My partner and I just found out that we are pregnant. We both want to be parents, but I read somewhere that pregnancy can add stress to relationships.  What are some things we should look out for?

AG: Thanks for the question! Pregnancy can be a big change for an individual, a relationship, and/or a family system. It’s important to first remember that every person may experience this differently. For some, pregnancy can be a source of intimacy and excitement. For others, it can add stress and uncertainty. For many, it can be some combination of all of these feelings and many others! In this blog post we will address some common themes. We want to note, though, that these may not apply to everybody and that this is far from comprehensive.

RC:  As a person who has now gone through this process twice, my observation of my own experiences is that each pregnancy felt different.  Something that folks often talk about, regardless of how familiar this process is to them, is an experience of navigating a future in which there is less certainty than before.  This is sometimes accompanied by an increase in anxiety or feelings of (in some ways) lacking control.  I want to note, this is partly due to changes in neurobiology; when pregnant and/or parenting, our brains actually redirect resources to increase our ability to respond quickly and effectively to primal threats.  While this was a crucial adaptive strategy, it can make things feel hard or overwhelming in the modern world.  Often people express feeling better able to manage this when in open dialogue with their supportive people.

AG: In part because of these changes, patterns of communication may be impacted. People may feel that they are experiencing parts of the pregnancy and parts of the relationship differently, and that they may not be on the same page. Also, it isn’t uncommon for people to feel that the relationship is no longer the main priority as it might have previously been. People who choose to be parents may be redirecting emotional energy toward the growing baby that was once focused on the relationship and adapting to this shift can be confusing. Naming these feelings to your people can be helpful, if that feels like an option.   

RC:  It’s important to flag that, especially in partnered relationships that are characterized by imbalanced dynamics of power and control, increases in interpersonal violence have been documented.  This often, but certainly not always, correlates with a “mistimed” or unplanned pregnancy.  In relationships with a history of physical violence, pregnancy often correlates to an increase in homicide.  There is little accessible data that speaks to interpersonal violence within broader family systems.  

Often a relatively accessible place for folks to raise concerns during pregnancy is during prenatal visits with a medical professional.  In the US, medical providers are required to screen for interpersonal violence during the course of a prenatal relationship and should ask those questions without any partner(s) present.  If you have any concerns about your well-being, please know that local and federal resources are available.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline or a local Interpersonal Violence agency may be a good place to begin.  OSAPR (Harvard), Transition House (Cambridge), Casa Myrna (Boston), Reach Beyond Domestic Violence (Waltham), The Network/ La Red (Boston), Fenway Health (Boston) or Respond (Somerville) are some of the resources available locally.

AG: Thanks Ramsey for noting all of that. And while it’s certainly true that pregnancy can add stresses on relationships, it can also be a really big source of excitement!  For people that are choosing to carry the pregnancy to term and/or to parent, the thought of bringing a new human into the world can bring up many emotions, experiences, and reactions and some may feel that it gives them a different perspective on things.  Whatever your experience, we hope that you feel equipped to navigate the process in a way that feels right for you.  Please know you are always welcome to reach out with any more questions!  Our email is: harvard.sexual.literacy@gmail.com.

Ramsey Champagne,

OSAPR Community Advocate

AG

Student