Pregnancy's Ups and Downs

Pregnancy can have problems and trouble-free periods -- and either situation is normal.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
5 min read

Arlene Robles and Bobbie No are sisters who are both expecting a second child. They say their pregnancies have been relatively problem-free. In the four months she's been carrying the baby, No has thrown up only once, and at eight and a-half months, Robles has felt no morning sickness at all. The two have said they haven't felt particularly moody, nor have they had much jitters about having an addition to the family.

Yet further questioning reveals that each woman has her lion's share of concerns -- some similar, some very different from the other's. Both worry about having enough space in their homes for their growing families, about the pros and cons of day care for their children, and about how their careers will affect their families.

As a national sales coordinator for a San Francisco radio station, Robles thoroughly enjoys her job. With a new baby on the way, however, she's thinking more about how she could be more available for her kids.

"Working with the media in San Francisco was just where I wanted to be," says the 31-year-old. "But the long hours at work, getting up early to commute, and getting home late just isn't going to work with the kids."

It was fine when she and her husband had only Emerson, their 5-year-old son. He's already in preschool, and will soon be in kindergarten full-time. A newborn, though, would require more round-the-clock attention. Robles doesn't want to risk missing the baby's milestones, considering herself lucky enough to have caught Emerson's first words and steps, even though she worked full-time. Plus, she wants to keep an eye on how her son will adjust to being an older brother. Although she and her husband have taken him to sibling-preparation classes, in the past he's been visibly uncomfortable seeing his mom carrying a baby.

On the other hand, No isn't worried at all about her first daughter, Alani. The 7-year-old has been excited about becoming a big sister, and has many activities, such as soccer and Tae Kwon Do, to keep her busy. No's main concern is figuring out whether or not it's worth it for her to work full-time. If all or most of the money she makes goes to day care, she thinks it might be better for her to stay at home with the kids.

"Maybe I could start a home business to supplement our income," the current customer-service manager muses, seemingly confident that things will work out by the time she gives birth. "Right now I'm just concentrating on staying healthy," she says, noting her more conscious efforts to keep informed about her body and the new baby's development. The 27-year-old remembers all too well how ignorant she felt the first time around, because she was too embarrassed to ask questions of her doctor and her family. Now, she feels she is more mature, more proactive, and is reading as much as she can about pregnancy and parenthood.

The issues facing No and Robles -- such as changes in lifestyle, day care, income, career, and sibling adjustment -- are common among expecting families, according to mental health experts. Fortunately for the sisters, they are not experiencing pregnancy problems like extreme mood swings or much physical discomfort to add to the mix. Many women do have these pregnancy problems, however, and coupled with the life-altering decision-making, they can make pregnancy a very stressful time. Yet, believe it or not, this is all still normal.

"A majority of women experience ups and downs during pregnancy. It's hard not to, with physiological and other changes going on," says Diane Ross Glazer, PhD, a psychotherapist at the Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center. "If you're always happy during pregnancy -- that's wonderful -- that's normal, too."

Although society often paints a picture of pregnancy as a rosy time, Ross Glazer says surging hormones can make women more emotional, thereby making problems and decision-making all the more difficult. To remedy the situation, she recommends women be kind to themselves and accept their ups and downs as part of the process. She also says it's important to talk to one's partner, a trusted family member, or a friend -- someone that can provide support.

Raphael Good, MD, says it may help to think of problems that arise during pregnancy as chances for families to prepare for life change. "It's an opportunity to come apart and regroup at a higher level," says the professor of psychiatry and ob-gyn at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Women and their partners usually learn to solve problems and adjust to changes spurred on by pregnancy, says Good, but others may need extra assistance. Anyone who becomes overly depressed, has anxiety or panic attacks, has unhealthy changes in appetite, or experiences physical or mental abuse is urged to seek professional help.

During her pregnancy, Angela Soos fell deeper in love with her husband, Michael, and they both seemed closer than ever. "I was so happy he had given me a baby," says the 30-year-old Holmdel, N.J. resident. "This was something I had always wanted."

Soos appears to be one of the lucky ones. Some expectant mothers report unwanted changes in relationships with their partners. Their significant others may seem unsympathetic, or distant. Or the men may choose to forgo sex with their wives during pregnancy for a host of reasons, including being afraid to hurt the baby.

"Dads go through emotional changes as well," says Diane Sanford, PhD, president of the Women's Healthcare Partnership in St. Louis, Mo. She says it is crucial to continue to address issues with one's partner to come up with solutions that are agreeable to both parties. "For example," she explains, "If he's afraid of having sex during pregnancy, the two of you might want to take daily walks together to stay close."

Sanford also says it helps to think ahead. If you evaluate who you are and who your partner is, you could possibly predict future challenges. "Things don't come out of the blue," she says.

Good couldn't agree more. He says people and their relationships generally remain the same during, as before, pregnancy. Women who tend to be critical of their bodies, for example, may lament over how fat they're getting, while those who are comfortable with themselves, may love the way their swollen belly looks.

By the same token, the dynamic between couples during pregnancy usually reflects their relationship beforehand. Good says partners may think things have changed, but really, people's true nature comes out in times of crisis. In this case, the crisis is pregnancy.

SOURCES: Arlene Robles. Bobbie No. Diane Ross Glazer, PhD, psychotherapist, Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center. Raphael Good, MD, professor of psychiatry and ob-gyn, University of Miami School of Medicine. Angela Soos. Diane Sanford, PhD, president, Women's Healthcare Partnership, St. Louis, Mo.