Perinatal anxiety made Kylie feel like she would lose her baby.
This is normal. This is normal. This. Is. Normal.
That was my mantra as I sunk into the couch and cried for four days straight.
Didn’t all pregnant women bubble with dread every time they went to the bathroom? Didn’t they all burst into tears at offers of free baby furniture because they couldn’t bear the thought of it in the house if something happened and there was no baby?
Didn’t every woman who’d grown a human spend inordinate amounts of time googling holidays to Morocco for the due date, just so they’d have a back-up plan in case their baby died?
Friends and strangers would look at my stomach and say “oh how exciting”. I’d nod and smile, not letting on that I wasn’t carrying a bundle of joy - I was carrying a bundle of nerves. When an overjoyed friend attempted to throw me a baby shower, I begged her not to.
Celebration felt presumptuous, like throwing a party when you’ve just gotten a job interview. There were no guarantees I’d get the gig.
How these mums overcame perinatal depression
How these mums overcame perinatal depression
Turns out, these feeling weren’t “normal”, but they are common.
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According to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), anxiety strikes at least one in 10 women during pregnancy.
PANDA CEO Terri Smith says of the callers to PANDA’s helpline, 30 percent are experiencing anxiety or depression during pregnancy, and 80 percent of them haven’t told their midwife how they’re feeling.
“Most expectant mothers, particularly first-time expectant mothers, would have some feelings of anxiety, but when it’s getting in the way of who you want to be right now and what you want to do, that’s when it’s a problem,” she explains.
Many studies have identified certain risk factors for antenatal anxiety, including personal history of mental illness (tick), pregnancy loss (tick) and pregnancy complications (tick).
It all started to make sense. Image: iStock
I had a distant history of depression and anxiety, had two previous miscarriages, and this pregnancy had been brimming with difficulties. I experienced bleeding and cramps early on and a scan revealed twins, but in those first few weeks of silent hand-wringing, one tiny baby slipped quietly into nothingness. At 32 weeks another scan revealed more complications – a septate uterus, a low placenta, a transverse baby. The nerves ramped up, as if someone had turned up the volume beneath my skin.
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As my belly grew, so did my distress.
When I wasn’t worrying about losing the baby, I worrying about having it. What if something went wrong during birth, or if because I had been such a basket-case for nine months, I wasn’t able to care for it properly?
Studies have shown unfavourable labour outcomes such as prolonged labour, preterm labour, low birth weight and unplanned caesarean sections were associated with high pregnancy-specific anxiety, and antenatal anxiety has been found to be a significant predictor of postnatal depression.
Look out for the warning signs. Image: iStock
The benefit of early intervention
Ms Smith says women should be aware of the signs and seek help early.
“It’s important to remember that antenatal anxiety and depression is temporary and treatable,” she says.
PANDA encourages women with symptoms that last longer than two weeks to seek support from their GP or midwife, or through the PANDA helpline.
Although my situation was a little more complicated than most (and less complicated than many), I was rarely honest with anyone about how I was feeling during my pregnancy. It wasn’t until months after my healthy baby boy arrived that I could look back and recognise I could have had a much easier time of it if I’d only reached out.
"If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent. " - Bette Davis
And that no, beginning and ending each day in tears – with a fair amount of crying in between – was not “normal”.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Alternately, for specific help with perinatal depression and anxiety, the Gidget Foundation and PANDA both have excellent support services to help you.