38 weeks pregnant – crazy, aye? We’ve had some major ups throughout the pregnancy, of course, weeks filled with excitement and counting down to our due date, as well as down days, but ultimately, it’s nearly over now and soon enough, our little girl will be here to make the last few months worth it all. Although I suffered with anxiety pre-pregnancy, having only really heard of the changes to your mental health that pregnancy hormones can have post-natally, it was a little surprising to find my anxiety during pregnancy getting worse at certain points, and also working in entirely different ways to which I had learnt to deal with before pregnancy. While I was prepared for the physical changes that pregnancy brings, I wasn’t as prepared for the psycological changes – but a quick search online soon led me to discover, although perinatal mental health problems aren’t widely spoke about, I wasn’t alone..
We’ve all heard of post-natal depression – which in itself is great. We know that feeling low after your baby is born is normal, feeling tearful or an inability to feel ‘close’ to your baby comes with the hormonal changes of giving birth and that ultimately, it’s treatable, and will pass with time and support. However, we hear less about perinatal anxiety, which refers to anxiety suffered throughout pregnancy and post-pregnancy. Anxiety during pregnancy can manifest itself in many ways – from feeling on edge constantly, that something bad may happen to the baby, to the fear that being in crowded places brings with it a threat to yourself and your child. It’s tiring at a time when your body is already working overtime and is worn out, debilitating in many ways, and ought to be more widely known of and spoke about to ensure that everyone is aware of the support available..
Postnatal depression and perinatal anxiety often go hand-in-hand, and while people that have suffered previously with mental health problems are more succeptible, it can effect absolutely anyone – with men and adoptive parents experiencing both as well.
My anxiety had been at it’s best for around six months before falling pregnant, and my anxiety levels slowly began to increase as soon as we found out. I was excited, of course, but also worrying about anything and everything, big and small. I thought constantly about the enormous worries that come with a child – money, and living arrangements, and work – to smaller things, some of which that were entirely out of my control – the pregnancy itself, the baby being healthy, friendships and loneliness during maternity leave. My mind was constantly filled with ‘things’, and I was struggling.
Physically, my body was changing in ways I wasn’t happy with, my self esteem was at a super low point, and I was suffering with morning sickess as well as numerous boughts of tonsilitus that I just couldn’t shift. I truly felt awful, in every sense of the word.
Around twenty weeks was when my anxiety was at it’s worst. Crowds had never been an issue for me pre-pregnancy, but suddenly, making my way into work during busy periods was impossible and ended on numerous occassions in a panic attack that left me unable to do almost anything at all. CBT had been a big help to me just over a year ago, and I was still using some of those techniques to deal with my worries, but I had no idea how to deal with my new fear of busy places. I knew at that point that I needed to slow things down – for the sake of the baby and myself. I cut down my hours and stopped working during busy periods, which is difficult in retail, but it helped enormously. I was also forced to talk to people as well – I couldn’t keep all the ‘things’ that had been filling my mind, quiet, not without making myself seriously ill.
I struggled to talk at first. Vocalising worries and situations that your mind has thought up can be really difficult. I was aware of how unlikely and impossible some of the things that I was thinking were, but at the same time, they were real worries for me that needed to be talked through rather than simply written off. Kai had to learn that simply reassuring me that things were going to be okay wasn’t enough. I needed to talk through all of the possible outcomes and know that if any of them did happen, that that in itself would be okay. We talked through my fears, which was scary for both of us, but I didn’t feel alone with my worries anymore and it felt like a weight had been lifted.
Talking didn’t get rid of those fears entirely. 18 weeks down the line, and I still worry about making ‘mum friends’, whether we’re budgetting well enough, and if me suffering with anxiety during pregnancy means that postnatal depression will rear it’s ugly head when baby makes her arrival. Talking has, however, shown me that I have an incredible support network around me who will ensure that none of those worries become a reality. Kai can spot my bad days a mile away, and will do anything he physically can to help – and for that, I’m eternally grateful.
If you’re suffering at all during pregnancy or postnatally, it’s important to remember that regardless of how alone you feel, you’re not. Not only are there other people out there who will be feeling similarly to you, because it’s entirely normal, there will be people around you who are willing to listen – whether it’s your partner, a family member, a friend, a midwife or doctor, or someone online – help is always available, and talking in itself can be a relief. No one has to suffer alone, there will always be someone who will understand.
Mind have some resources to help if you are suffering, and for me, hearing Anna Williamson talk about her struggles with perinatal and postnatal mental health problems helped me to deal with the struggles I was facing..