Breasts spraying milk like errant machine guns in a Quentin Tarantino movie; babies forgotten on the crosstown bus; rooms that never seem to end – women say their dreams during pregnancy can be wild and vivid.
“Many pregnant women say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never dreamt like this before.’ They had never had so many intense dreams with so much color and so much going on,” says Dr. Hillary Grill, a psychoanalyst who has specialized in women and reproductive health issues for over 30 years, who co-authored the book Dreaming for Two.
Grill, a relational psychologist, believes pregnant women’s dreams are a window into the psychology of pregnancy. “By recording a dream, you get a sense of what is really going on in women’s minds,” Grill says. “Not what people were seeing, not what the culture was seeing, but what was really happening because your dreams are these unedited versions of yourself.”
So, what do your own pregnancy dreams mean? We called Dr. Grill, who explained why your dreams may seem more intense when you are pregnant, offered suggestions on how to begin analyzing them, and encouraged women not to just dismiss them as weird.
The Broadcast: Why do dreams seem so vivid during pregnancy?
Dr. Hillary Grill: We’re all dreaming all the time, often you just don’t remember them. When women are pregnant they’re waking up during the night for different reasons. For the most part, the dreams that we tend to remember are the ones that are closest to waking. Even people who don’t remember their dreams typically seem to suddenly be remembering all their dreams when they’re pregnant. It could be that you’re waking up just because you have to pee but sometimes you’re waking up because you have such an intense dream that actually wakes you up.
TB: What did you find out when you started studying the dreams of pregnant women?
HG: When it came to pregnant women, the picture that began to emerge, was that they felt conflicted, and that was something that wasn’t really acceptable for them to talk about. They feel guilty because they’re supposed to be very happy that they’re having a baby, but it exists in tension with a lot of other psychological steps.
TB: As a psychologist, why do you encourage patients to remember their dreams?
HG: Our minds often use dreams to solve problems. There are a lot of problems when it comes to bringing a kid into the world that need to be worked out whether it is your own personal psychology, or your relationship with your partner.
TB: Do common themes emerge?
HG: Yes, themes that seem to be relatively common include will I be a good enough mother? Can I do it? Am I up for the task? There are also a lot of fears about what it’s going to mean with their relationship with their partners. A lot of times old issues start up like issues with the patient’s own mother or parents. There’s body image. There is this idea in our culture that you’re very sexy up until the moment you’re pregnant, but then as soon as you’re pregnant suddenly you’re not really looked at as a sexual being — a lot of women struggle with that.
TB: Are there other factors that impact dreams during pregnancy? Do dreams change over the trimesters?
HG: I can imagine that hormonal changes have an effect on everything, so they would likely affect dreams as well. I haven’t actually tracked them over the trimesters, but it seems to me that it really varies from person to person. A common thing that comes up is a fear you’re going to lose the baby. For example, you might dream you get on the bus, and get off the bus without the baby. Within the first trimester that could be more about your pregnancy loss, rather than actually losing the baby, or it could be later on when you’re getting closer giving birth, it could be about, ‘Oh my God how am I going to take care of this baby?’
TB: What do you suggest your patients do to track their dreams?
HG: I would definitely encourage people to keep something next to your bed that you can write on. Dreams are very illusive. Even if you don’t write the whole dream down, if you write a few key words that will restore your memory in the morning, that can help.
TB: What kind of things would you encourage people to think about as they are analyzing their dreams?
HG: I would encourage people to look beyond the surface images. For example, one woman had a dream where she was hosting a dinner party for her husband’s colleagues, and as the guests arrived her breast fell out of her dress and she was shooting milk all over the room. You can have that dream and you can kind of laugh at it and then move on. Or you can start to really think about wait a minute, what’s going on in my life? I’m eight months pregnant, and I can barely move. I haven’t gone into work because I feel so shitty, but my husband is just skipping off into work with all his colleagues, and having a great time, and I’m feeling conflicted. You can take it in all different directions, you just want to really look at it, and not just say, ‘Oh, that’s weird.’