My story: I know that I am not alone
Esther shares her challenges with anxiety disorder and pregnancy. But despite her struggles, the most important thing she realised is that she is not alone.
“I have always struggled with anxiety but it remained largely under control until I fell pregnant with my eldest daughter. I found the roller-coaster of hormonal fluctuations, nausea, and uncertainty about my unborn child’s health, combined with the tradition that you don’t tell anyone until at least 12 weeks, quite a toxic combination. You don’t really see a midwife until 8–10 weeks and until then I didn’t feel like I could access any support through them. And while I tried to communicate the issue to my GP, the system was geared more towards supporting women with depression, so I didn’t rank high enough on the assessment questionnaire for receiving support.
It was a pretty lonely experience. I kept telling myself that I was excited to be pregnant, especially because I had wanted to have children very badly, but I felt in free-fall.
At that early stage in pregnancy things like antenatal/NCT groups are not really in place — you’re not even meant to be telling anyone! Fortunately I found some amazing support online — a group of other women whose babies were due to be born in the same month as mine. These women were from all over the world, from all walks of life, and some were already mums of older children. Being able to confide in them and ask all kinds of questions made everything seem less scary. I got lots of different and interesting views on things like childbirth, infant feeding and postpartum issues. I count some of these women among my best friends to this day! My mum passed away before I got pregnant, and I have no sisters or female family members I could ask, so these friends became my virtual ‘village’ as we shared the highs and lows of our experiences together.
I had my first scan at 12 weeks. With a healthy baby confirmed and regular midwife appointments in place, I started to feel better. By about 20 weeks I felt pretty good and actually started to enjoy being pregnant. My daughter arrived and was healthy and full of personality, and the first six months of her life were (relatively) blissfully enjoyable.
Despite having — and mostly overcoming — some late-onset postpartum depression about a year after she was born, we decided to add a sibling to our family.
This time I knew it would be a rocky road but I was not prepared for how the anxiety and hormonal instability would be exacerbated by the tiredness of dealing with a two year-old! I struggled more with nausea and exhaustion and that in turn made it harder to rationalize my feelings of anxiety and panic. Again I felt that I could not turn to any midwives until my booking appointment, and again I scored badly on the GP’s assessment for prenatal depression so could not access any mental health support. I also received conflicting information about whether I should be weaning from my antidepressants, which was extremely stressful at the time.
I developed terrible pregnancy insomnia and panic attacks, until one of my friends sent me a hypnotherapy CD for pregnancy and childbirth. I’m pretty cynical about alternative therapies but to my amazement listening to the tracks when I went to bed was incredibly calming and put me straight to sleep.
This, combined with the support network I had already built, both of online friends and local mum friends, helped carry me through until the 12 week scan, when yet again we were delighted and relieved to see a healthy baby on the screen.
I went on to have the home birth I hoped for, and despite the challenges of parenting with an anxiety disorder, I know that I am not alone.