As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to write about a topic that is very close to my heart: Prenatal Anxiety and Postnatal Anxiety and Depression. I’m going to talk about this making reference to my birth story part 1, the pregnancy and birth of my first child, Isla back in 2014. This is all still very fresh in my mind and writing about it is like therapy for me, so I’ll get started…
I’d just like to say, there’s a few sensitive issues in this post. So if you think you will feel triggered, stop reading now and look after your own mental health.
Life before baby
It was February 2014. I’d just got back from my holiday in Thailand with Dave, where we celebrated our friend’s getting married. I had just turned 28 at the time. The holiday was very boozy, care free and loads of fun! Thailand was beautiful, sunny and everything you would expect from the island.
After 2.5 weeks in paradise having the time of our lives, we both returned to a dreary, cold and wet London with stinking hangovers, which , as you can imagine was a crash landing to reality with work looming the next day. Our alarms went off the next morning, it was time to start work. But I didn’t feel quite right. It was more than just tiredness, I felt nauseous and dizzy. I couldn’t bring myself to get dressed, so reluctantly, I emailed my manager to tell him I wouldn’t be in that day. Dave still went to work. As the day progressed, I wasn’t feeling any better, and a nagging feeling kept telling me to go and get a pregnancy test. So, after a bit of rest, I drank a sugary drink for energy and headed to Boots. As soon as I got back I did the test, and it came back as two blue lines. A positive result. I was in shock and couldn’t believe it. I always wanted kids, but I wasn’t ready for them at that time. Neither was Dave. We were both emotionally immature, totally unaware, and just acting as you probably would do in your 20s, living in a city with no real commitments other than work and living for the weekend! Anyway, I text Dave the picture of the result (which at the time I probably should have waited until he got home, and spoke to him) and I think he was in disbelief at the time.
The First Trimester and a whole load of anxiety
After a strange couple of weeks, daily sickness – and a lot of emotional ups and downs, it started to sink in; We were having a baby. I began to think about it all realistically… we were renting a one bed flat in London; how’s there going to be enough space for a baby and all their toys etc? The area in London we were living in at the time, wasn’t where I would have imagine I’d be living when I was about to have a child. I know people raise kids in the city and live in flats, however I’d always imagined living in a house in the suburbs close to a support network (Both of our family and friends live up North) and what would I do about my job in London? Childcare is so expensive and I don’t really want to put my baby in Nursery full time, but the thought of being a full time mum, and being lonely also scares me too. As these thoughts and worries spiralled in my head, I began to feel very scared of the future, and the future of our baby. Dave and I spoke about it and we agreed to look for another rental, that was a bit bigger in more of a family friendly area. We found a 2 bad flat in Greenwich to keep us going until we were able to buy a house some where outside London.
My body changing
As the weeks went by, my body began to change. As I’d always been quite controlled with my body (I have suffered from eating disorders previously) this was something I was not prepared for at all. I didn’t know how to control my new found insatiable hunger either. I tried to skip snacks/meals but it just made me feel dizzy. I didn’t really know how to dress and I felt self conscious in absolutely everything. I got the tube every day to work and I dreaded it because I just felt like everyone was looking at me. It got to the 5 month mark and I could no longer hide my bump and I had to now wear maternity clothes, which I also didn’t feel comfortable in. My bump was huge! I remember it being really hot in London over summer so I couldn’t cover up. I used to walk everywhere looking at the ground because I was convinced everyone was looking and laughing at me. As I got bigger and the commute got even more unbearable in the heat, I left for my Maternity Leave a couple of weeks early due to stress (I started having daily panic attacks) and Sciatica, which means I couldn’t really walk too far without getting a pain up my leg and back and my feet were also very swollen at this point. I didn’t go to the doctors because I didn’t want to go back on medication while I was pregnant, and at the time I wasn’t aware of meditation/mindfulness. So, I spent the final 6 weeks mainly stuck in the flat feeling really low; I got to the point where I didn’t want to leave the flat because I would suffer from panic and anxiety attacks. So that’s what I did…. I stayed in the flat and I turned to eating to take away the way I was feeling. All the control went out the window and it was like a f*ck it button went off in my head and I would just eat without caring, and as a result I gained a lot of weight and my confidence took a nose dive.
Going into Labour
Four weeks later, I was watching a TV program while Dave was out with clients, and I started getting strange pains. They would come and go – this was a week earlier than expected, so I didn’t think much of it at first, but then they got stronger. I realised I was in labour. I called Dave and he got a taxi back to our flat. By this point, I started to panic. When I got to the hospital, things only got worse. I had back to back contractions, was constantly throwing up and shouting all sorts! I realise now that all that panic is the worse thing you can do when you’re having a baby because your whole body tenses up and fails to progress, which is what happened to me – plus I got very poorly in hospital too with an infection – not what you need! Anyway, 30 hours later she was finally out via emergency c section, which was the worst experience ever. I won’t go into details but it was traumatic, and i didn’t even want to hold my own baby at the end of it, which is sad to say. I remember not feeling much – no happiness and no instant bond. It took time for me to connect with her actually. Before I was due to leave the hospital, I remember feeling this immense pressure to breastfeed. I wanted to breastfeed, but I didn’t really want all the stress that came with it (you can read more about this in my previous post)The midwife wouldn’t let me leave the hospital until I got Isla to latch, and the pressure continued from certain family members when I got home.
The postpartum period
I spent the first 6 months pretty much housebound, with the odd exception of a walk here and there. I was very lonely and had no support network around me. I panicked about going to the supermarkets with her incase she cried. I actually froze when it came down to it and I couldn’t bring myself to go in the shop. It took time for me to recover from this. I was also anxious about breastfeeding in public. I’d say when I stopped breastfeeding at the 6 month mark, it was emotional initially (there’s a whole surge of hormonal changes – but that’s another story) As soon as I stopped breastfeeding and all my hormones calmed down, it’s like a had a new lease of life, like a weight had been lifted. I started going to groups at this point, made some friends and started feeling more like myself again. A few months later, I had lost all of the weight (being healthy and not starving myself) and I had formed a really good bond with Isla and I actually enjoyed being a mum. Life got better from this point.
What I would say though is, if you are ever feeling low during pregnancy and during the postpartum period, don’t do what I did and suffer in silence. Get help, support, call a friend etc. Meditate – Meditation, affirmations and prayer has honestly changed my life and my whole outlook on life and I try make it party of my daily routine now.
Have you ever experienced anything that has affected your mental health? Do you have a daily routine for your well-being? Let me know in the comments.
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