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Becoming a mother is an exciting and deeply emotional time for women, a period of self-discovery – and self-questioning too. Some women feel more vulnerable and anxious while pregnant, especially expatriated women living a long way away from home. Medical follow-up varies from one country to another and expectant mothers need to adapt, speak a different language and deal with misunderstandings. For women expecting a child abroad, feelings of fatigue, frustration and even despondency can be exacerbated.

The psychological phases of pregnancy

Pregnancy is time of profound psychological as well as physical change. The first three months are a period of wonder at the very idea of “being pregnant’ and charged with overwhelming emotions. The mother-to-be can be thrilled to be pregnant and full of dread at the same time. She may be worried about something going wrong or even miscarrying. What’s more, the physical changes are still minor and so she can’t identify with the child yet.

The second trimester is often a period of serenity. Body changes are more visible, physical symptoms from the first trimester progressively disappear and the expectant mother begins to accept and connect with the new life growing inside her.

During the last three months, the mother starts to identify different rhythms between her and her baby. Her condition changes to what English psychoanalyst D. Winnicott called the “Primary Maternal Preoccupation” – a psychological state that strengthens towards the end of the pregnancy and in the first months of the baby’s life to prepare the mother for childcare.
The importance of a consultation before and after childbirth

For women living abroad, far from family and friends, the physical, physiological and psychological effects of pregnancy can be even more difficult to cope with - whether its sleeping disorders, eating disorders, anxiety, sadness or distress. She may feel depressed or lonely. She may doubt herself (will I be able to handle all this?) or even lose her sense of identity (who I am?).

She may also feel vulnerable and low in confidence once the baby is born. She may question her capacity to take care of it. She may be worried about its crying or feeding and sleeping patterns. A consultation with a psychologist is crucial to understand what’s going on and help build the bond between mother and baby.
Communication is key

Women need to be able to share their experience with other women during pregnancy. They need to feel reassured and see certain issues from a different perspective. Joining or creating a “mothers-to-be” group is a great way to alleviate feelings of loneliness. Communication within the couple and with immediate family is very important too.
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