I always supposed that I knew what pregnancy would be like generally. Of course, I did not fool myself into thinking it would be exactly the same for me. I acknowledged the range and individualization of people’s experiences. Likewise, I knew enough not to believe the portrayals I saw on TV and in films; which in hindsight are extremely unrealistic. However, the timing of having a child and when I was ready to be a parent were partly predicated on my mental health. I had to think critically about the possible impacts and how I would look after myself to ensure I stayed mentally well. So, not considering the impact pregnancy would have on my mental health seems remiss in hindsight.
#1 ‘Morning’ Sickness
The ‘morning’ part, is somewhat of a myth. And as any googling will tell you, it is factually incorrect. Perhaps I am the only one who took this symptom at face value. But nausea and sickness can impact you at any time of day. And whilst most common in the first few months, starting a few weeks in, for the vast minority it can last your entire pregnancy in some form. For me, sickness began about 6 weeks in and lasted until the 4 month mark when it blessedly ended. Whilst some friends who were pregnant around the same time experienced nausea around tea time, or occasional vomiting. I felt almost consistently nauseous and was being sick multiple times a day.
Obviously this got old quick – to say the least. It became incredibly difficult to work or have any normal daily functioning. It also became difficult to hide my pregnancy. Feeling nauseated or being sick all day was incredibly draining and left me exhausted. I was also unable to eat much so I was already low on energy and found it hard to function. This exhaustion meant limiting many parts of my life leaving me feeling low and agitated. It also necessitated cancelling many social events or opportunities I was looking forward to. This only compounded the feelings of low mood and isolated me further.
For Quick & Easy Tips for Post Natal Mental Health read here.
#2 Sleep Loss
Many people will tell you to sleep before the baby comes. This is almost as unhelpful advice as sleep when your baby sleeps. In the earlier months, nausea and vomiting disturbed my sleep anyway. But even without those concerns, worries about the baby and sleeping in the right position were enough to keep me up at night. And as the months went on, the sleep problems became bigger; literally.
As my bump grew, my inability to sleep in a comfy position got worse, fears of rolling onto my stomach during the night, and the babies movements all kept me awake. And of course, the less sleep, the more I felt the impact on my already dwindling mental health. Personally sleep is a safeguard for my mental health. I know from experience lack of sleep makes me more prone to anxiety and depression. The lack pf it lowers my mood and my worries about not having enough sleep only heighten my anxiety.
#3 My Pregnancy Body
In some ways feeling my body change and grow as I got a sense for the little human I was creating was some of the most wonderful moments in my life. And yet, my growing body also compounded any body image concerns which I thought I had relegated to my teenage years.
As I got physically larger, I found it harder to accept my growing body and my self-esteem and confidence started to decline. With time, I was able to find the joy. Acknowledging that my growing body was a wonderful thing and starting to embrace it. But I can’t deny the undercurrent of fears around my weight and what I would look like after pregnancy. Whilst I am a big supporter of body positivity or neutrality, I sadly have been impacted by societies portrayal of what is beautiful and acceptable at times in my life. Despite not agreeing with it philosophically or morally.
Aside from the literal gaining of weight, as my body changed I felt an element of unfamiliarity. Divorced from a body I was used to. My body changing and sacrificing at times in service to another. And whilst, I was incredibly happy about growing my baby and loved the moments I felt them inside me. I did experience feelings of disconnectedness at times. It’s a strange feeling to feel like a stranger in your own skin. And whilst these moments were few and far between, they provided, thankfully transitional, moments of worry and changes in mood which were uncomfortable and potentially distressing.
For Handling Weight Gain in Pregnancy read here.
#4 Anxious Feelings about Pregnancy
A normal level of anxiety is well, normal. And when would it be more fitting to feel anxious than when you have a life in your hands? I was expecting to feel anxious about certain areas of pregnancy; specifically relating to the birth part. But I hadn’t considered how concerned I may be during my pregnancy, not about getting anything wrong per se, but getting it right. I knew what I could or couldn’t do during pregnancy; what activities and foods were not safe. But it never occurred to me that aside from the don’ts that I would second guess the do’s.
My brain felt like it was on overdrive with worry. And this hasn’t ended with the birth of my daughter; it’s part of parent life. As I’m sure pretty much any parent will tell you, the worry never stops. Even when she’s not with me and I know she’s safe. I desperately want to be the best parent possible for her. And so, I still second guess everything I do.
This anxiety was exhausting. I never felt like I turned ‘off’. There was always something to do in preparation for the baby or to make my pregnancy healthier. And of course, the more I read the easier it became to worry. Some knowledge is a powerful thing. And whilst I encourage everyone to go into pregnancy and parenting with their eyes wide open. I certainly learnt invaluable information for keeping myself and my child safe in pregnancy and onwards. There is a lot of information out there which is take or leave. It’s right or wrong for you depending on who you are and your pregnancy. But it’s easy to get caught up thinking that you have to do everything even if doesn’t feel right to you. So, of course, with my brain on continuous loop, it was easy for my anxiety to grow. Impacting my mood, sleep, social interactions, motivation, progress, quality of my work and pretty much everything else.
My Pregnancy Support Network
Talking about my concerns and fears was a huge help. I mentioned my mental health at my first meeting with my midwife. I wanted them to be aware of how I thought my mental health may be impacted. And to know what services could be available to me if needed. Luckily I was able to manage my mental health through my personal support network and self-care. But it felt vital for me to speak to a professional and get a sense for where and whom I could turn to if needed. And the reassurance that there was support. Even the experience of my midwife accepting my concerns as valid, trying to understand and assuring me of support made a huge difference.
I also spoke to my personal support network; in particular my partner. It felt safe to me that someone else would keep an eye on my mental health for me. I know that when my mental health declines I am less likely to ask for support and more likely to withdraw and try to cope alone. It reassured me that they were being vigilant and would speak to me if they had concerns. We discussed how they could raise their concerns in a way I would be most receptive. Having this conversation, and ongoing conversations, throughout pregnancy was vital. It was also a space for my partner to talk about their own thoughts and feelings around our pregnancy and impending parenthood. Starting these conversations right at the beginning kept the communication lines open for both of us throughout.
For A Guide to Talking About Your Pre Natal Mental Health read here
Being Kind to Myself
Being kind to myself, particularly in the first few months when I was unwell, and in the last few weeks when most things felt impossible was key. It’s not an situation I have much experience with or am particularly comfortable with. I’m much more likely to push myself harder to get things done. Or ignore how I am feeling until I have the time to process and for self-care. I acknowledge this is not always a healthy thing to do and suspect it is some kind of coping mechanism. But I have found balance in my day to day life which currently keeps my mental health in check. However, pregnancy brought the need to be kind to myself into stark relief. For one, it was a longer period of time when I felt unable to do things. And two, it wasn’t just my physical and mental health that was at risk.
Pregnancy taught me to press pause and take a break when I need to. It started me on the journey that I am still on now. Knowing my limits and when I need a better balance. I’m getting to understand times when it might be okay to step out of my comfort zone or push myself a bit more. And when this would be too much for me; whether sparking my anxiety into overdrive, jeopardizing my mood or generally risking my mental health. I’m starting to learn the signs that things are too much. And appreciating that doing nothing isn’t valueless but rather it’s invaluable for me and my child. That lesson is as true today as it was in pregnancy. Looking after myself by doing one less thing, not forcing myself beyond my limits or having some time for self-care makes me a better me, and a better parent. And myself and child deserve nothing less.
What are your experiences of pregnancy and mental health? What took you by surprise and what did you plan for? Did anything help you look after yourself? As usual, let me know below!