Growing a baby is always hard work and can physically and emotionally affect each woman so differently. If you’re Highly Sensitive and/or you’ve suffered previous miscarriage(s), what might you expect? I can’t speak for you, but I’ll share my personal experience with HSP pregnancy after miscarriage in hopes it might help you better understand your own experiences and not feel so alone.
My husband and I found out on February 1st that we’re pregnant with a double rainbow baby.
With two previous miscarriages and no living children; we were initially more consumed by fear than unbridled joy, despite the fact that we had been actively trying to get pregnant for the past 6 months.
By the time I reached 5-6 weeks, the onset of first trimester symptoms hit me — and hit me hard.
I’m not sure how much of my first trimester experiences were typical, due to being a Highly Sensitive Person, or because of the reasonable emotional residue of past miscarriages — I’ll let you be the judge of that.
I’ve experienced the following classic symptoms — but perhaps arguably on an even deeper level than non-HSP pregnant ladies:
-anxiety / irritability
-nausea / vomiting
My body’s take on nausea was not only a very limited palate during the first trimester (basically cereal, dairy, and fruit) and frequent-enough vomiting (@ 25 weeks now, I’d say I’ve clocked a good 35 instances), but also that I suddenly gag on just the last bite or two of whatever (no distinct patterns) — so, my husband almost always finishes my food!
In addition to the more classical pregnancy symptoms (even if with some weird twists), in the first trimester especially, I experienced the following less-common symptoms:
-extreme tactile defensiveness
-becoming ultra private and protective
-struggling with self-righteous and judgmental thoughts/feelings
As a highly sensitive person, tactile defensiveness is a struggle for me in the best of circumstances.
Pregnancy symptoms are far from the best of circumstances and, for me, anything that was an issue pre-pregnancy simply became a substantially bigger issue during pregnancy (yay …).
If I emotionally feel close and comfortable with the other person, I’m totally into hugging or other physical gestures, such as briefly touching your arm while we’re talking.
If I don’t feel emotionally safe or connected with you, though, touch is positively loathsome to me [granted, in many ways, this could be seen as just having superior boundaries and not per se a highly sensitive thing.]
However, even when I’m safe, comfortable, connected, etc., I am extremely particular about how I’m touched [not so particular about how I touch others.]
For example, since I’m easily overstimulated by touch, I don’t generally enjoy it when my husband caresses me — I’d much rather he put his hand on my arm, but just leave it there resting! Don’t move all over the place! :-p
I also prefer firm vs. soft touch, as is common of tactile defensives. I’m extremely ticklish and there’s something about light touch that’s downright aggravating to me.
What was so saddening, troubling, and (for my husband) frustrating in the first trimester, though, was that my tactile defensiveness was SO high that I could scarcely stand to hug or give him even a quick kiss. (Don’t even ask how I sometimes felt about other people wanting to touch me — or touch my baby bump … OMG. Practically panic-attack-inducing.)
In many ways, I think my extreme touch-aversion especially in the 1st trimester was intimately connected to abominably low energy levels — I just didn’t have anything in me to give. I was a totally zombie!
Extremely Low Energy
Let’s talk about that.
So, I know that, obviously, every pregnancy is different, so there’s only so much useful comparison we can do. But, MAN, when I say my energy was at rock-bottom low for 2 months in the first trimester, I’m saying that even watching TV was too much work.
I’m not typically much of a TV watcher, but — seriously — if you can’t scrounge up the energy to click on a couple buttons (or make a simple decision ‘what to watch?’), you’ve got a major energy problem.
I told my husband during those wretched 8 weeks that for the first time I finally understood the phrase ‘bored to tears.’ I’d never been so. bored. in all my life, yet so completely incapable of doing anything about it.
I was fortunate to be in a position that afforded me all the sleep at night I could want (and I consistently slept 12-14 hours), but, unfortunately, I still had to teach 3-6 hrs a day, 6 days / week (yes, I understand that doesn’t sound like much, but, at the time, it was torture).
And that was my one and only accomplishment during that time. Any other actual waking hours were spent sitting like a bump on a log quite literally doing absolutely nothing except feeling miserable and sorry for myself.
Feeling Private and Protective
Being so low energy was also a huge impetus behind me falling off the face of the planet in the vast majority of my relationships at the time (and somewhat still).
Because I was feeling so private and protective about my pregnancy, most friends didn’t know the complete truth behind my sudden absence — I told them simply that I was having major energy issues.
I didn’t even tell my family about the pregnancy until after I was out of the first trimester and (at least somewhat) less exhausted and emotionally fragile.
So, what was the deal with being so private and protective about the news?
Again, I think the two past miscarriages were a huge factor. Until I felt as if I could settle in to feeling more secure about my pregnancy (which didn’t happen until about week 16), I was too emotionally fragile to share the information with most people for fear that I’d break to bits if someone didn’t have the absolutely perfect response to the news — and I wasn’t exactly sure what that perfect response even looked like, so that wasn’t very helpful.
