Adapted from Dream Wisdom: Uncovering Life's Answers in Your Dreams
by Alan Siegel, Ph.D. Published in January 2003 by Ten Speed/Celestial Arts
Press, Berkeley, CA
Dream Wisdom offers a developmental framework for understanding dreams
through the life cycle by focusing on dreams during life's important turning
points and crises. During these critical moments, our dreams are more vivid and
unique and dramatic themes are associated with life transitions. Dream Wisdom
features chapters on patterns in dreams from childhood through old age. The
following excerpt is from the chapter on expectant parents dreams and features
references to Alan Siegel's original research on the dreams of expectant
DREAMS OF EXPECTANT MOTHERS AND FATHERS
With joy and trepidation we dream our children into existence.
From the moment of conception, expectant parents dream of many aspects of
their unborn child. In our pregnant dreams, we envision our child's face, their
name, the feeling of their skin. We burst with pride when our dream child talks
precociously. As expectant parents, we dream we risk life and limb to protect
our children from danger. Anxious about whether we will become good parents, and
we dream we blow it, neglecting or losing our dream children, forgetting to feed
them and causing them injury.
Many pregnancy dreams are filled with anxieties about the well-being of our
child and doubts about our competency as parents. It is very distressing to see
every fear and worst-case scenario played out in our pregnancy dreams. However,
there is an amazing paradox in these vivid worrisome pregnancy dreams. Despite
how distressing these nightmares are, they are actually helping us to prepare
for the indispensable role we must play as parent to our helpless newborn child.
A crucial function of pregnancy dreams is to rehearse and develop our parenting
skills and form an inner relationship with our unborn child.
The following two dreams were collected from women in the final stage of
their first pregnancies. Although a century apart, both have elements that are
common to the dreams of late pregnancy: the presence of water and the arrival of
furry mammals. The first dream is taken from Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation
of Dreams and was probably the dream of a Viennese woman near the end of the
The Trapdoor Seal
A subterranean channel led directly into the water from a place in the floor
of her room. She raised a trapdoor in the floor and a creature dressed in brown
fur, very much resembling a seal, presently appeared.
In the briefly reported associations to this dream, Freud noted that the
"creature turned out to be her younger brother to whom she had always been like
a mother." Freud did not elaborate at length on this dream, except to note also
that the subterranean channel and the water represented the birth canal and the
The second dream, from the end of the Twentieth Century, is Jennifer's, a San
Francisco nurse in her eighth month of pregnancy.
The Smooth Skin of the Otter
I'm in labor and I am lying on a beach. The tide is coming in and big waves
are washing up onto shore. I keep calling for my husband. I know he's there, but
I can't see him. The waves are getting bigger and more dangerous. Just when the
waves seem like they are going to drown me, I see a little sea otter next to me.
I know it was supposed to be my baby, but I am confused that it looks like an
otter. I touch its skin and it is incredibly smooth. Jennifer worried that her
dream might signify something abnormal about her baby; perhaps a premonition of
some malformation. But as she told her dream at one of my workshops for nurses
and childbirth educators, there were many looks of recognition on the faces of
the other women in the class. They quickly volunteered that they, too, had
frightening dreams during their pregnancies. As Jennifer listened to the other
women discuss the details of their anxiety dreams, she was reassured. She saw
the dream as representing not danger, but joyful expectation of holding her baby
and touching its wonderful soft skin.
Jennifer's dream contains a number of other themes common to women in their
last trimester of pregnancy. The imminence of labor is often represented by
waves, earth tremors, other powerful movements, and a feeling of losing control.
During the second and third trimester of pregnancy, many women also have
heightened fears about the well-being of their spouse. In Jennifer's dream, her
husband's presence is sensed, but he is unable to arrive soon enough to protect
her from the dangerous waves of labor.
Pregnancy dreams may focus on anxieties that haunt both men and women even
during a healthy pregnancy. These include themes that exaggerate the dangers of
labor and delivery, and fears about birth defects. Dreams also express marital
tensions, feelings of rejection, and fears about being an incompetent parent. As
horrifying as they may feel, anxiety dreams and nightmares during pregnancy
provide us with an early warning system that alerts us to the fears and concerns
that we need to work out.
