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A high-risk pregnancy can be a lonely experience when the people around you can't grasp what you're going through. Well-meaning friends and family members sometimes make things harder when they compare their experience to yours or give you unsolicited advice.
Even a compliment like, "You're so strong!" can feel insensitive. After all, you didn't choose to have a high-risk pregnancy. The truth is, even the people who care about you the most may need a little guidance. Here's how to help them understand.
First, try talking to a close family member, friend, or counselor you know will be empathetic. Confiding in those you trust most may make it easier to share your feelings with a wider circle of family and friends down the road.
Discussing your fears can make you feel less anxious and strengthen your emotional connection to others. But it may not be easy to let your feelings show – or know exactly what to say. Below are common feelings high-risk women talk about.
- Being afraid to announce a pregnancy when you're not sure it's a healthy, viable one. If your partner or others want to share the news before you're ready, explain that you'd rather wait until the start of the second trimester when your chance of a miscarriage is much lower.
- Being uncertain about your pregnancy but needing support. When you're high-risk, it's natural to want to tell close family or friends about your pregnancy, so you can turn to them for support if anything happens.
- Being afraid to bond with the baby until the outcome seems more certain. Most women start feeling some attachment to their baby as soon as they know they're pregnant, but it's common to respond differently when your pregnancy is high-risk. Your friends and family may not understand this unless you explain it.
- Feeling defective or different from other pregnant women. It's hard to hear women talk about their normal, healthy pregnancy when yours is more complicated.
- Needing lots of reassurance. Tell friends and family exactly what's helpful or reassuring to you, and let them know what they can do to encourage you to stay healthy.
- Being guarded or hesitant to let yourself get excited about the pregnancy. If the person you're talking to doesn't understand your anxiety, try associating it with something they can relate to.
- Having a hard time trusting that your body can carry a pregnancy. This is a big worry for many women with a high-risk pregnancy. Expressing it helps others understand you better.
- Feeling that others don't understand your experience, like how difficult it is to be on bed rest or how stressful it is to go to so many doctor appointments.
- Being concerned you're too focused on the negative. It's okay to share your worries about a negative outcome, such as a premature birth or a c-section. Talking about your specific fears helps others understand where those fears come from.
- Worrying what others think when you complain about your symptoms. Some people may tell you to be grateful just to be pregnant or have the support you have. Tell them that sharing your hardships helps lighten them.
- Feeling guilty or responsible for your condition – like thinking it's the result of not being careful or of choosing the wrong time to get pregnant. Your loved ones are likely to be more sensitive if they're aware you're feeling guilty, however irrational that may be.
- Avoiding preparations for your baby's birth or not buying things for the baby because you're afraid you might "jinx" the pregnancy.
- Feeling frustrated that you're being pushed to do things you don't want to. If a loved one suggests a fun activity to take your mind off your worries, remember that she's doing it out of love. If you choose to go along with it, you might discover it changes your outlook in a good way.
Sharing information about the medical and emotional aspects of your high-risk pregnancy can lead to greater understanding of what you're going through. Below are books and online resources to give to family and friends.
High-Risk Pregnancy – Why Me? Understanding and Managing a Potential Preterm Pregnancy. A Medical and Emotional Guide, by Kelly Whitehead with Vincenzo Berghella M.D.
Your High-Risk Pregnancy: A Practical and Supportive Guide, by Diana Raab with Errol Norwitz M.D.
The Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety Workbook: Practical Skills to Help You Overcome Anxiety, Worry, Panic Attacks, Obsessions, and Compulsions, by Pamela S. Wiegartz, Ph.D. and Kevin L. Gyoerkoe, Psy.D.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is a leading organization in women's healthcare, and the group's website has easy-to-read patient information to help you, friends, and family members better understand your pregnancy and high-risk condition.
See BabyCenter's article about high-risk pregnancy resources for a comprehensive list of websites and organizations.
Ask for support
Don't be shy about asking for help. People can gain a better understanding of your high-risk condition through the simple act of helping you. Ask people who offer to lend a hand to do a specific task, like driving you to appointments or going with you to a high-risk support group.
For support from other high-risk women, check out BabyCenter's high-risk pregnancy community.
Susan LaCroix is a writer, editor, and psychotherapist with a private practice in Berkeley, California. She specializes in providing support to individuals and couples during pregnancy, postpartum adjustment, and the transition to parenthood.