I always assumed I’d have two children. In my silly little head, that’s what people did. They got married, they got pregnant, they had a couple of children and everything went swimmingly. There was no struggle to conceive, I had never really heard of PND never mind AND and once they were in, babies mainly came out ok. Boy was I naive. I can’t deny I was massively broody. I was the last of my closest friends to get married and the last to have children. I was 33 and my ovaries were practically jumping up and smacking Hubbers in the face every time he looked at me. It was like a physical pain I wanted it so badly. I had no interest in putting off babies to further my career. As far as I was concerned, that could wait.
We knew there were a couple of things we needed to sort out before we could start trying for children so we planned for them as soon as we were married so that we could get going. Having suffered badly with chronic migraine since the age of 15 (and to be honest I remember feeling similar as a child it just hadn’t been diagnosed) I had been on anti-depressants, which are used as a preventative treatment. I had never struggled with any mental health issues, they had purely and simply been discovered to be fairly effective at warding off the evil buggers which have robbed me of many days of my life. Over a period of 6 weeks, as advised by my consultant, I weaned myself off the medication, as getting pregnant whilst taking them could have had catastrophic consequences for the baby. I also had to have some genetic testing done as we were aware that Hubbers carries a recessive gene which, had I have also been a carrier, could have led to even more catastrophic consequences for any child we conceived. It was with some relief I was given the all clear, although both Artie and Phoebe will need to be tested in the future as there’s a chance they will have inherited the gene.
So 2 months after getting married we were given the green light and off we set with gay abandon “getting pregnant”. We could hardly believe it (and to be honest I think Hubbers was pretty disappointed) when that first month, I had a positive test. Nothing can quite prepare you for the moment you realise you’ve created a life, it’s absolutely mind boggling and, as I squinted at the stick and the instructions 100 times to make sure I wasn’t reading it wrong (WHY didn’t I just get a digital test?), I was shaking and sweating. We hugged, we cried and I rang my mum in a flurry of excitement. We went to bed that night dreaming of a perfect future with our first born child and I was far too excited to sleep.
As the night wore on, I started to panic more and more. In that age old tradition, everything seems worse at night. Was I going to be a good Mum? Who would the baby look like? Would I have morning sickness (I’m terrified of being sick)? Would I have a nice bump? Would the baby be healthy? Would I be able to keep the baby safe inside me? What if I didn’t keep the baby safe inside me? How could I keep the baby safe inside me? What if something hurt the baby? What if I did something that hurt the baby? And that went round and round and round in my head. As if a switch had been flicked, anxiety bore down on me like a ton of bricks. I had gone from a fairly self-confident outgoing(ish) person, to a nervous, anxious, wreck in the space of a few minutes.
Over the next few days I started to Google frantically every single type of food, drink, chemical, you name it, that could hurt my baby. In my mind, even the slightest exposure to said substance could KILL my baby IMMEDIATELY. I started to feel dizzy and faint and struggled to breathe. I felt constantly sick and whenever I had to sign off an email at work (as a loyalty nerd at a fairly well known retailer I was regularly signing off content to quite a few million people) I would get hot and sweaty and read it about 400 times before I could press send.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, it got so bad I was diagnosed with panic attacks and signed off work. 2 weeks turned into 4 and then 6 and if I’m totally honest, although I went back to work, I wasn’t really properly present until I went off on maternity. Thankfully I had a very understanding boss and a great team and I just about scraped through (said team are probably now shouting at the screen NO YOU DIDN’T, WE DID YOUR WORK. You know who you are and I will be forever grateful ❤️).
I was obsessed with keeping the baby safe. I mean, OBSESSED. This meant watching what I ate, what beauty products I used, how I moved my body. Seriously it’s like I had no concept that people have been growing and birthing babies since the dawn of time. It got to the point where I had a list of “safe foods” – mainly things like fish fingers which could be cooked until they were solid so that I was convinced they were hot. We basically had the same 5 meals on repeat and lunch most days was a cheese sandwich or soup cooked so hot it would have melted the Sun. As my bump expanded, the rest of me got smaller and smaller. At full term I was 2 stone lighter than I had been pre-pregnancy. How Hubbers didn’t divorce me during this time I will genuinely never know. There were many, many food related lows but one that stands out was when our oven fuse blew in our rented house about 3 seconds before the timer went on our dinner. I refused to eat it because it was 3 seconds before time, even though it was fully cooked and piping hot. Looking back at it now, I can see how utterly ridiculous it was and at the time, I was aware that the things I was saying made very little sense but I just couldn’t do anything about it. There was always a voice in my head saying “but what if it DOES hurt the baby” and I couldn’t do anything other than obey. I would blow my top over the slightest thing (admittedly I’ve always had a temper but this was on another level entirely) and become so agitated I would end up shaking in hysterical tears on a frequent basis. And my poor husband bore the brunt of it all. In the end he just tolerated the stupidity to keep the peace but to this day I am immensely grateful to him that he didn’t just up and walk out because I made his life, our life, a living hell.
