The vivid dream life of pregnancy seems to be one of those “trade secrets” that each expectant mom discovers for herself. Friends and experts help prepare you for bodily changes during pregnancy, but the fertility of the pregnant mind can feel private, personal and unexpected. For me, venturing to share scenes from my nightly theatre of the imagination with other mothers and mothers-to-be confirmed what I already suspected: The pregnant mind creates a different kind of dream life.
Dreams during pregnancy are often intense, rich in imagery new to the dreamer and emotionally charged—and they may maintain that charge on waking. Put it down to hormones, anxiety or heartburn, increased blood flow to the hippocampus or dream fairies. Pregnancy dreams can feel anxious, funny, and weird.
Like babies, dreams during pregnancy are as individual as snowflakes, yet follow a path of development that is no less miraculous for its predictability. We know for certain that fertilization, cell division and cell formation explains “where babies come from.” And we know that when you meet your baby for the first time, you will look into the eyes of mystery, and mystery will look back at you, and you will wonder anew where babies come from. Dreams are the same: There are many theories of the origin of dreams and their meanings, but in the end, no one really knows where dreams come from or what they mean.
Your dreams are unique — as unique as your pregnancy, unique as your baby to come.
That said, there is an undeniable similarity to the content of the dreams pregnant women dream, even to the timing of these dreams by trimester.
In her book, The Dream Worlds of Pregnancy, Eileen Stukane describes how dreams of the ocean and of lush fields of fruits and flowers are common during the first trimester, when a woman’s awareness of her own fertility is high.
In her first trimester, Cath D’Amico-Boyle, who, along with partner Doug Boyle is expecting a first baby, dreamed she was in the water of Carrizalillo Bay in Mexico. In the dream, pregnant Cath was surrounded by fish, which she somehow knew were carnivorous, and for some reason she couldn’t swim. But in the water with her was her father, Consiglio. Cath’s father is deceased, and she acknowledges he is “a noted absence from the whole experience of having my first child. I am aware that he will not be here to see the baby, that my little girl will never know her nonno.” In the dream, Cath’s father, her baby’s nonno, was able to rescue Cath and his yet-to-be-born granddaughter from the dangerous fish and the water. On waking, Cath had a feeling of “fulfillment, as though there had been a reconnection with my dad.”
The transformative, fulfilling effect of dreams is familiar to Sandy Kappa, an expressive arts therapist. Kappa does not interpret dreams for her clients, but instead works with them to follow the dream images through artwork. She finds that the transformation of the image in art can correspond to a transformation in the psyche of the dreamer. “This is why I would never dream,” she laughs, “of interpreting a client’s imagery, or of saying, ‘This symbol means this.’ It really is the dreamer’s journey, and the journey itself is important.”
In the second trimester, women frequently dream of the baby. This is the time when you may dream of filing the baby under B in the filing cabinet, and then going shopping or otherwise leaving the baby behind. The panicky feeling that frequently accompanies this sort of dream may well be a good trial run for real life: Do not go shopping and leave the baby on a shelf, the roof of a car or riding the tractor mower. A good reminder for us all.
As well, the second trimester is the time when many mothers- and fathers-to-be dream of the baby’s sex. This leaves enough time in the pregnancy to sort out feelings attached to gender.
Sandi Sirois of Saskatoon had a series of dreams in which the baby was alternately a boy, then a girl. When the dream baby was a boy, Sandi admits to feeling disappointed; when the dream baby was a girl, Sandi would feel elated. She says she felt “foolish” on waking, adding “my mind told me it didn’t matter, but my heart felt otherwise. I felt the dreams were revealing how much I really wanted a daughter. Everyone on both sides of the family was having boys, and my first child, Nicholas, is a boy. But I guess I was really yearning for a little girl.”
Sandi says the recurrence of the dream made her worry she was “becoming obsessed with the idea.” Then a shift in the dreams occurred, and “as time passed, I began to feel OK about having a boy or a girl, and the dreams stopped.”
Sirois’ dreams took her on a journey toward acceptance, but she still admits to being “so thrilled” when daughter Alexandra was born.
Similarly, Jean and Cathy DeCorby, who farm in the Qu’Appelle Valley near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, were ready to be happy with a baby of either sex. However, during this, Cathy’s fourth pregnancy, both she and Jean dreamed the baby was going to be a boy. Jean reports a dream of holding a new boy baby and being “so happy” both in the dream and on waking. Cathy says she dreamed of delivering a baby boy and also feeling great joy. “On waking, I had to tell myself not to get my hopes up.”
With the DeCorbys, their dreams may not have been about symbolism nor even prophecy: They have three daughters, Ivy, Chantelle and Guylaine; the arrival of their son, Jocelyn, was a statistical probability, as well as a delight.
Third trimester dreams are often about labour. At 32 weeks of pregnancy, Vanessa Monar Enweani, who is expecting her first child, dreamed she “had the baby at work, and it only took about an hour. It was completely painless, too!” she laughs. “In the dream I called my husband and told him I had had a baby girl, and had named her Jodi. It’s not even a name we have on our list! I felt so happy, and my husband was happy, too.”
Vanessa’s dream, like many dreams, might be a kind of rehearsal. Is the purpose of this kind of dream, with its laughter and absurdity, to relieve some of the anxiety of approaching labour, a sort of pressure release the pregnant mind performs for the pregnant dreamer? Again, it is impossible to say definitively. Perhaps the relevance of a dream, even of one predictable enough to appear in dream dictionaries, emerges as we get to know it, spend some time with it, ask what its message is for us.
In The Mother of All Baby Books, Ann Douglas reminds us that pregnancy hormones contribute to the intensity of dreams women experience at this time. And she has a great suggestion: “If you wake up feeling panicked in the middle of the night…don’t be afraid to wake up your partner if you need some cuddles and reassurance.… Remind him that being woken up at 3 a.m. is actually good training for all those nights of disrupted sleep that are likely to occur after the baby arrives!”
Lisa Herman, a psychotherapist currently in Switzerland where she is on faculty at the European Graduate School, supports the idea that dreams can also be rehearsals for what may come after the baby’s birth. She suggests that we need not only approach the images of dreams as either prophecy or puzzle. “To spend loving time with your dream can be a way to practise how you will spend time with your baby: with love, with attention to detail, with awe and a readiness to be surprised,” she says.
During pregnancy, especially the first one, planning for labour and delivery gets a lot of air time. But let’s face it: After the pushing is over, you are a mom, and that’s going to last much longer than pregnancy or labour ever did. You are suddenly a mother, with a lovely baby who has come to you from, frankly, who knows where? Once you’ve seen the look in the eyes of your baby, you will know you are dealing with something other than mere DNA and you will ask: “Who are you? And where did you come from?”
Maybe from the same place as dreams.
This article was originally published in December 2011.