Prenatal anxiety is a thing. It’s a thing that’s common and often goes undiagnosed. Many of you out there may be nodding.
It hit me around 34 weeks.
Somewhere along the gestational way I lost my confidence. This third pregnancy has been wild and jarring. But I imagined that once I settled in to the routine, my body’s institutional knowledge of pregnancy and childbirth would take over.
I mean, I’ve done this before. I got this.
Sure enough, in the second trimester I found a groove… but I couldn’t rely on it. I seemed to be trying to cross a creek, jumping from one off-balance and awkwardly shaped rock to the next. And around 34 weeks I fell in.
Prenatal anxiety can be about all kinds of things—how you’ll adjust to having a newborn, fear from previous pregnancy loss, medical complications, life stress.
My anxiety centered around actually giving birth. I’ve had two uneventful vaginal births, and somewhere deep down I know I can do it again, but I just don’t want to. I didn’t sign up for this one, and I don’t want to do it. Birth is exhausting and overwhelming and unpredictable. The technicolor feelings of fear and stress about the health of the baby from the first trimester came flooding back, but in new shades of worry: I’m not strong enough. There’s no good way out. How will I survive the weeks of waiting? How will my husband cope as I demand more and more support?
As the third trimester began, I was also diligently listening to the Hypnobabies self-study course I had ordered to prepare for this birth. Everything started out great and I drank every drop of the reassuring Hypnobabies Kool-Aid, but things started to fall apart when I was supposed to imagine my perfect birth. If you can imagine your perfect birth, your mind and body can make it happen for you.
I have spent the last four years eliminating perfect from my vocabulary. It’s a bully word. Perfect sets up high expectations that often aren’t tied to reality, and it’s not flexible. It doesn’t move and change: It just beats you up for being less than.
At the same time, I was becoming increasingly unwieldy, with eczema, heartburn, nosebleeds, and discomfort sleeping. Exhaustion was setting in and I was unable to manage the daily logistics of our life. Holding on to the crumbling façade of my Hypnobabies adventure amidst mounting physical challenges had me thinking: How in the world am I going to manage childbirth?
Then the insomnia started for real. Lack of sleep is always good fuel for anxiety.
Luckily, I kept bringing up my fears and symptoms to my midwife.
Note: If you have anxiety or worries during pregnancy that seem to take over, keep talking to your provider about them. Don’t let your provider make you feel like pregnancy is simply an emotional time. Even though your worries may be on the spectrum of normal, your concerns shouldn’t be minimized: There are so many tools out there to help you manage what you’re going through, and you should be pointed toward them instead of having them brushed aside.
I’m lucky because after the second visit of me bringing up my anxieties over the birth, things clicked with my midwife. “We have a behavioral therapist on staff. Would you like to see her?” Yes!
I have a great therapist I see on a pretty regular basis, but the behavioral therapist connected with my clinic was conveniently located and specifically oriented to tackle issues around birth. She helped my husband and I think about pacing, outside resources, and creating an action plan leading up to the birth (by the way, if you can go to a session with your partner, do it!).
My anxiety subsided by 38 weeks. I’m still dealing with insomnia and lingering worries, but life feels calm and manageable. When I wake at night I’m able to relax instead of spinning the stress wheels in my mind. Now I’m 39 weeks pregnant and in a much better mindspace—enjoying a bit of vacation from the real world as I wait for baby to arrive.
I think there are a number of factors that really helped me:
- An action-oriented behavioral therapist who gave me tools to use specifically leading up to the birth, including a daily pacing guide and a format for my husband and I to check in with each other at the end of the day.
- Meal delivery from friends. Normally this starts after baby, but my friend Sara put together a MealBaby registry and I requested to have it start before the birth rather than after, since I was so overwhelmed. (Thank you Sara, Hannah, and Libby for pre-birth meals!)
- Extra babysitting hours for the boys. (Thank you, Carmen Rose!)
- Readjusting my expectations around 1) what I can accomplish while pregnant with two young kids, and 2) what the third birth needs to be like (anything goes as long as we’re healthy).
- Lowering my level of activity so that I wasn’t feeling defeated by all the things left undone.
- The knowledge that outside resources such as Baby Blues Connection can help deal with prenatal anxiety, even though they’re typically thought of for postpartum depression.
I wanted to make sure to write this post, before the Fairy Pig arrives and I’m in a fog for months, for those of you who have experienced prenatal anxiety, are dealing with it now, or who may know someone who is having a tough time. You’re not alone.