A mom of two shares how pregnancies can feel dramatically different — depending on your mindset.
I stared at the two pink lines as though I were trying to decode a hidden message. I had dreamed of being pregnant since I was in kindergarten — but it seemed impossible to grasp that it had come true.
This was a very wanted pregnancy. We were actively trying for a baby when I conceived. But rather than jumping for joy, I sat examining the test, scrutinizing it for accuracy. This was my first indication that anxiety was going to color my pregnancy experience.
When I told my parents I was pregnant, I quickly qualified it. “I’m pregnant — but don’t get too excited yet. My PCOS puts me at a higher risk of miscarriage.” I was afraid to feel happy about it, as though that might jinx the pregnancy.
I have lived with anxiety and OCD since childhood, both of which paradoxically tend to increase when good things happen to me. Pregnancy was my greatest wish, and I was terrified to admit to myself that it was coming true for fear it could be taken from me.
I took every pregnancy precaution as gravely serious. My PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) put me at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, so I cut all sugar and junk food from my diet. I ate so obsessively healthy that right after my baby was born, I weighed 15 pounds less than when I had gotten pregnant.
I took lukewarm showers so I wouldn’t overheat the baby. I asked the people at the sub shop to use a new knife that to slice my veggie sub in case there was lunchmeat residue on the first one. I called the pregnancy hotline to ask if scented candles could hurt my baby, and then still didn’t light one after they told me it was perfectly safe to do so.
If I went more than 2 hours without water, I was sure I would get dehydrated and risk early labor. I worried that skipping a meal or a snack or one prenatal vitamin would prevent my baby from getting enough nutrients. I once woke up lying on my back and panicked that I had cut off oxygen to my baby. I even stopped petting my cat in case the warning for pregnant women not to clean litter boxes extended to the cat herself.
I left my job and spent my days obsessing over, “Is this normal?” I lived in online pregnancy communities, making sure I was completely up-to-date on all information and following it explicitly. Any twinge in my body sent me messaging everyone I knew who had ever been pregnant to ask if I should be worried.
My pregnancy should have been easy. I had no morning sickness. I wasn’t uncomfortable, even in the final weeks. Physically I felt great. Objectively, my pregnancy was a breeze. Even my doctor told me pregnancy agreed with my body and that I was having a better pregnancy than most.
But I still couldn’t enjoy it. More precisely, I refused to let myself enjoy it.
I refused to buy anything for the baby, or allow gifts from anyone, until I was past 30 weeks. I refused to have a baby shower before the baby was born for the same reason. I could not allow myself to acknowledge that this baby was coming and was going to be okay. I could not relax.
Two days before my due date, I gave birth to an absolutely healthy 8-pound baby boy. It was only after he was here and safe that I realized that anxiety had robbed me from enjoying the miracle of my pregnancy.
I wished I’d had a baby shower. I wished I had spent less time obsessing over precautions and more time reveling in my growing belly. I wanted to go back in time and reassure myself that everything was going to be fine and that it was okay to be happy.
When I discovered I was pregnant again 4 years later, everything was different.
I still ate healthy, avoided lunch meat and soft cheese, and took the normal precautions — but if I wanted an occasional donut, I ate one. I worked until I was full term and engaged in nearly every activity I did before I was pregnant. I knew that little twinges here and there were normal during pregnancy and didn’t let them panic me.
I won’t pretend that I didn’t still feel increased anxiety with my second pregnancy. I still worried, often obsessively. But despite my anxiety, I allowed myself to enjoy my pregnancy.
I didn’t wait until after 20 weeks to tell people. I proudly announced it right after our 12-week ultrasound, and gleefully talked about it regularly. I loved being pregnant, and I think back fondly on my second pregnancy. I gave birth to another healthy 8-pound baby boy.
My second pregnancy taught me that it is possible to have an anxiety disorder and still enjoy being pregnant. While some anxiety is normal during pregnancy — it’s a big thing happening inside your body! – obsessive worry to the point of being intrusive or preventing you from enjoying your pregnancy is a problem.
If you find yourself relating to my first pregnancy, please speak to your doctor. You aren’t alone in this experience and your doctor can help you find strategies to manage your anxiety that are safe for pregnancy.
If you find yourself worrying about something that isn’t an emergency, write it down. Keep a list of questions to ask your doctor or midwife at your next appointment — then let it go. Before your next appointment, look at the list and see if you are still concerned about these things, and if so, ask about them. I promise you doctors and midwives are used to hearing every pregnancy concern in the book. I’m fairly certain I have personally asked all of them.
Try to remind yourself that it is okay to enjoy this time in your life. Whether you are happy or not has no bearing on the outcome of the pregnancy. Denying yourself the joy of pregnancy does not make for a better pregnancy and vice versa. This is hard because anxiety is often irrational. But if you can reassure yourself of this, it will make a big difference.
Trust your gut. If something feels wrong, you don’t need to dismiss it as just anxiety. Assess if it something that should be addressed immediately. If you feel like it needs to be addressed now, like lack of fetal movement or anything else that doesn’t feel right, call your doctor or midwife, or go to the hospital to check. It’s okay to put your mind at ease, even if you feel paranoid about it. But once you know everything is okay, try to go back to focusing on what you love about being pregnant.
Pregnancy can be an amazing experience, even when you have anxiety. While anxiety can dim some of that pregnancy glow, it is absolutely possible to experience both anxiety and excitement for the life growing inside you at the same time.
Heather M. Jones is a writer in Toronto. She writes about parenting, disability, body image, mental health, and social justice. More of her work can be found on her website.