It's hard for me to think of an appropriate way to start this very personal blog post. Let me just start by saying that this is a hard subject for me to talk about, as is anything deeply personal that delves deeper than the superficial and lightness that I strive to keep throughout this blog. It's just who I am; I like to keep any problems I'm experiencing to myself, both on and offline.
The reason that I wanted to open up a bit and talk about my experience with prenatal anxiety is that it seems to be a reoccurring theme when talking to expectant, new and seasoned moms alike. "How are you feeling?" they would innocently ask and in the odd time that I would open up and let them know that my biggest pregnancy symptom was/is anxiety, it was more often than not met with women telling me that they experienced the exact same thing while expecting. In fact, I would say that the vast majority of women I've spoken to about prenatal anxiety have their own experiences, anecdotes, memories and battles. For a pregnancy symptom that is seemingly so common among women, why is it that I rarely - if ever - hear it mentioned in any of the information available that coaches women on what to expect when expecting?
That's why I wanted to share my story today. Hopefully someone who is struggling, or has struggled in the past with prenatal anxiety will read it and know that they're not alone.
My story with prenatal anxiety begins almost right away after holding my positive pregnancy test. Our first attempt to conceive ended in a chemical pregnancy, so I was so happy to see that we were able to get pregnant again so soon after. While I experienced all of the "typical" reactions to a positive pregnancy test (excitement, overwhelm, disbelief, etc.) I also has this nagging sense of guilt. Why should it have been so quick for us, when others struggle with infertility? It was a feeling that I tried to shake, but ultimately ended up manifesting itself into a cloud of doom that seemed to follow me around the entire first trimester.
The first trimester for me was tough, and when my prenatal anxiety was at its absolute worst. Some days it would present as just a nagging feeling and weight on my back that would follow me around and other days it would be full-blown episodes of panic that prevented me from leaving my condo. In fact if I look back at my first trimester I rarely ever left our place, didn't see anyone unless it was family and just spent hours frantically Googling anything from miscarriages to pregnancy complications or anything else that could possibly go wrong. This would then lead to feelings of crippling guilt that I was ruining what may the only time that I was ever pregnant, and therefor was undeserving. It was a vicious cycle that I could not seem to pull myself out of, despite rationally knowing how destructive my behaviour was. The feelings seemed to be beyond my control, and despite knowing that fresh air and a good laugh with friends would make me feel so much better, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So inside I stayed, alone with my thoughts and Google. It was miserable, isolating and seemed like it would never end.
Thankfully the fog lifted in the second trimester as my hormones regulated. It's then that I finally allowed myself to feel joy and excitement, without feeling like I was jinxing anything. I started to travel again, see my friends and just feel good. It was such a relief to have the monkey on my back finally leave. Even with my brief hospitalization and a short bout of anxiety that came along after, it was amazing how different my second trimester was from my first.
Fast forward to my third trimester, and with another shift in hormones that damn cloud of doom came back. Thankfully for me, it was then late spring and Toronto was experiencing more sunlight and milder weather and it made a world of difference. I also had developed some coping mechanisms in my second trimester that really helped; namely yoga, starting a gratitude journal and listening to classic rock all day (yes, that actually did help.) And while I definitely don't want to insinuate that yoga and Elton John is the solution to struggles in mental health, it seemed to work for me so I just went with it. Everyone is completely different.
Now here we are in the home stretch, and there are definitely more good days than bad. I also feel as though I've gotten a glimpse into what postpartum depression can feel like, and have taken preemptive steps to make sure that I have outside support should I need it. This experience has made me realize that maternal mental health goes far beyond just the 'baby blues' and if you're feeling these feelings of panic that seem to be beyond your control that you're not alone and it's not something to feel ashamed of.
So that's my story. While this was a hard one for me to share, since I don't want to look back on this very fleeting time and remember anything but the joy, I do think it's important to speak to my experience with prenatal anxiety. Hopefully this helps anyone who's feeling panicked, isolated and alone in what is thought to be a magical time.
You are not alone.
Disclaimer: If you're experiencing uncontrollable feelings of prenatal anxiety or depression, please talk to your doctor, midwife, or someone that you trust.