Terrified to Conceive After Premature Birth

After 12 years of trying to conceive, I became pregnant. My pregnancy was wonderful until 29 weeks when I delivered my son by cesarean. He was hospitalized for 50 long, agonizing days, but thankfully he has no problems associated with the ordeal. He is now 17 months old. The emotions of feeling cheated out of a full-term pregnancy and breastfeeding are driving me crazy! I want to become pregnant again, but I am terrified that I will have another premature birth. How do I work through these feelings?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

You no doubt pushed grief aside to focus your full attention on mothering your newborn when he was born prematurely. Mothers often do not have sufficient time or support postpartum to reclaim the parts of themselves that were left behind during pregnancy and the birthing process. Mourning these losses now will help you recover from the traumatic experience, and make it possible for you to regain hope for the possibility of a full-term delivery in the future.

Working through your grief around losses of breastfeeding, term pregnancy and even vaginal birth is a part of your preparation for the next time around. Although you are now flooded with negative flashbacks and expectations for another problem pregnancy, rest assured that this will dissipate as you allow yourself to do two things: fully mourn and recover.

Now that your baby is "out of the woods" you will be able to focus your full attention on yourself, knowing that your child is safe. Begin with writing your birth story, or telling it to your partner, a friend, or even a professional counselor who is trained to deal with childbirth issues.

New challenges are required for integrating your past with your current self-identity. Give yourself time for a full cry, but do not stop there! As with any trauma, it is necessary to reclaim what was lost in order to fully recover. Allow yourself to get in touch with your lost dreams for full-term pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

When you are ready, begin to imagine, even visualize what your son might have looked like inside the womb growing to term. Develop this into a complete picture of giving birth and holding him in your arms. Purposefully remind yourself of the reality of your love and safe connection to him now, in order to help you "pretend" this scenario! This is an exercise for YOU. You are not denying the past, simply allowing yourself to reclaim some of the feelings of the normal process. This is important as the possibility for full-term delivery does lie ahead of you!

Refer to my book, An Easier Childbirth and Birthing Normally for exercises and examples of healing the past through use of visualization and art therapy techniques. If you have difficulty creating your own visualization, use the one in the book or use the relaxation and bonding side of my audiotape, Body-Centered Hypnosis for Pregnancy, Bonding and Childbirth. Be aware, too, that medical research has shown hypnotic visualization to be an effective tool in helping women maintain pregnancies to term and stimulate breastfeeding!

My own practice is replete with examples of women who have had premature deliveries in their first pregnancies, but have maintained to full-term with subsequent children. This is a definite possibility for you!

Childbirth is an event that is often underestimated for its impact on a woman's self-esteem and well-being. Too often, well-meaning physicians may encourage a woman to forget about the birth and focus on her new baby. As postpartum ensues, depression may result from denying feelings that need attention. Similarly, a woman's feelings may be set aside, until the next child is on the horizon. She is suddenly swept with feelings of loss or terror, which are triggered due to contemplating pregnancy.

The underlying cultural message is that childbirth should not matter. Women are all too often left in the dark, without the support to integrate one of the most powerful experiences in their life! Positive or traumatic, it is never a neutral event, but one that cries out for recognition and integration.

Give yourself permission and seek support to heal the past and recover hope for the future.

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