When I was pregnant with my now-5-year-old daughter, I truly enjoyed the experience of carrying a child. Sure, I had the usual downsides — itchy skin, morning sickness, having to pee every five minutes as she tap-danced on my bladder — but for the most part, I liked being pregnant. When my husband and I decided that it was time for a second child, I didn’t expect it to be any different.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The pregnancy was healthy. The baby hit all of her in-utero milestones on schedule and even posed for our gender ultrasound, so I knew I was having another girl. What I didn’t expect was debilitating pregnancy-induced anxiety. What happened, and what did I learn from this unexpected side effect?
Prenatal Anxiety Is Real
I really thought I knew what to expect with this second pregnancy when it came to my mental health. I knew all the warning signs of post-partum depression and how to look out for them. Anxiety never crossed my mind until I couldn’t think about anything — pregnancy-related or not — without it triggering my fight-or-flight response. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t leave the house, and I spent every day picking my cuticles until they bled. I had no idea what was going on and no coping mechanisms to help me sort through these conflicting feelings.
What I didn’t know at the time was that one out of every 10 women experiences anxiety during their pregnancy.
I couldn’t sleep, which made it harder to make it through my days. I was irritable and aggravated all the time, my shoulders were so tense that I had constant tension headaches, and I even started having panic attacks. I was supposed to be preparing my then-5-year-old daughter for kindergarten, but I couldn’t even think straight, let alone teach her how to write her name or count to 10.
I’d never had panic attacks before. I didn’t know what it was, just that my chest hurt, and I couldn’t breathe, and I thought I was dying. Finally, I drove myself to the ER — not the smartest thing, but my anxiety wouldn’t let me bother anyone else, so I had to do it myself — and after they checked the baby and me over, they diagnosed me with pregnancy-induced anxiety and sent me home with orders to follow up with both my OB/GYN and a therapist.
I had never been happier to be sent home with a label slapped on me.
You’re Not Crazy
The best thing about going to the ER with a panic attack that day was that it told me one thing.
I was not crazy.
I wasn’t just freaking out over nothing — or if I was, there was a legitimate biochemical reason behind it. Prenatal anxiety is a common pregnancy concern — it’s just one that no one talks about.
Treating prenatal anxiety is different from treating the condition when you’re not carrying a child. In most cases, doctors aren’t going to prescribe medication unless the anxiety is severe enough to interfere with your daily life. Some SSRIs used to treat anxiety are considered safe to take while pregnant, but experts simply don’t know enough about how these medications affect the baby, especially during the first trimester.
For me, treating the anxiety included weekly trips to a therapist, meditation, yoga and — oddly enough — cutting caffeine from my diet. I had never been sensitive to caffeine, but during my pregnancy, my body decided that just two cups of coffee was enough caffeine to trigger a full-blown panic attack. Slowly, I was able to start to get a handle on these unfounded fears and manage my anxiety for the remainder of my pregnancy.
I won’t lie to you. It wasn’t easy. There were days where meditation was too much to handle because my brain would launch itself into a spiral of “What If?” imagining the worst possible scenarios for any situation. I’d be driving to my prenatal appointment when my brain would do something like this:
- What if I got into a car accident?
- What if the car flipped and I got trapped?
- What if I can’t get out and the car catches on fire?
- What if the airbag hits my stomach and hurts the baby?
- What if I die?
And on and on — a nearly endless spiral, pulling me down until it had run its course or I could find some way to break it.
You’re Not Alone
After my daughter was born, my doctors gave me the option of taking anxiety medication if the symptoms didn’t subside. But thankfully, my anxiety faded within a couple of months after the birth. I say “thankfully,” but I know not everyone is that lucky. This experience has given me a new respect for people who live with anxiety every day of their lives.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s this — if you live with anxiety, you are not alone. One out of every 10 pregnant women experiences some degree of pregnancy anxiety. Don’t be afraid to talk to your OB/GYN if you’re experiencing any common anxiety symptoms:
- Excessive worrying
- Agitation or irritation
- Restlessness or insomnia
- Extreme fatigue
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Painful muscle tension
Your doctors are there to help, and they’ve likely seen the symptoms of pregnancy-induced anxiety before. If you’re not pregnant — if you’re one of the 40 million people in the United States that live with anxiety every single day — talk to your family doctor and get a referral to a therapist.
You Got This
Just remember that you are not alone. Even if you don’t talk to friends or family about your anxiety, you’ve got people in your corner who can help you manage your symptoms and live a healthy, normal life. Anxiety leaves you feeling like the world is ending, every second of every day. Take care of yourself and your mental health — you’ve got a little one relying on you, after all, and you can’t take care of them unless you care for yourself first.
Jennifer Landis is a mom of two, writer, blogger, and brunch aficionado. She is currently mourning the loss of Game of Thrones, but looks forward to spending her limited free time rewatching Doctor Who, instead. It’s way more uplifting, anyway. Find more from Jennifer on her blog, Mindfulness Mama. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.