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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Parijat Deshpande is a Perinatal Wellness Counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area who works with women who are experiencing high stress during their high-risk pregnancy. Combining her personal experience with a very high-risk pregnancy and her professional training in clinical psychology, Parijat helps guide moms in managing their stress so they can feel less anxious, more in control and more hopeful as they fight for their baby. Parijat received a Bachelor's of Science degree in Psychology with High Honors from University of California, Berkeley, after which she earned a Masters' of Science degree in Clinical Psychology from San Francisco State University. She has worked with children and families as a psychotherapist and taught undergraduate psychology courses at UC Berkeley for over 4 years. She is also the Founder of MySahana, a mental health nonprofit dedicated to increasing awareness and education in the South Asian community. Parijat is a Certified Wellness Coach, Certified Stress Management Coach and Certified Marriage Educator.
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