You may feel reassured to know that women who have more frequent dreams
involving anxiety or threat had shorter labors and healthier deliveries with
fewer complications. A study of seventy women, by researchers Carolyn Winget and
Frederic Kapp at the University of Cincinnati, concluded that troubling dreams
may be evidence of important conflicts that were being resolved. When fewer
distressing dreams were remembered, women tended to have longer labors and more
complications. Those women who recalled more troubling dreams had shorter labors
with fewer complications. Their dreams appeared to have helped them work out the
normal anxieties that accompany the final stage of pregnancy.
Medical breakthroughs have given us the technology to diagnose and treat risk
factors during pregnancy and delivery. With electronic sensing and imaging we
can listen to our baby's heartbeat and actually look into the womb to see our
baby very early in the pregnancy.
Technological advances, however, are not the only resources we have for
understanding what's going on with us during pregnancy. We can also use our
dreams as an emotional ultrasound. They provide a way to look into the
unconscious and see how we're responding to the changes in our identity, our
marriage, our relationships with family and friends, and our newly forming
attachment to our unborn child.
Exploring dreams can help expectant parents to:
Understand and enhance the powerful prenatal attachment to the unborn child
Recognize unique patterns in dreams during the three stages of pregnancy and
become aware of how they relate to the emotional stages of becoming a parent
Understand the similarities and differences between men=s and women's
psychological conflicts and fulfillment
Generate mutual understanding and empathy for emotional reactions to
pregnancy and rekindle communication on issues that often create tension and
Explore patterns in the erotic dream adventures and misadventures of
expectant parents, and to use these dreams to help resolve confusion and
misunderstandings that may arise in the couple=s sexual relationship
Recognize how identity changes and new roles linked to parenthood will cause
the parents to experience themselves in new and unaccustomed ways with family
DREAMS AND THE SECRET LIFE OF THE EXPECTANT FATHER
The strength of men's emotional experience of pregnancy has only recently
come to light. Beginning with the confirmation of pregnancy, powerful feelings
and dreams emerge. Some of these responses are similar to those of women. Others
are unique to men. Awareness and discussion of these dreams can help transform
what frequently is a sense of alienation for expectant fathers. Dreams are a
resource for helping men to feel more secure about their role in pregnancy and
to forge a closer bond with both wife and child.
In 1981, I began the first systematic study of the patterns in expectant
fathers' dreams. Using a Two-Week Dream journal procedure (described in the book
Dream Wisdom), I compared expectant fathers' dreams with the dreams of a matched
group of married men who were not fathers and not expecting. Using content
analysis to compare the dreams of the two groups, I found striking differences.
From the earliest days of the pregnancy, the expectant fathers' dreams were
replete with vivid imagery of pregnancy, birth, and babies. Dreams of rejection
and exclusion were especially prominent throughout pregnancy, as well as many
graphic sexual and homosexual encounters and dreams of wild celebratory birthday
This finding challenges the notion that the expectant father faces no
significant emotional upheaval until later in the pregnancy or after the birth.
In reality, throughout the pregnancy a father's dreams are intimately related to
his role as a father, his changing relationship with his wife, and his newly
forming relationship with his child-to-be.
Left-out Dreams: One of the most common issues in expectant fathers' dreams
is the theme of feeling left out, misunderstood, deprived, or threatened in
other ways. These dreams reveal old wounds and sensitivities to rejection that
are reopened by fears about being displaced by the arrival of the baby.
Joel had increased his hours at work to try to make more money to pay for the
expenses of his child. When Joel's wife was five months pregnant, he had a
troubling dream that took place during a baseball game at Candlestick Park in
Banished to the Back of the Stadium
In the middle of the game, I get up to get some beer. When I return, I can't
find my seat. I look around for a new one, but many of the women in the stands
are pregnant, and they are taking up two seats. I have to go to the back of the
stadium and stand. I am very annoyed.
Joel was upset and puzzled by this dream. He wasn't much of a sports fan, and
he generally avoided alcohol because his father had a drinking problem. "The
feeling I have in this dream is that of being left out. There is no room for me
with all these huge pregnant women." Joel was able to laugh at the absurdity of
a stadium full of pregnant women crowding him out. Even in the generally male
domain of beer and baseball, he felt like an outcast, rejected and forced to the
back of the stadium.
