault. Repeat this to yourself daily until you believe it. Replace thoughts of self-blame with more positive, encouraging words like, “I’m doing the best I can”
  • Instead of focusing on all the things you can’t do right now, remind yourself of everything you ARE doing. Don’t take any small action for granted. (I used to always say, “Well anyone would do that for their child.” But just because anyone would doesn’t mean it’s easy to do!) Be proud of the sacrifice you’re making to your own health, career, relationships by being on bed rest. Acknowledge the fact that every day you’re helping to grow a brand new human being. Celebrate each day you’ve stayed pregnant because YOU made good choices that allowed your baby to cook for one more day.
  • Remember that the pregnancy or bed rest does NOT define who you are. Remember to watch how you talk to yourself. You aren’t helpless. You just FEEL helpless. You aren’t a terrible mom. You FEEL like a terrible mom. It’s a tiny shift, but it makes a tremendous difference in how you feel every single day and being positive can prevent you from developing depression during and after pregnancy.
  • Similarly, who you are hasn’t changed because of what you’re going through. You’re still successful, smart, kind, caring, loving and all of those amazing things you have always been.

Relationships are going to be affected by a high-risk pregnancy and bed rest. That’s just a fact. A huge life event like a high-risk pregnancy or bed rest is bound to change things in your relationships, but it doesn’t always have to be a negative thing. Accepting this takes the blame off of you and your loved ones and empowers you to help yourself get through this with the best, most supportive relationships, both new and old, by your side.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are your qualifications?

I am a double board certified ObGyn and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist. I have worked at a large academic center in academic medicine as a clinician, educator and researcher since 2004.  I am currently a tenured Professor and actively manage patients with high-risk pregnancies.

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