A personal journey to finding my calm through a high-risk pregnancy.  

I try, and fail, to stifle my uncontrollable sobs as I sit in the Obstetric Review Centre at the hospital. A sympathetic midwife takes my blood pressure and holds my hand. Sadly, her attempts to calm me are futile. Her reassuring words are drowned out by the hysterical voice in my head screaming repeatedly ‘It’s happening again’.

I am, of course, remembering the birth of my first child, born at 28 weeks gestation due to the sudden onset of severe HELLP syndrome (a life-threatening pregnancy complication). Now, at 20 weeks pregnant with my second child, I am acutely aware of the fact that my baby would not survive a repeat of this kind of pregnancy condition.

This current episode of anxiety was triggered by a mere headache, which is one of many non-specific symptoms of HELLP syndrome. Medically, my baby and I are currently perfectly healthy and well. But the fear of losing my baby has robbed me of all sense of reason. Logically, I know that my reaction is completely disproportionate to the situation. But once the panic has taken hold, it is difficult to reign in.

What I am experiencing is called antenatal anxiety, which, as it turns out, isn’t at all uncommon amongst expectant mothers. According to an online poll by the Anxiety and Depression Association, 52 percent of women who have been pregnant reported increased anxiety and depression during pregnancy.

While it is possible for anyone to develop anxiety during pregnancy, research has indicated that it is more likely to occur if you have any of the following risk factors.

  • previous pregnancy loss or traumatic birth  
  • inadequate social support
  • history of mental health problem
  • a family history of anxiety or panic attacks
  • experienced a traumatic event or abuse

According to PANDA, some of the common symptoms of antenatal anxiety are:

  • Panic attacks
  • Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of the baby
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
  • Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
  • Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Being easily annoyed or irritated
  • Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide, or self-harm.

If you are experiencing antenatal anxiety, the first and most important thing you need to remember is that you are not a failure just because you’re struggling to cope! You are not alone and there are steps that you can take to reduce or even eliminate your distress.

I found the following strategies to be effective in controlling my anxiety:

Talk it out

I found it helpful to be completely open and honest with the people in my life about my anxiety. I intentionally suppressed the knee-jerk reaction to respond with “fine” or “good” when people enquired about how I was doing. I forced myself to discuss my anxiety as openly as I would speak about a common cold!

Over time, talking about my mental health became easier and more natural. I came to realise that the people in my life genuinely wanted to know how I was and wanted to do what they could to help me. By speaking openly about my anxiety, I felt less isolated and more supported.

I also felt like I was taking positive steps in reducing the stigma around mental health. I wanted people to know that anyone can experience anxiety, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of.  

Meditation

According to the latest research, women who practice mindfulness and meditation during their pregnancy enjoy decreased anxiety and depression levels compared to those who don’t.

From a personal point of view, I was initially wary of these bold claims. I always thought of meditation as being a bit airy-fairy and, I admit at first, I was skeptical. However, I was committed to at least giving it a go.

Using the guided meditation app Calm, I aimed to do 5-10 minutes of meditation each night before bed. I went through phases of religiously adhering to this routine and periods when I was a bit more lax, only doing one session per week.

In the end, I discovered meditation to be a simple and, most importantly, practical tool that helped me to manage my anxiety.  

Whilst I found that doing even a sporadic meditation session to be valuable, I received the most benefits when I treated it as a skill that needed to be learnt. By taking the time to become proficient in the skills required to calm my mind and body, I found that I was better able to implement them in moments of high anxiety and panic.

Exercise

Research has shown that regular exercise can reduce the severity of antenatal anxiety and depression.

As someone who enjoyed exercise prior to pregnancy, I found that continuing to exercise throughout my pregnancy was a positive and practical activity. It helped, not only in controlling the symptoms of anxiety, but also improved my overall mood and sleep quality.

To achieve the best results for your mental health, experts recommended that pregnant women aim for 150 min of moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, water aerobics, stationary cycling, resistance training) per week.

Counselling

The final strategy I took in addressing my antenatal anxiety was to seek professional help.

Recognising that I was not coping with the mental strain that pregnancy was placing on me, I went to see my GP and, together, we completed a mental health plan. This enabled me to access 10 free counselling sessions with a mental health practitioner funded through Medicare.

I was initially pessimistic that merely talking about my anxiety and fears to a counsellor would do anything to change it. However, my counselling sessions helped me to recognise when I was spiralling into unhelpful and unproductive thought patterns and equipped me with more positive coping mechanisms. The interventions that I learnt through counselling were pragmatic in coping with panic attacks and had an overall positive impact on my quality of life during pregnancy.

If you are experiencing symptoms of antenatal anxiety or depression, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Actively seeking support and taking positive steps to improve your mental health can enable you to not only endure this pregnancy, but also to thrive and enjoy this precious time.

Love Phoebe  

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Love Phoebe

If you liked this article you may also be interested in reading MY EXPERIENCE WITH POSTPARTUM PTSD


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