I want to talk about shame. Shame is a particularly common emotion that can surface during pregnancy and motherhood. We receive so many external messages and examples of how women should be, how pregnancy and conception should be and how mothers and motherhood should be. And when our individual lives do not match these external ideals and examples (which they often don’t), shame can creep in.
And this shame can keep us from enjoying the process and magic of conception, pregnancy, and motherhood. Of course, it will never be all fun, perfect and happy- that is not the goal. But compounding our pain and difficulties with shame makes life harder than it needs to be.
Dr. Brene Brown, author and shame researcher, says her research defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging and connection.”
The thought that we are wrong or inadequate or bad at the core of our being does nothing but create more shame and suffering. It serves no higher purpose, and it is not the truth. The truth is that we are lovable and enough just as we are AND we are always capable of growing, loving and being loved (see my blog on Unconditional Love). There is no perfect human ideal. We are all perfectly imperfect. So how do we combat shame? With empathy, self-love, self-compassion and acceptance. With enough practice we can recognize shame, give ourselves grace love and acceptance, and then transform our beliefs so that we are not creating more shame.
Shame is an obstacle in the way of achieving the things we want in life. If we don’t think we deserve what we want, we will not be able to achieve what we want in any meaningful way.
When trying to conceive, shame may present when difficulties arise- if you are unsuccessful in conceiving right away, or if you do conceive, but then miscarry. I have often had patients and clients ask me what is wrong with them- there must be something they could do better, some better way to be to prevent these occurrences. Sometimes there are changes that can be made, but there are so many causes of infertility, difficulty with conception or retaining a pregnancy, and none are because you are a failure or a “bad” human.
In pregnancy when fetal concerns arise, I also get this question- “what did I do to cause this?” The brain will often immediately go to fear and shame from some version of the thought “I caused a bad thing to happen” or “I am failing at this somehow.” And it is no wonder pregnant people think this way! It is common OB lingo to say someone “failed” their glucose test! Which is just untrue and needs to change. You cannot fail a lab test. It is either within range or out of range- it is never a pass/fail of your ability to be an adequate pregnant person or mother. OB lingo is rampant with these problematic phrases: “incompetent cervix” for cervical shortening “failure to progress” for cervical dilation in labor that doesn’t progress at the expected rate, “habitual aborter” for recurrent miscarriages. Please know there is a movement to change this language (although the medical billing and coding world is still in the dark ages when it comes to this). If you are a medical professional and find yourself using this language, please change it. I mention all this to illustrate that it is no wonder women and pregnant persons commonly feel shame.
I have also had patients and clients tell me their biggest fear is either that they won’t be a good mother or that they won’t like being a mother- and this will mean something terrible about them. The truth is motherhood is like the rest of human life- 50/50. Sometimes it is amazing and sometimes it is hard and painful, and we don’t really like it in the moment. And when that happens it is never because of a personal flaw!
So what can we do?
1. Realize the feeling of shame comes from your beliefs about yourself. And beliefs are just thoughts that we think over and over again until we believe they are true.
2. Examine your thoughts- write them out, take them through the thought model (see my blog on journaling and thought work). Figure out what thoughts and beliefs are causing the feeling of shame. Figure out what actions you are taking and what results you are getting from shame. Question the truth of these beliefs.
3. Question the truth of these beliefs associated with shame. What else is true? How are these beliefs keeping you from living your life? What purpose do these beliefs serve?
4. Give yourself kindness, love, and compassion. Speak and care for yourself as you would a loved one.
5. Find a safe space to talk about it. Shame doesn’t survive well if uncovered and shared- it thrives when it remains hidden. Share with a trusted friend, a coach, your therapist, a support group, or wherever feels safe to you. In her book “the Atlas of the Heart,” Brene Brown states that the antidote to shame is empathy. If we reach out and share our shame experience with someone who responds with empathy, shame dissipates.
I would love to work on this with you! If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a free consult call here:
I also have some free workshops coming up this summer:
Monday July 11th, 8pm EDT on Zoom: Journaling Tools for Pregnancy
Monday July 25th, 8 pm EDT on Zoom: Moving Through Emotions
Monday August 1st, 8pm EDT on Zoom: Self Advocacy in Pregnancy
Please email me at email@example.com to register and I will send you the Zoom link.