Exploring this dream helped Joel to understand that he was having a strong
emotional reaction to his wife=s pregnancy. Despite his positive conscious
reaction to becoming a father, he was feeling excluded by his wife, which is a
painful phase of pregnancy that many men suffer through. The message of the
dream was not about baseball; it was about Joel's sense of exclusion and his
need to find more ways to be involved in the pregnancy and planning for the
baby. After discussing this dream, Joel was able to express his left-out
feelings more directly with his wife. They decided that he would cut back on
overtime hours at work so that he could spend more time with her and be more
involved in preparations for the baby's arrival.
Celebration Dreams. A dramatic feature of expectant fathers' dreams
throughout pregnancy is the appearance of parties, celebrations, and what appear
to be initiation ceremonies related to pregnancy and childbirth. Over half the
expectant fathers in my study had a Party and Celebration dream, contrasted with
only one incidence of this kind of dream in my comparison group. These were
slightly more common earlier in the pregnancy.
An especially notable feature of Party and Celebration dreams is that many of
the feature birthday parties. These dreams also depicted elaborate food
preparation, eating and drinking, water imagery, and relationships with
masculine or macho figures. Some of these dreams were associated with the
completion of a creative project, such as a man who dreamed about a big party to
celebrate a writing project he had just completed.
The lack of adequate roles and rituals to confirm their inclusion and
importance causes expectant fathers to feel anxious about where they fit in.
Parties are associated with important turning points such as birthdays,
graduations, weddings, and accomplishments. They usually involve a sense of
specialness or sacredness apart from mundane routines. The preponderance of
Party and Celebration dreams reflects an unconscious awareness of the
specialness and importance of becoming a father. In their Party and Celebration
dreams, most men create unconscious rites of passage to express the excitement
of becoming a father.
HOW TO USE PREGNANCY DREAMS
Dreams exaggerate our anxieties about harm coming to a spouse, child, and
ourselves during pregnancy. Sharing and exploring anxiety dreams (such as
Deformed and Endangered Baby dreams, Forgetting the Baby dreams, and Losing
Valuables dreams) helps to make us more aware of our fears. When we can
articulate what we fear, we have a chance to understand how appropriate and
necessary our fears are. When we can share what troubles us with our spouse,
family, and friends, we have the chance to feel reassured, to understand and
resolve our changing emotional needs.
Awareness of dreams also can help men to convert their unconscious emotional
reactions and fears of being excluded into an energetic involvement with the
events of the pregnancy and the preparations for nurturing the baby. It is
especially important that men be encouraged to participate in prenatal classes,
obstetric visits, genetic counseling and amniocentesis, shopping for the baby's
needs, and baby showers and other celebratory events.
An invisible drama unfolds in the dreams of expectant parents. When we make
this drama visible, by remembering and sharing dreams together, we can nurture
the marital relationship and prepare for our new role as parents.
Just as proper nutrition and medical care will enhance the physical growth of
the fetus, extra communication and emotional support enhance the parents'
psychological readiness. Using our dreams to explore hidden conflicts, feelings,
anxieties, and joys can be of tremendous value to couples as they prepare to
make the crucial adjustment to parenthood.
Alan Siegel, Ph.D., is an adult and child psychologist and a pioneer in dream
work with 30 years of teaching and publishing on dream-related topics.
He is a former president of the international Association for the Study of
Dreams and Editor-Emeritus of their magazine, Dream Time. His commentaries on
post-9-11 nightmares, children's dreams, and dreams interpretation have been
featured on NBC's Today Show as well as CNN News, PBS, NPR, the Discovery
Channel's The Power of Dreams series, and NBC's prime time special, The Secret
World of Dreams He was the Creative Consultant for the award-winning HBO video,
Goodnight Moon and Other Sleepy Time Tales. His research and teachings on dreams
have been featured in dozens of publications as diverse as Readers Digest, USA
Today, The Los Angeles Times, Bottom Line Personal, McCall's, Self, Redbook,
Good Housekeeping, Working Woman, Parenting, Family Circle, Glamour,
Mademoiselle, and Johns Hopkins Magazine.
You can read more about Alan Siegel, Ph.D. and find out more about the book
Dream Wisdom at