Before you read this I want to make clear why I’m writing. It has the potential to come across as self indulgent ‘woe is me’ bullshit and that it not my intention. The people close to me already know about my mental health problems. There is no benefit to me for sharing this with the wider world. Also a trigger warning – some hypothetical discussion of death and mental health up ahead. There’s some swearing too.
I am in a minority in my friends and peers in that I have children. I grew up in the generation in which apart from openly admitting you like Westlife, teenage pregnancy was the worst thing ever. This seems to have had the effect that the majority of my friends are yet to have children. Therefore, this post is a warning. I want people to know that this exists and that they are not alone. I felt so alone for so long. So instead of taking a semi naked selfie with an excellent filter, this is my effort in raising awareness. If you have read Scarlett’s birth story, you will already know some of this but stick with me.
Pre-Natal Anxiety and Depression.
I knew postnatal depression existed. I had heard about it from the small number of friends who had suffered from it and read a lot about it on social media. I had no idea this could happen BEFORE you had the baby. That it is an actual mental health condition. (Side note – I am in no way minimising those who have postnatal depression, its just I’ve never had it and so can’t tell my personal story).
With both of my children it started when I was about 16 weeks pregnant. I have always been an anxious person (although it took having this crisis to make me realise this). I like to catastrophise. I used to do it when I was bored mostly. Daydream about what would happen if something terrible happened to me or someone I love. As I type this, I realise how fucked up that sounds. I would often do it repeatedly. The same scenario over and over with maybe some slight changes. It would be worse if something happened that I was genuinely anxious about. For instance, some minor mistake at work would end with me losing my job or being arrested. I think most people do this on some level.
When I was pregnant, it stepped up a notch. I would have terrible dreams and wake up hysterical. Or just lie in the dark imagining something awful.
An example is how I was flicking through Facebook whilst Dan was getting ready for bed one night and someone had shared a new article about the dangers of button batteries. I didn’t even read the article. But hours later I was still awake.
Our dogs have light up collars that use those batteries. I wasn’t watching Scarlett when I went to the toilet earlier. Maybe she found the collars and swallowed one. No, she definitely did. She’s dead upstairs. How am I going to tell Dan? Oh god, my daughter is dead and it’s all my fault. I’ll go to prison. They’ll take the new baby off me. Can you breastfeed in prison? She’s dead. I’ve killed her. I’m such a terrible mother. She’s dead.
Eventually my hysterical crying woke Dan up who went and checked on Scarlett to reassure me. I cried so hard it made me sick. I didn’t sleep for hours. In the daylight I was rational, but I was so tired that the anxiety stayed.
And so it continued. I would convince myself that Dan was late home because he had died in a car accident. I would imagine the police coming to the door, arranging the funeral, how I would tell his parents, what I would do with the children, with the house. And again, have a huge panic attack.
My catasrophising had never been this bad when I wasn’t pregnant. I had CBT when I was pregnant with Scarlett which helped a little and it went the day she was born. I was so convinced it wouldn’t happen again when I was pregnant with Henley that when it reared its head, I was completely floored.
This time I had an additional guilt. When pregnant with Scarlett I could sleep all day if I had been awake all night crying. I didn’t have this luxury when pregnant with Henley. After trying to plough through, it became glaringly obvious that being sleep deprived was a huge trigger and so my mum started having her more often. Whilst it helped with the sleep, it did not help with the guilt.
I’m fobbing Scarlett off again. What kind of mother can’t even look after her own child? I’m a terrible mother. She’ll hate me. They’re going to take her away. They’ll take the baby away. I’ve ruined her life.
Enter another massive panic attack.
Because I had never heard of prenatal anxiety and depression I was convinced that it was only happening to me. That I was going mad. I’m a very open person and initially told people if they asked why I hadn’t been in touch or been off work sick or why I had to come off nights etc. Most people were understanding but sometimes you got the comments:
‘Oh everyone goes through worrying when pregnant. Its not even that big a deal.’
‘You’ve always been a bit dramatic’
Or my personal favourite
‘Some people cant have children. You should be grateful that you’re even pregnant’
(Side note- none of the people I know who struggle to have children have EVER said this to me. Its always people who have children which is interesting).
These responses made it so much worse. I felt totally ashamed about what was happening to me. I’ve since realised that the people who say these things fall into two categories:
- total wankers
- people who want to reassure you but don’t know what to say
Luckily, most people are number 2.
I eventually managed to control my brain when a good friend recommended seeing a hypnotherapist. He was, and still is, amazing and helped me calm myself when I felt like things were spinning out of control. I now meditate most days and really feel a difference when I don’t.
Most importantly he helped me realise that whilst many people ‘always think of the worst case scenario’ , it is not normal for it to cause a panic attack. It is not normal to cry until you vomit. It is not normal to be so sad about your thoughts that you cannot get out of bed. It is not normal to seriously consider ending a pregnancy because your anxiety frightens you so much.
As previously mentioned, the panic attacks and severe anxiety disappeared the day my children were born and for that I am so grateful. It ruined both of my pregnancies, 9 months is a long time to be so frightened.
I got through with support of my family, friends and midwife. The hypnotherapy was a god send.
And so back to why I started this post. If this ever happens to you, know that you are not a bad person and you are not going mad. Tell people how you feel. If anyone uses the bad responses above, move away from that person. They are not the person who will help you. Maybe you can explain further when you are well but now is not the time. Smile nicely, end the conversation and go and find someone who will give you a hug, a cup of tea and a biscuit. Preferably a chocolate one.
You are allowed to complain. This is not a nice thing that is happening to you. This does not make you ungrateful or that your behaviour is a slap in the face to people who cannot have children. When we do not voice what is happening to us then we become isolated and sad. When I complain that my legs ache, it does not mean that I am not happy that I have legs or that I do not appreciate the struggle of people who do not have legs. You are allowed to express your emotions in that point in time. In fact, it is essential you do. Tell your GP or midwife. They want to help you.
Because I felt ashamed, during both pregnancies I was piss poor at maintaining my friendships. I didn’t want people to know I was so sad and to think less of me. I’ve lost a few friends because of it. I’m sad about that but I suppose that’s life. The majority have understood and for that I am grateful.
Hugs, kisses and belly rubs all round