On meeting expectant parents where they are

Because I work with a lot of expectant parents (or they often are when they get in touch), I have thought about how I can better meet them where they are.

When someone first inquires about a maternity or newborn session, I’m of course super excited! Not only is a huge change happening in their lives but they’re showing interest in my work.

But while they might act thrilled, they may be terrified at the same time.

Expectations on expecting mothers

When someone is about to have a baby, there are certain expectations that come with it. You’re supposed to be happy, excited, grateful. But bubbling under the surface might also be guilt, mourning, sadness.

If a (future) parent is honest about their feelings, and shares that they are having a difficult time, others often try to make them feel better by telling them things like “But you are so lucky”, “But baby is doing well and that’s all that matters”, etc. While it is sincerely intended to be helpful, it might make the parent feel unheard.

Good and bad feelings

The bad thing about labeling feelings negative and positive is that we from the get-go assign them value. You’re supposed to have only good feelings, not bad feelings.

Our brain’s job is to produce thoughts and feelings, just as our stomach’s job is to break down food.

If there is no food to break down, our stomach start rumbling and feeling achy because there is no nutritious food to break down. Something similar happens in our brains; if we’re not busy working on something or thinking about positive things, our brain tries to come up with thoughts. Our brains are meant to look for threats, so they start looking and coming up with possible issues that may arise.

Thoughts and feelings are not dangerous on their own – they’re just something the brain produces. They can be mixed. They will pass.

How I will try to do better:

#1 Ask neutral questions

Specifically, I will try to ask questions that don’t make an assumption about how someone is feeling.

“How are you feeling?” instead of “Are you excited for baby???”

#2 Ask questions or make comments that have nothing to do with the pregnancy

Because the pregnancy often seems like the most obvious thing to talk about, I make an effort to acknowledge who someone is beyond the pregnancy. They are still the person they’ve always been, even when they are pregnant. There is more going on with them than just the growing belly and the countdown to the due date.

#3 If someone does bring up rough feelings, I will…

  1. Try to listen more than talk
  2. Assure that it’s ok they are feeling the way they are feeling
  3. Ask how I can help

Final thoughts

Feelings are fleeting as long as we just let them be, let them move through, and support others in letting them move through. The way we have been taught to help might not be the best way, so I will try not to assume that I know what someone needs to hear. I will do my best to remain curious, open and respectful.

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Documentary newborn and family photographer serving San francisco Bay Area, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and surrounding areas