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Pregnancy anxiety is something we don’t talk about enough. Postpartum depression and anxiety are, thank goodness, being talked about more publicly now, but there’s not as much attention on the very real anxiety that women can have while they’re pregnant.
Why isn’t pregnancy anxiety talked about more often?
Probably because pregnancy is a temporary condition. There is an end date, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. And because of that, some conditions, like anxiety, might not be taken as seriously as they need to be. We think to ourselves, and often doctors think, “It will get better when the baby is born.”
And let me tell you something – MOST CONDITIONS DO! Hip pain? I can almost guarantee you it’ll go away once that baby is born. And maybe in some cases anxiety will, too.
So do I need to just suffer through it?
Of all the many ailments we suffer for the nine months we’re pregnant, most of them we just can’t do anything about. We have to suffer through them.
But unlike the hip pain you have, for example, which you are suffering because of your rapidly-changing body, there are things you can do about anxiety. You may not get rid of it completely, but you can probably ease it a little bit.
I’m going to start out by saying – I am NOT a doctor. I am not here to provide you with medical advice. But I am here to tell you that you are not alone. It is very common. I was there. And I can share with you my experience, what worked for me and what I wish I would have done different.
My Experience With Pregnancy Anxiety
It’s important for me to share my story because:
a) I didn’t recognize my anxiety symptoms for what they were.
b) When I did recognize that I had anxiety, I didn’t get the help and support I needed from my doctor.
It was really hard for me to tell my doctor that I needed help. Right or wrong, I felt a lot of shame in admitting I had any mental illness. We still don’t live in a world where it’s okay. So when I allowed myself to be vulnerable and tell my doctor what was going on and she didn’t help me
I think back on it now and it just makes me so angry. I wish I would have handled it differently and I don’t want any other mothers to feel the way I did.
My history with anxiety
I am a very anxious person. I’ve been riddled with anxiety probably since birth. So I knew when I became pregnant that pregnancy anxiety was likely something I was going to face.
I had stopped taking all medications, including anxiety medication, before becoming pregnant because I just didn’t want to take any chances contaminating my unborn child. I didn’t do any research – this was just me wanting to go into pregnancy with a clean body.
I’m not going to say my first trimester was great. Physically it was, for sure. But mentally, I was very stressed, as I think many mothers are. I was glued to the computer trying to research everything I possibly could. Looking back, I can see now that I was trying to get control over a situation that was out of my control. Like, if I had more knowledge, I could somehow make sure that my baby would develop exactly how I wanted him to. I quickly learned that so much of it was out of my control. I was just so paranoid.
And this paranoia and stress continued throughout my entire pregnancy. Granted, I had a lot going on. I had just gotten married, I wasn’t feeling great about work. But we all have things. You’ve got to consider every aspect of your life when you’re bringing a baby into the world! And especially your first pregnancy when you just have no idea what to expect.
I spent so much time trying to find out if the things I was experiencing were normal, or trying to figure out what to expect next – if I’d get stretch marks, if it was normal not to get morning sickness, when I’d start to show, and on and on and on.
I’ve obviously never been pregnant in any previous eras, but I feel like the amount of information we have at our fingertips, while often times helpful, can also be detrimental. All of my research and googling was creating these fears about conditions I didn’t even previously know existed.
I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded each doctor’s appointment because I was always terrified they were going to find something wrong, but also wanted validation that everything was going right.
I remember feeling such relief when they’d play my baby’s heartbeat at the appointments, just to leave the appointment, do a google search, and then be paranoid that it was the placenta, not the heartbeat they were hearing.
At every, or almost every doctor’s appointment, I was required to fill out this survey to be screened for anxiety and depression. I’ll be the first person to admit that I wasn’t entirely honest when I filled out those surveys. I thought I knew myself well enough to know if I was suffering from anxiety and depression. So I embellished my happiness a little bit because I thought I was fine.
I took my physical wellness and confused it with mental wellness. I honestly didn’t think anything of my high levels of stress. I thought it was normal. Maybe it was.
Then things changed.
When I was 7 months pregnant I made a crazy, but worthwhile decision, and left my company of five and a half years to accept a job at a new company. Taking a new job in the United States in your third trimester is a bold move. It made me legally ineligible for FMLA, meant changing my insurance, all sorts of things. Not to mention learning a new job when your brain is foggy.
Luckily, my new company worked with me as best they could and I was able to take leave after having my baby, but it’s still a little scary knowing that when you’re not covered under FMLA, your job isn’t legally protected.
After I started my new job I went to another routine prenatal appointment and filled out the same depression/anxiety survey I had filled out before. But this time my answers were a lot different. Now I was experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety – feeling very tense in my muscles, unable to shut my mind off to sleep, very short of breath, especially when I started thinking about stressful things. And it had gotten to a point that I felt like I needed to talk to someone about it.
