People talk about postpartum depression, and spouses and family members are taught to keep a watchful eye over the new mom following childbirth. But, what about during pregnancy?
A certain amount of worry during pregnancy is normal, but there comes a point when anxiety levels cause distress or interfere with normal functions. A pregnant woman may worry about an upcoming appointment, but a pregnant woman with severe anxiety may lose sleep before the appointment because she’s convinced something is wrong. She reads about miscarriage statistics, worries about stillbirth, makes herself sick before the gestational diabetes test, prepares for a certain diagnosis of pre-eclampsia, and sits on the brink of a panic attack at the thought of childbirth. And often, she feels she is alone.
The good news is, she’s not. According to a recent study of 500 women, one in five pregnant women suffered from anxiety. Count the number of pregnant friends, co-workers, or family members you know right now. What are the odds that one or more of them is dealing with a symptom we don’t talk about?
The Unspoken Symptom
When a pregnant woman tells her friends that she’s tired of going to the bathroom every five minutes or is craving something unusual, chances are her friends will empathize and encourage her. Maybe even have a good chuckle and let her know it’s normal. But, what about when a pregnant woman tells her friends that she’s tired of being sad, scared, or worried about the health of her baby? Chances are good she won’t receive the same reaction.
Before pregnancy, I had anxiety disorder. It was nothing I was ashamed of, nor was it anything I hid. But when pregnancy took my anxiety disorder and multiplied it by 1,000, I didn’t talk about it. At nine months pregnant, only two people knew how bad my anxiety was. Why? Because when people ask how you’re feeling, they most likely expect you to say something they can handle or react to. It’s hard to answer with the truth – anything from “I’m so afraid I’ll miscarry, I can’t bond with this baby yet” to “I haven’t felt my baby move today, so I can’t sleep, eat, or smile because I’m convinced he’s not alive.”
Those responses aren’t what people want to hear, so you bottle them up and let them eat away at you. You feel like a horrible person for having these feelings. You feel guilty. You feel like an unfit mother. But, you shouldn’t.
There are many risk factors for developing anxiety during pregnancy, but they aren’t exclusive. Because anxiety and depression know no boundaries. They don’t discriminate.
How to Cope
If you’re dealing with anxiety during pregnancy, there are some things you can do to alleviate the worry.
- Get childbirth education. When you’re prepared for all of the speed bumps, milestones, and processes of being pregnant, you may feel like you’re in better control.
- Talk with your doctor. If you have high blood pressure or reoccurring headaches, what are you likely to do? Call your doctor. So, why wouldn’t you take your concerns about anxiety or depression to your doctor?
- Stay away from Google. I know it’s hard. And I fall victim to this all the time. But when you start researching a symptom you’re experiencing or a fear you have, you’re going to find all the horror stories and none of the thousands of normal cases just like yours.
- Relax, and treat yourself right. Try deep-breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation. And make sure to get regular exercise like swimming or walking, as long as your doctor okays it. Turn on some music, fill the bathroom with the calming scent of lavender, and take a bath. Do what you can to relax your body and ease your tension.
- Find a support group. This may be women in your community or on the internet. There are a number of online forums and groups dedicated to pregnant women. If you’re like me, joining one of those groups can offer the advice you need without going out of your comfort zone.
And remember, you’re not alone. Being anxious doesn’t mean you’re going to be a bad mother. Being worried shouldn’t make you feel guilty. You’re doing the best you can, and momma, that’s good enough.