Prenatal anxiety and depression: continued (literally).
I’m coming to the end of my therapy sessions this week. My plan was to write a blog saying how well I’m doing now, That I’m cured of all my anxieties and I’m ready for motherhood. This morning, I woke up and cried. My heart rate is up, and I can’t focus. I’m anxious and sad. The reality is that therapy has not cured me, but, despite this, I am still doing well. Because I’m not going to go back to bed. I am a healthy, low risk pregnant woman. My baby is developing well. I have a great husband, a lovely home and a fantastic group of family and friends. I’m a theatre maker who currently has work in a pandemic. I am so unbelievably lucky. Today, I’m not going to let my anxiety make me forget all of that. I’m going to look at my written reminders of how well I’m doing, I’m going to meditate, I’m going to exercise and I’m going to stick to my plan for the day. Which includes writing this so, so far so good.
What therapy has done for me is helped me find ways to take back control, to maintain a grasp on reality in those moments where my mind is doing it’s very best to convince me I’m completely useless, I won’t cope being a mum and I’m never going to get everything I need to do done. After years of dealing with a physical chronic illness, I realise this is exactly the same. I’m going to have bad days and moments but learning how to manage them will mean I’ll also have really good ones.
A huge part of me getting better at managing has been talking. All mental health carries a stigma. When I posted my first blog about how hard I was finding pregnancy, I was so worried that people would read it and think I was ungrateful or self-involved or, worst of all, that I didn’t love my baby. I’m so relieved that the actual response was women getting in touch to offer support and share stories. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone, like theses feelings are actually common and I’m not a terrible person. But, as I said in my previous blog, these women had also found it difficult to speak out. Women not receiving help if they are struggling mentally during pregnancy can lead to huge problems in the post-natal period. As I’ve said before, we need to keep talking.
But why is it so difficult to talk about prenatal anxiety and depression? Something that made it hard for me was the wide social expectation that I would constantly be ecstatic about the whole thing. The way pregnant women are portrayed is either ‘look at this beautiful, glowing, ecstatic woman’ or ‘look at this terrible mother who clearly doesn’t care about her child.’ Where are the portrayals of women who are just a bit overwhelmed, why aren’t we talking about how hard it might be to make this huge change and to have it happen to you, even if you really want it? I’m not saying we shouldn't show women who are happy and healthy during pregnancy, but surely part of being happy and healthy is being able to process a range of emotions. How are we supposed to feel like we can do that if all we ever see is a woman 8 months pregnant on a beach doing yoga, and we don’t see her later in the day sat sweating her tits off crying cos she’s worried that she hasn’t bought the right breast pump?
One in five women develop some form of metal health problem during their pregnancy or in the year after birth. Honesty, authenticity and openness needs to be part of the way we talk about pregnancy. I hope that these blogs add to that a little bit.
Don’t worry, I’m sure my next post will be back to sausage roll based humour, but for now, have a chat with your pregnant mate (there’s loads of them around at the minute) and ask them how they’re doing.