How to Deal with the Unexpected When You’re Expecting

Parenting transition coach, Joanna McCarthy, gives her gems of advice on how to deal with the birthing challenges presented by the pandemic.

It’s safe to say no one would have written the current situation into their birth plan.

In addition to the wider situation, the current restrictions and adaptations that are being made to anti-natal care procedures and in labour wards are changing on a regular basis. It can be hard to manage these changes both emotionally and mentally, especially when all you want is clarity and trusted routines to feel safe.

So, what are the best ways to practically deal with and mentally manage these changes as, when and if they occur during your pregnancy?

We asked one of our parenting transition coaches, Joanna McCarthy, for their gems of advice:

How to Plan Without a Plan

Expectant parents are told to have a birth plan, a plan of how they would like their baby to come into the world. They are also told not to be too attached it. Because one of the first lessons of being a parent starts right there, with all the planning in the world you are now having to factor in a little being with a will of their own.

The parents that I speak to in my role as a parental returner coach are professionals with careers that require them to be ‘in control ‘. Of course, there are variables in every situation but largely, pre- children our lives are dominated by meeting our own needs and desires. At work we have a plan, know where we are headed and how we will get there. When it comes to giving birth, we can have a plan but must be aware we need to hold it lightly.

Stay Calm in the Face of Change

One of the biggest lessons that being a parent teaches us is that our inner resources are most important. Anything we have learnt at work about adapting to change are applicable in parenting too. Change is inevitable, how we deal with it is something we can control. Being present to what is occurring in this moment is one of the behaviours that will help us adapt.

Fear of the unknown is a worry about the future and what might be, if we attend to the moment we are experiencing NOW we are able to stay calm in the face of change. Because in this moment everything is ok and if it’s not ok, then we can experience any difficult emotion and choose to not let it hijack us. Breathing really helps.

Use Your Breathing

When we are stressed our breathing is often affected causing our adrenal system to release hormones such as cortisol that shut down our rational thinking. When we breathe high up in our chest with short breaths, it can increase anxiety. Slow deep breathing is something we can do to return ourselves to calm.

It really is often as simple as noticing that you are feeling anxious, pausing what you are doing, sitting still with your feet on the ground and taking a few deep long breaths right down to the abdomen. Make your out-breath longer than your in-breath. Try counting, breathe in for 4 counts and out for 5, then in for 5 counts and out for 6 continue until you get to 10. It might help to visualise the tension being released through your feet as you sit and ground yourself.

Don't be Driven by Fear

When dealing with uncertainty, it is vital to be able to access our inner resources, to make decisions that are not fear driven. When we are stressed, we can make decisions that are ‘reactive’ - responding to the emotion that we feel in the moment.

Empowered decisions made with a clear mind, are those that are in line with our values. One of the messages I make sure that new parents receive in coaching is that they do have the answers for themselves. With a new baby comes all kinds of big decisions: breast feed or bottle, sleep routine or go with the flow, nursery, nanny or childminder? When we turn to friends, family and books for guidance we will find conflicting opinions. You know the best choices for you and your child, have confidence in your intuition.

Reframe Your Experience

So much has been written about the benefits of developing a positive mind-set. Often, we will automatically think negative thoughts about a situation, however we can train our minds to think positive thoughts.

A positive reframe is taking a situation and trying to find something good in it. The theory is simple but it can be hard to do. I was talking to mum-to-be last week who was on maternity leave in lockdown. The plan had been for Grandma to visit for the month following the birth to help with the baby, this of course was not then possible. Rather than dwell on the negative thoughts about this she could reframe the situation by recognising that her partner and she would need to manage alone, which would inevitably bring them closer and by the time Grandma arrived they would be experienced parents.