Anxiety Kept Me From Enjoying My Pregnancy
I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't deal with some sort of general anxiety. A perpetual worrywart, I've always had the tendency to stress over the worst possible outcomes. So it probably shouldn't have been too surprising that when I got pregnant, my anxiety completely took over everything else.
The moment my Clearblue stick displayed the words "pregnant" on its tiny screen, I felt a jumble of emotions: disbelief, happiness, and an overwhelming fear of what was going to happen. My joy quickly dissipated as everything that could go wrong flashed through my mind. I took a second test, screamed out loud in my empty house, and immediately called my gynecologist, a phone call in which I started crying while I told the receptionist I had been drinking wine and taking CBD to fall asleep the last few weeks (she assured me I would be okay).
The week that followed felt like a series of mini panic attacks. The day after I found out, I left for a work trip to Portugal. I cried almost the entire plane ride there, worried that I was making a mistake by going out of the country so early in my pregnancy; I had at least two small breakdowns a day on the phone with my husband; and one night in Lisbon, I spent two hours hiding in the hotel gym to sob hysterically so my friend who was traveling with me wouldn't notice something was wrong. I came home and immediately canceled a highly anticipated trip to California, knowing I couldn't handle it.
This didn't seem like an appropriate reaction to something I wanted: I was recently married, and my husband and I had tried to have this baby. In fact, it had only taken one actual attempt for me to get pregnant. I was furious at myself for my anxiety. I should have been feeling ecstatic, grateful, and blessed. Instead, I was crying more than I ever had before.
Although things calmed down a little bit after that first week, I went through my entire first trimester as an anxious mess. Despite the fact that I had never had a miscarriage or pregnancy complications before, I was nearly convinced that something was going to happen to my unborn child. I refused to let myself get excited when it was so early on in my pregnancy. My husband wanted to talk about possible names and ideas for a nursery, but I shut him down every time. Of course, I wanted to blissfully think about my future adorable tiny human; of course, I wanted to imagine what they would look like and how wonderful our snuggles would be. But I was scared. I didn't want to risk getting too involved with this baby when I felt so anxious that something was going to go wrong.
For the first 14 weeks, I didn't tell anyone about the pregnancy besides my husband and immediate family, and so in the beginning, as my hormones and anxiety worked together to make my life fairly miserable, I really didn't feel like I had anyone to turn to. My husband and my mom, the two closest people in my life, have never struggled with anxiety. They tried to be there for me while I would cry and panic, but they didn't truly understand what I was going through, and it limited their ability to help me.
It didn't help that every other pregnant woman around me—in real life and on social media—seemed, well, normal. I felt isolated and alone, even when I tried to reach out to others. Once, during the sharing part of a prenatal yoga class (which I started in the hopes that it would help calm my mind), I admitted that I was feeling super anxious about my child's well being despite being very healthy. The other moms-to-be smiled politely but looked a little confused. A few other women discussed how they were dealing with their very real physical health problems, and I felt ashamed of my anxiety, which seemed to be based on nothing.
But I know I'm not the only pregnant woman in the world who has struggled with anxiety. Jasmin Terrany, LMHC, and inventor of Life Therapy, told me that, "Not only is anxiety common in general, but it can be significantly heightened in pregnancy." She explained, "Anxiety arises when we have fears for which we don't have solutions. In pregnancy, there are many opportunities for fears to arise."
It makes sense: when I was pregnant, I felt a complete loss of control over my body and what it was doing. I also felt that my attempts at being healthy for my baby could only do so much. Many women lose their pregnancies over issues they have no control over, and that was what scared me the most.
Often, during those first 14 weeks, I would think, "I'll feel less anxious when the first trimester is over and my risk of losing the baby drops." The first trimester ended—Baby and I were perfectly healthy—but the anxiety didn't stop. Then I thought, "I'll feel better when I can feel her kicking, showing me that she's okay in there." She started kicking, and as thrilling as it was, it didn't alleviate my anxiety—if anything, it added to it. If an hour went by when I didn't feel her move, I worked myself into such a panic that I would nearly hyperventilate.
I counted down the days to every single doctor appointment, just waiting for the moment I could hear her heartbeat and bask in the temporary relieved feeling I would get from speaking with my OB-GYN, a very laid-back man who constantly reassured me that my pregnancy was so normal that, really, I was quite a boring patient.
But it was okay, I told myself. Once the second trimester was over, I would feel so much better, because it would almost be over. I would almost be in the clear. And, as time went on in my pregnancy, I did start to feel a bit better. My second and third trimesters weren't nearly as fraught with emotion and anxious feelings as my first trimester, and some days, I could even get myself excited at the thought of what my daughter would be like when she was born. Still, every time I really started to feel a little better, there would be a reminder of what could potentially go wrong, such as an article online about someone's late-term miscarriage or devastating stillbirth. "That could be me," I would think, and any happiness I felt about my upcoming baby would be once again clouded with anxiety.
I wish I could say that I eventually got over all of that and enjoyed at least the end of my pregnancy, but the truth is, I didn’t. I absolutely should have gone to therapy, something I’ve done in the past, but for some reason, I kept putting it off. Maybe it was because I was so angry with myself: I was furious that my overactive brain had ruined such a special time in my life, and that I was letting it happen. All I wanted was to feel an uncomplicated sense of joy about my daughter, my first child, and I couldn’t.
Avoiding help wasn’t the right move: licensed clinical social worker Samantha Smalls, of New Chapter Counseling Services, urges that anyone who feels this way during pregnancy gets professional help through counseling with a therapist near you. If that’s not possible, she said, “You can reach out to Postpartum Support International (PSI), which has a directory of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder therapists in your state.” Smalls also recommended talking to your OBGYN or medical provider about your anxiety, saying, “They may recommend prescriptions that will help you without affecting the baby.”
Today, I am the proud and happy mother of a healthy baby girl, and I feel so grateful to have her in my life. I look back and wish that I could have been less anxious during my pregnancy, but there's nothing I can do about that now. I now know I had nothing to be ashamed of, and realizing that earlier on would have been helpful. For anyone going through the same thing, it's important to seek professional help.
Oh, and the end result of having a child? It was worth it all.
Thank you for this! We’re almost 12 weeks along (so far, everything is good), but I have had the hardest time even thinking about getting excited. I keep hearing miscarriage stories from friends/coworkers/acquaintances and cant stop thinking something will happen to us. It’s reassuring I’m not alone with these feelings. I’ll be reaching out to my counselor soon.Read More
Thank you so much for your article Jessica. My husband and I are going to start trying soon and as much as the idea excites me i'm finding anxiety taking over constantly. I can totally imagine the anxiety you would have gone through and the anger you would have felt towards yourself. I don't feel like I can speak about my anxiety either but you've made me realize that there are people out there like you that understand. Your last sentence made me smile so much.Read More