So I did. I told my doctor that I had suffered from anxiety issues before, so I knew what it looked like and I was definitely having some major anxiety issues. She just casually glanced over the notes from my previous visit and said, “You weren’t having any anxiety issues at your last appointment.”
I said, “A lot has changed since then. And I’m telling you about it because my anxiety is bad enough that I need help.”
She seemed really irritated at this. It seemed to me like she was just there to do a quick, routine appointment and move on with her day. Anything beyond that was just not what she wanted to deal with.
So she said, “If you’ve had anxiety issues before, did you have a therapist?”
I said “Yes. But that was a few years ago.”
And she said, “Well then I would recommend you talk to them.” And got up to leave.
I told her, “It’s not that easy. For one, I saw this therapist a handful of times, so it’s not someone I have a trusted relationship with. For two, I just started a new job and I have to be here every other week. It’s just not a possibility for me to schedule an appointment with another doctor. And when I’ve scheduled with them in the past, appointments are booked out several weeks in advance. I need help NOW. I’ve already sat on this long enough.”
And at this point, I was starting to get really upset. I was sitting here telling my doctor that I’m struggling and literally begging her to believe me and to help me.
Begrudgingly she made a comment like, “So what do you want? Medication?”
I said, “Actually, yeah. That would be great.”
So she proceeded to tell me all of the possible horrible side effects, including my baby having trouble latching. Well breastfeeding was really important to me and the last thing a pregnant woman wants to do is anything that will hurt her baby.
So I just broke down in tears. Had a complete meltdown in her office. Told her that I didn’t want the medication now and I didn’t know what to do. And she basically just left me there.
It was awful.
Now that I know more and have a clear head, I should have advocated for myself better. I should have asked to speak to a different doctor, who likely would have told me that the benefits of having a mentally healthy mother, in my case, likely would have outweighed the possibility of the very managable side effects from the medication.
But I didn’t. I let her leave me alone in this room having a complete mental breakdown and feeling completely helpless.
I’m now 6 months postpartum and if I could go back to a 7-month-pregnant version of myself and give her advice, I would tell her this:
See your doctor. And if you aren’t feeling supported, see a different doctor. When your doctor isn’t giving you what you need, ask if there is someone else you can talk to. Call or email the office later and tell them you need to speak to someone else. We have to advocate for ourselves.
To give you a little bit of context – the OBGYN office that I go to has multiple doctors. So I had other options. And if yours isn’t like that and you don’t like your doctor – go to a different office. It doesn’t matter if you’re 7 months pregnant.
A few weeks later I was in the office for another appointment and a very pregnant women was at the front desk scheduling her next appointment. She gave the receptionist the day she wanted to come in and said she’d be willing to see any doctor in the practice except….you guessed it…the doctor that I had talked to about my anxiety. I remember thinking, “So it’s not just me. This doctor isn’t vibing well with her patients.”
It seems like we’re seemingly open about mental illness, but in practice, maybe not so much. In my situation, it felt like my doctor asked me depression and anxiety screening questions to check it off the list. And I was too ashamed to answer the questions honestly.
Managing the Anxiety
I want to share what did work for me.
If I had the time, I think I really would have benefitted from seeing a therapist or counselor. But I didn’t.
From that point forward I had to work really hard to focus on my stress and anxiety. Here’s what I did:
- I started a daily gratitude journal. I always thought those were so corny, but I was desperate. So I did it. Every day I wrote down something that I was thankful for and I made every entry meaningful. I wrote things like, “I’m so thankful to have a supportive husband.” And, “I’m thankful to have a job that allows me to support my family.”
- I stopped consulting Dr. Google. This one was hard. Like a lot of people, I obsessed over Googling every single symptom. I had to consciously make an effort to stay positive and rational.
- I called the doctor for anything and everything I wanted to. And you know what? They weren’t bothered by it! I went in for stress tests when I was worried about Baby’s movements and my (new) doctor told me that she’d rather I go in 50 times for no reason than not go in the one time I needed to. Do you know how good that felt?
- I took more baths. These felt so good to me. I’d throw on my favorite book on tape or podcast and just relax.
- I stopped talking about my stress to people who didn’t make me feel good. There were several people, even close friends, that I just couldn’t talk to anymore about my pregnancy issues because, for whatever reason, their responses just made me mad.
Those 5 things worked for me and I wish I would have started doing them sooner.
It’s critical, for you and your baby, to find ways that work for you. And it starts by recognizing that you’re suffering. Recognizing that you can feel better. And advocating for yourself.
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