First-time pregnancy: a journey into the psychological experiences of the first 12 weeks
Smith, Amanda Helen
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Adjustment to pregnancy can vary significantly (Handley, 2006). Even when pregnancy is planned, the process of adapting to such a life-changing event is often difficult, and women may struggle to feel as though their pregnancy is legitimate (Handley, 2006). Previous local and international research related to first-time motherhood is largely quantitative with a focus on the postnatal period, with little attention paid to the experiences of the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (Swallow, Lindow, Masson & Hay, 2004, Barnett, 2010). This study explores the experiences of the first 12 weeks of pregnancy for first-time mothers, through the use of narrative interviews. Transcripts were analysed for themes that emerged from the data. The analytical process was approached using an inductive stance of not knowing, and was guided by Crossley’s (2000) six step method to analyzing personal narratives. The findings from this study indicated that the pregnancy journey can begin prior to conception, and that first-time mothers may require psychological support throughout the process of trying to conceive. During the first 12 weeks, they may also benefit from the opportunity to experience tangible appraisals as well as support around identity change. The opportunity to ask questions and obtain pregnancy-related information from healthcare professionals might also support a more positive pregnancy experience and address some of the difficulties associated with such change. Furthermore, psychological screening tools are not being used throughout antenatal care, which seems to be the ideal opportunity for screening and prevention as most pregnant women are in regular contact with health care professionals (Dennis & Ross, 2006). Even if a first-time mother does not meet the criteria for anxiety or depression during pregnancy, the screening process may provide an opportunity to discuss less distressing pregnancy related concerns, which may prevent psychological issues from developing and lead to a more positive pregnancy experience. Future study recommendations include: the investigation of a larger scale study with wider demographics, the exploration of the psychological experiences of men/partners involved, and the outlook and experiences of healthcare professionals working in the field of pregnancy. As more research is conducted, it is hoped that an increased understanding of the first-12 weeks of pregnancy will promote a more positive psychological adaptation into the pregnancy journey.