Feeling Self-Righteous and Judgmental
Another element of my extreme reserve was that I felt as if my pregnancy experiences were so different from a lot of other women’s (including friends and acquaintances who were also pregnant at the same time) and I simultaneously felt as if I couldn’t muster true, supportive enthusiasm for their own pregnancies nor that they could relate to my experiences.
As a whole, especially during the first trimester of raging hormones, low energy, and just so. much. change. [I’ll mention here in brief that during this time, both my and my husband’s job/business situations were in a bit of upheaval AND we were planning a move in the midst of 3-months of traveling], I found myself focusing on all the differences between me and everyone else in my life, not on our common ground.
Seen through a negative lens, I was suddenly feeling very judgmental, intolerant, and self-righteous.
My unborn baby seemed more precious than other babies because it was a planned pregnancy for a long-and-much-desired child who would be born into a stable home to parents very happily married to each other. Or, I’d think ‘I am older and more mature and will be a better mother than X woman who had her first baby at 21 vs. 31.’ Etc.
It seemed so appallingly insulting to me that other women might lump me into the same boat with them, even if they were practically babies themselves when they got pregnant, or they weren’t in committed relationships and the pregnancy was unplanned, or — worst of all — they had seriously (and very flippantly, I’ll add, because this was a real scenario) considered aborting their unborn child for exceedingly unconvincing reasons [not that I personally find any reasons good ones].
We were NOT in the same boat.
I avoided connecting with friends and family on their past pregnancies experiences. Internally, I went slightly insane if they gave unsolicited advice or otherwise presented themselves as ‘knowing’ (read: oh, I’ve been pregnant, so I know all about how you’re feeling / what you need /etc.)
I cringed when concurrently pregnant ladies were congratulated on their babies or when they or anyone else would gaily mention that our kids would grow up together. I avoided their baby showers or at all talking with them about their pregnancy experiences. Of course, it was all extra hard that the other pregnant women within my circles were weeks further along than I was, so they had a security and peace that I didn’t yet.
In short, I begrudged these other women their happiness, which at the time I felt was so undeserved because of what I judged as their lesser-than-mine circumstances. It didn’t seem ‘fair’ that someone could have an unplanned / unwanted healthy pregnancy (but then still fully settle into a glowing maternal pride) when someone like me had been trying, unsuccessfully, to have a child for what felt like eons. My pregnancy deserved to be riotously celebrated, not theirs.
Suffice it to say that these thoughts and feelings were very uncharacteristic of me. I was oftentimes appalled and terrified by my own self. Yet what I was experiencing was real and I knew better than to deny that. I scarcely knew what else to do but to draw back from people and cross my fingers that this, too, would pass.
As of now, some of it has passed and some of it hasn’t …
-Not being a zombie makes a very big difference and I don’t feel quite so emotionally fragile anymore (yay).
-I’m as affectionate as ever with my husband.
-I’m mostly launched back into my friendships and social gatherings.
-I feel confident about this pregnancy and more than happy to share the news with the whole world!
BUT while I don’t feel extreme self-righteous aversion to women in different situations from mine,
-I have still found that there’s been a different focusing of my energy and attention that makes sense in this life stage.
A good friend of mine, 10 years older with 3 kids under her belt, shared the insight with me that some of the same people who you can’t be good friends with during one stage (e.g. infant/toddler) might be your dearest friends during another stage (e.g. school-age kids).
While in one stage, your values might be SO off from each other that you just can’t bear it; if you take care to not burn bridges, you might find that you have values coupled with a later life phase that naturally bring you back together.
So, I feel comforted that it’s totally OK to experience a shifting of my priorities.
It’s reasonable that I am most keen to hang out with other moms-to-be or moms of very young children. It makes sense that, as a sub-category, I’d feel even more bonded to other women who have had past difficulties with getting and/or staying pregnant. It’s normal that I’d gravitate toward other women who are approaching their pregnancies similarly to me, whether in terms of nutrition, birth plan details, immediate future parenting strategies, etc.
It’s still sad for me to not feel so bonded with some important people in my life, but it’s also my current reality and I believe embracing vs. fighting it is the best course of action.
I definitely had to ‘get over’ feeling like a bad friend and a bad person for suddenly not feeling so connected to several people in my life.
In some cases, I could talk with them frankly about it; in others, I’m trying to still maintain some connection — even if less than before — in hopeful expectation that our paths might organically more closely align in the future.
In the worst cases, I’ve all but disappeared from the lives of some of these precious people, which does make me feel guilty; but I’m still more committed (even when it hurts!) to being authentic to my current self who is experiencing such big, important changes.
As a whole, even just the past 25 weeks of pregnancy have taught me an awful lot about forgiving myself for not being a perfect wife, perfect friend, or perfect mother. Read more on that in an upcoming blog post!