Tag Archives: worries

Hello Pregnancy Anxiety, My New Friend

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.

When the Genetic Counselor Calls

We recently found out we’re having another boy.

It happened a little earlier than normal because I got a call from the genetic counselor. She said I needed to come in for a detailed ultrasound and possible amniocentesis: Our test results showed a higher-than-normal risk for Down Syndrome.

I had done the sequential screening test (they measure the thickness of the baby’s neck with ultrasound and then take blood samples from the mother at two different times to look at hormone levels). Our results showed a one-in-two-hundred chance of Down’s.

Half a percent? That sounded good to me. But apparently for someone my age (almost thirty) it should be one in 700.

Oh.

I called my friend Dierdre who is pregnant with her third boy. Dierdre has done all the mid-pregnancy tests, and gotten all manner of results, and so far (knock on wood) everyone is healthy and happy. If Dierdre hasn’t gone through what you’re going through, she knows someone who has.

Dierdre’s first rule is don’t look on the Internet. So when my husband said, “Let’s look online,” I said, “NO WAY!”

Too much information. We’re awash in it, and our pregnancies are marked by blood draws, ultrasounds, amnios, hormone measurements… Don’t get me wrong, I think these are all wonderful tools. In fact, the high-risk clinic told us that because of all the additional screening that’s done, they’ve been able to actually cut in half the number of invasive procedures (like amnio) they perform during pregnancy.

But that’s the logical side. Then there’s the emotional side.

You worry during pregnancy. You worry before getting pregnant. For many people, pre-conception is one of the loneliest, most invasive, and most emotionally wrenching parts of building their families. We were lucky and got pregnant very quickly, but you still worry. My former boss said that pregnancy is the start of a lifetime of worry. It’s true, and I’m pretty laid back.

So anyway, when I heard that our odds of Down’s weren’t normal, that I needed to come in for extra testing, my logical side thought: everything will be fine; you’re already so blessed to have Mr. Pants and to be pregnant again with little fuss; our family can get through anything; the odds are so small anyhow.

But then I hung up with our friendly, neighborhood genetic counselor, and cried big cries.

I think others out there will empathize that after a call like that it feels like a really heavy, old, dusty theater curtain just dropped on top of you, and you’re waving your arms around, trying to get it off.

My midwife suggested reading the book Expecting Adam by Martha Beck, about the author’s very magically real experience of carrying Adam, her son with Down Syndrome. Granted, our odds were so small, but my emotions needed a deep tissue massage, and this book was perfect. I would highly recommend it.

A week later, I went in for the testing. We opted not to get the amnio. These are all very personal decisions and I am adamant that there’s no right way. Families may want the chance to choose to have the baby or not; they may want to know for sure what to expect and get prepared. The bottom line is that it’s up to you.

For us, the extra-detailed ultrasound showed no heart or palate abnormalities (about 50% of Down’s babies present physical symptoms in ultrasound), so the doctor said he could take the chances down to one-in-four-hundred. A half of a half of a percent.

Who knows what will happen, but my friend Dierdre would say that if you were a bookie, those would be pretty damn good betting odds. And we got one nice surprise out of all the stress: our ultrasound showed in extra detail that it’s another boy for the pack. That made us smile. We’ll be taking him however he arrives.