Mental Health · Motherhood

Pregnancy, panic, guilt and anxiety – PART I

I have complained a lot this pregnancy. I have allowed these eight or so months to be defined by the relentless nausea of the first trimester, the exhaustion of the third and the tear-inducing challenge of our schedule during the second trimester. I’ve been wrapped in “survival mode” as I tried to navigate living in a new city and being a good mom to my toddler and supporting my grad student husband and not losing my mind from lack of intellectual stimulation – all while feeling like my body was trying to make me regret getting pregnant. And since I was the one who decided it was a good time to get pregnant, since I have been longing for another baby since losing our second to an early miscarriage last March, I have also felt deep guilt. Guilt that my baby somehow knows I’m not happy all the time and that it will affect her development and so I’ve already messed her up. Guilt that as students with no income it was irresponsible for us to have a baby right now. Guilt that the timing of this pregnancy has made moving to and settling in Montreal SO MUCH HARDER. Guilt that I even feel guilty because damn-you-world children are ALWAYS a gift and pregnant mothers are close to God and motherhood is sacred and babies being born is always cause to rejoice (I rant about this a lot because it matters to me on a visceral level and yet sometimes its so hard to believe it deeply, for my own life) That has been the guilt portion of this pregnancy.

Sometime in January, coming off the high of Christmas and being surrounded by family in Toronto, the anxiety portion set it. The days leading up to our return to Montreal I started to feel a dull sense of worry in the back of my skull, an unshakable dread that I had never really experienced before and that I consciously ignored. After 8 hours of driving we arrived back in Quebec, I stepped out of the car and within 30 seconds slipped on the ice and fell awkwardly on my knee, trying to protect my belly. It was as if Montreal (objectively a beautiful, family-friendly city, full of amazing people and opportunities) knew I was dread to return and responded in kind to my arrival. As soon as Nick, Charlie and I were alone in our apartment I felt the dull worry begin to dial up to a constant buzz that gave me nervous energy and made me wring my hands when no one was looking. My mind began to fixate on how my big pregnant body could no longer bend over to put on boots or lift my heavy almost-two-year-old, I began to obsess over the exact number of hours Nick would be gone each day, and I felt each chore in the house weighing on my very soul whispering “you are a failure”. Shut up dirty dishes, leave me alone dog hair covered rugs! And through this ever increasing loss of control to the demon that is anxiety, winter raged outside, freezing side walks so I was too scared to walk outside, making a cold so bitter even my snow-loving son begged not to play outside. I was kind of losing my mind.

See - he really does love snow!
See – he really does love snow!

Oh but I fought the lack of control. For a whole week I struggled against the anxiety, screaming at it in my mind to let me play trains with Charlie and let me leave the dishes one more day. I would hold myself together by sheer will power, an outward semblance of a very pregnant but capable mom. And the moment Nick would get home I would fall apart, at first just some crying and toned-down confessions of how tired I was, how lonely it was all day with no him or no family or very few fellow stay-at-home-moms close by, or how winter was starting to cause me mild despair. But even to my soul-bonded lover I only let on that I was struggling a little bit. I even explained away what I was feeling following my tearful confessions with refrains of, “its just winter. its just third trimester tiredness. its just missing family. its just my lack of a grateful outlook on life. its just I’m not a good enough Christian. its just, its just, its just…”

A week later the panic attacks started. Unexpectedly, in the middle of a late night conversation, my breathing got heavy and I started to sob uncontrollably and my mind was racing and I wanted to run, run as far way as possible. This continued once a day for a few days, and I started to wake up, clenched-jaw, crying softly as Nick got ready to work, feeling like there was no way I could manage with him gone, being alone.

Finally, I decided I should go see my doctor. Nick seemed so relieved when I said that out loud. He encouraged me to go, he checked in throughout the day to see if I had called, if I had made an appointment. He rushed after school to meet me and Charlie at the doctor’s office. I felt foolish once we were there, in the waiting room. What was I going to say? I’ve been crying. It’s hard being 7 months pregnant with a toddler at home and ice outside. I knew the doctor would smile, pat my hand and say “That’s just what these last months are like. Get some rest. You will be ok.” And I would leave feeling silly and melodramatic.

But that’s not what happened. The doctor told me I needed to see a psychiatrist. She told me it wasn’t normal to feel so worried, to hyperventilate and cry uncontrollably. The doctor told my husband to take me to the maternity emergency room if things got worse before I saw the psych. Then my lovely nurse saw Nick in the hallway, and tiny though she is, grabbed him by both arms and said, “take her to the emergency room if it gets worse. do not second guess yourself.” I did feel like they were all overreacting a tiny bit. I mean, I wasn’t 100% but the psych would probably just recommend some talk therapy and tell me to buck up, right…?

We had the weekend to make a plan for coping with what the doctor called anxiety. We talked to our families and my parents generously offered to pay for a nanny to come help me twice a week with the heavy, tiring chores and to babysit Charlie when I had to go to doctor’s appointments. Fantastic! And I had an appointment to see the maternal mental health specialist. Great!

But the panic attacks still came, and I still felt paralysing dread when Nick had to leave for work on Monday morning. A few days later, I had a particularly long panic attack, and in the exhausted aftermath, adrenaline making my limbs shaky, my brain conjured up images of walking into a cold lake and ending the chaos I was feeling. I knew deep in my bones that this was a bad sign. I whispered to Nick, “I just had a suicidal thought.” In his calm way he replied, “I’m taking you to the hospital tomorrow.” I feebly argued that we didn’t need to go but I was relieved to have someone taking care of me. He took the next day off work (what a joyful relief when he didn’t have to leave in the morning!), a friend came to play with Charlie, and off we went to the maternity emergency room, not really knowing what to expect.

For 4 hours a string of kindly healthcare professionals came in and asked me a million questions and went away looking concerned, calling on more doctors to come talk to me. A nurse, a resident, an OBGYN, a social worker and an on-call psychiatrist bullied by the OB to leave his psych emergency room duties to come see me (bless you all for that mercy of not having to go wait in the psychiatric emergency room!) all told me the same thing – this is not normal, you are not well, you need help, stop trying to tell us you are ok in the same breath you are telling us how not ok you are. The relief I felt every time a professional in scrubs or a lab coat told me I needed help was like that of a drowning person being thrown a lifesaver. I’m not well! I don’t have to pretend! I need help! I have permission to need help!

This was four or so weeks ago. Today felt like my day to put this all down on “paper”, to share it as the writer in me is compelled to do, to be vulnerable about the many faces pregnancy can wear. Part 2 later or maybe tomorrow.

Knowing God was never far, and that I will find him in the midst of this,


2 thoughts on “Pregnancy, panic, guilt and anxiety – PART I

  1. brave post Ash, I am so glad you found good support from so many professionals as well as the steady support you get from your family ❤ it can be so hard to accept help, especially when you are trying to convince yourself it's not as bad as it seems. You'll be in my prayers and I'm looking forward to part 2, whenever it comes

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