I did recognise that I had an issue. I visited my midwife very early on – before my first appointment was due at 16 weeks – and asked for support. She told me that I needed to wait until our first appointment and that if I still felt the same she would refer me to the midwife councillor. Needless to say, things hadn’t resolved and I was very fortunate to get a regular slot with one of the most fascinating women I have ever met. I visited her weekly until I was 36 weeks pregnant. It did help. Well, to the extent that it kept me eating just about enough to survive. But I hid the depth of my despair. Because not once since I had been diagnosed with anxiety had I ever felt happy. I took no joy from the pregnancy whatsoever. I was just terrified of something going wrong. It sounds silly but it wasn’t until more recently that I accepted I was depressed as well as anxious. We’ll never know for sure if coming off the migraine medication, which I’d been on for many years, led to some instability in my mental state but my gut feeling is that it did. I feel I was totally robbed of that special time as I grew our first baby. As a result of my terror of harming the baby, alongside having a very large, very low, bump, I was pretty immobile from 20 weeks and so the downward spiral continued. I barely smiled, let alone laughed, I rarely went out and I didn’t even tell most of my friends I was pregnant. I just sort of disappeared. I was referred to peri-natal mental health but was considered low risk and discharged because I didn’t have any suicidal thoughts. Thankfully the one thing that I was very very clear on, despite the thick haze which had descended, was that hurting myself would not protect my baby. My baby needed me and however miserable I was I wasn’t going to do anything like that. But I do feel that the extent of my issue was missed and I was left to struggle on.
And so we stumbled through 9 months. It didn’t help that I kept bleeding from an ectropion cervix which panicked me every time and led to many late night trips to triage. Artie was a particularly stubborn baby (anyone who knows him well will smile knowingly at that!) and often had periods of inactivity leading to even more visits, although I suspect now that my anxiety had a part to play in me not thinking I was feeling him, combined with the fact I had an anterior placenta. Not once was I made to feel like I was wasting anyone’s time and I always left feeling reassured for approximately the next 45 minutes…
After my 4th episode of reduced movement at 39 weeks, the hospital started to talk about the possibility of induction. Despite my anxiety and the fact I was the size of four small countries joined together to make a new pregnant continent I felt that I wanted the baby to be as close to 40 weeks as possible. I think a part of me – however deep down – knew that the baby was ok, despite all my fears. We agreed on a plan of checks in hospital every other day. I had a routine scan booked in at 40 weeks and Hubbers dropped me off in the morning without my bags as I was sure I’d be going straight home. After the scan I was asked to wait for the doctor to review my results. It took ages and my bottom was practically falling off it was so numb in the hospital chair but at about 4pm I was told they weren’t happy to send me home. My amniotic fluid had suddenly dropped very low for no apparent reason and they wanted to induce me. I wasn’t going to say no at that point. If they thought something could harm the baby I was all in. As they made arrangements for me to be admitted to the ward, I suddenly became aware of a massive craving for a McDonald’s Veggie Burger. Why that revolting meal I will never know but from that moment on the food issues simply disappeared as quickly as they had begun. I felt safer in the hospital and I was so exhausted from 9 months of anxiety and panic I just couldn’t fight with it anymore. I have never seen my husband run anywhere so quickly he was just so relieved the massive greedy pig he knew (and for some reason loved) was back.
That night the induction process began but it was 48 hours before we were to meet our little man. Labour was a little dramatic and I ended up in high dependency for a couple of days but hey! Our prince had arrived, I was eating again, Artie was feeding fairly well and we thought all our troubles were over. Boy were we mistaken…but that’s a story for another day…
If you’re experiencing any of the issues I’ve mentioned in this post, you can find more information and people who can help you on the Tommy’s or PANDAS websites, or speak to your midwife. Please don’t suffer in silence. Things can and will get better. You are not alone x