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Let’s talk about antenatal anxiety
I know I’ve talked a fair bit about anxiety. And I’ve talked about how infertility affected my mental health. But I’ve only talked a little bit about how anxious I was during pregnancy. So let’s talk about that a little bit more now.
If you’ve read my IVF journals, you will know that the twins were long awaited and very much wanted babies. I wanted to be pregnant so desperately, I thought it was going to be the happiest time of my life, if/when it finally happened.
In a lot of ways, it was. I loved that I was pregnant. I loved that I was finally going to be a mum and that I was going to have not one, but two babies!
But it’s not that simple
As happy as I was about being pregnant, pregnancy was not a happy time for me. Aside from being huge and aching all over and not being able to stomach anything other than Strawberry Lemonades from McDonalds and salt and vinegar crisps for the first 14 weeks or so, I also really struggled with antenatal anxiety.
I spent my entire pregnancy worrying about what might or could happen, instead of enjoying what actually was happening. Instead of marvelling over the amazing thing my body was doing by growing two perfect little people at the same time, I was obsessing about all the ways that my body could fail me and those babies.
Antenatal anxiety steals pregnancy from you
I didn’t get to be a normal pregnant woman. Not really. I was too busy being an anxious woman. And do know what? People (in general) just do not get antenatal anxiety. Even more so than “regular” anxiety. People who I thought were fairly understanding of my issues with anxiety before I was pregnant, were really not understanding of them during pregnancy.
I lost track of how many times someone said “But you’re pregnant – you should be happy! All this stress is not good for the babies!” or words to that effect. I heard that so often that I developed a script to answer it with. It went something like “Oh, I’m very happy that I’m pregnant. I love my babies. That’s why I’m so scared!” But really, there’s no point trying to explain antenatal anxiety to people. I didn’t get it, so I couldn’t expect anyone else to.
One of my biggest sources of antenatal anxiety
was worrying about why I was so anxious. Does it make me a bad mum that I’m so anxious? Is the fact that I’m anxious going to be the thing that harms them, which is what I’m so anxious about in the first place? How do I stop feeling anxious about my anxiety harming my babies, so that I’m not anxious anymore? …My brain was a confusing and exhausting place to be, at a time when my whole body was already exhausted.
It didn’t help that the mental health support during pregnancy is so hit and miss. I was “lucky” that our local hospital has a dedicated Mental Health Midwife. A lot of hospitals don’t have those. In theory, it meant that I had extra support for my mental health, separate to my usual antenatal care. Awesome, right? Except that, in reality, she was over stretched – because she’s only one woman, and didn’t really have any practical support to offer me.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t the easiest patient.
I refused to take medication while I was pregnant and that was (it seemed) her favourite solution. The other option was an antenatal anxiety support group, which sounded amazing! But it was a 6 week course and it had already started before I was referred to her. I wasn’t allowed to join halfway through and the next course wasn’t starting until it would already be too late. Her only other suggestion was to “keep doing what I was doing”.
So she couldn’t help me at all and I didn’t book a second appointment with her. I couldn’t see the point in taking up time that she could be spending with some who might find her support more useful.
My antenatal anxiety did get a bit better, the further along I got. By 34 weeks, for example, my worries that the twins would come too early had started to ease. By 36 weeks, my fear that they would need some form of special care was much less intense. And when we went to the hospital to be induced at 37 weeks, I was feeling fairly confident that I would be taking two healthy babies home with me. Of course, life threw me an emergency section and massive blood loss, just to keep me on my toes, but that’s a story for another time!
If you’re experiencing antenatal anxiety, know that you are not alone.
It’s more common than you think. And I don’t mean the usual worries that all pregnant women have. That was another thing that drove me mad – the suggestion that all pregnant women worry, so my anxiety was somehow less of a big deal. If you hear those comments, remind yourself that the person probably means well – they’re probably trying to make you feel better and just don’t understand that “worry” and “anxiety” aren’t exactly the same thing. Don’t let those comments make you feel worse. Your feelings are valid and separate from anything that anyone else is feeling.
Ask for help.
Don’t suffer on your own, if you don’t have to. Talk to your midwife. Even if there isn’t a dedicated Mental Health Midwife in your area, your midwife’s job is to provide antenatal care and support and your mental health is part of that. If they can’t help you, they can refer you to someone who can. And do whatever you need to, to be kind to yourself.
The wonderful thing about antenatal anxiety is that, by its very nature, it doesn’t last forever. (Now’s not the time to talk about postnatal anxiety… maybe another time).