Trigger warning: Discussions of pregnancy including birth horror stories and possibility of miscarriage, mental health: anxiety and depression, and medication.
My first pregnancy came as a bit of a surprise, in fact I’d gone on WebMd and I had convinced myself that I was dying. Pregnancy never crossed my mind, I only took the test so that I could rule it out when I went to the GP. My previous gynaecologist had informed me that due to the shape and angle of my womb, that my chances of conceiving would be slim to none. So I was preparing myself for some debilitating illness and/or death. Probably not the ideal way to start your pregnancy.
SURPRISE! There was a real-life human foetus gestating in, what I had believed to be for nearly a decade, an inhospitable womb. My partner and I went to the GP, who was rather irate at the fact that I didn’t know when my last period was. I say irate, he was downright angry. I felt like I had failed before I had started, one day in and already a doctor was treating me like I was an imbecile. How do you come back from that? What kind of stupid, irresponsible person doesn’t know when their last period was.
How do you come back from that?
I tried to explain that I was sick, it was Winter and I worked in a busy diner, I caught everything, I worked extra shifts (covering for my colleague who had a heart attack) I was run down, exhausted, I just didn’t know.
I had to stop taking the pill, which was fine, but in order to ensure the health and well-being of the embryo or whatever, I had to stop taking my SSRIs. That was terrifying. It took me so long to get someone to believe me, to see a professional, to get treatment for my mental health in the first place. The mere idea of going off my meds was anxiety-inducing.
Anxiety plus a tonne of extra hormones, no thank you, that is a cage of whatifery if there ever was one. What if I have an episode and hurt myself? What if I take a bad panic attack and it hurts the baby? What if my mental health goes so low that they take my baby away from me? What if my anxiety causes a premature labour, or miscarriage?
The maternity unit was not a fun experience, a cold, crumbling building on the outskirts of the hospital car park. I resented showing up in that building. Thirty or more people all with appointments for 9.15am, with many of us still waiting to be seen at noon. Apart from the initial roll call, my name was never mentioned again, I was simply Mum (or Mammy, depending on which midwife was dealing with me that day.)
I’d sit on a hard, plastic chair that hurt my back and they would ask me questions, but not one about my mental well-being. Not one about me at all, in fact. The parent’s health is secondary to the baby’s, which I understand, I do, but my health should still matter, regardless of whether I am Mum or Catherine.
Being Mum is weird. It’s as if the moment you start gestating a foetus, you stop being person, and become a walking womb, the mere vessel that holds the precious. (You’re not even Frodo, you’re just the chain that hangs around his neck.) Being Mum and only Mum is demoralising (I can only imagine how much more if you are a pregnant person who isn’t a woman). Your wants and needs are irrelevant, and your personal space is constantly violated.
Strangers would grab my stomach, feeling my bump. People would comment on my weight, pointing out where I was too small or too big, how bad the stretch marks were going to be, or how much trouble I would have losing the baby weight. It didn’t stop, everyone had an opinion all of the time.
I don’t know what kind of person enjoys terrifying pregnant people, but there’s a whole arm of them out there, ready to bombard you with stories on how Sharon shattered her coccyx during childbirth and Mary had to have an emergency C-section and died from blood loss. You know what you don’t need to hear when you’re pregnant? STORIES ABOUT HOW EVERYTHING THAT CAN GO WRONG! Shocking right!? Who would have thought that emotionally vulnerable people might not want to be tagged on Facebook to articles about dead babies?
I was prepared for the horror stories, but I wasn’t prepared for the constant dismissal of my feelings and opinions. Pregnant people are hormonal and yes, irrational, but that doesn’t give you the right to automatically dismiss them. I tried to talk about it, but any issue I had was met with “women have been having babies for thousands of years, you’ll be fine.”
Why is pain and discomfort during pregnancy just accepted? Get over it, deal with it, every pregnant person has to deal with A, B and C, so stop whining. We’re not allowed to voice our concerns, and if we do we’re selfish, because not only have humans been churning out smaller humans for millennia, but don’t you know that I’m “lucky” because I can actually get pregnant.
No. That’s the lowest of the low, using someone else’s suffering as a rod to beat me with. People are starving in other parts of the world, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not entitled to complain about getting food-poisoning. Both of my pregnancies were horrific, I was so ill that I lost weight during the first trimester, I was hospitalised each time. My entire body ached, I was vomiting so much that I would collapse. Then to top it all off, I had to bury a close family member who died suddenly.
Nothing makes you aware of your own mortality than creating life. That kept me up at night. The bad feelings and sleepless nights led to low times and depressive existential quandaries. I struggled, but I couldn’t talk about it, when I did I was tut-tutted or insulted.
I am choosing not to have any more children, I wanted more, three to be exact, but I can’t suffer through that again. The strain on my mental health, let alone my body is just too much to go through again. Not without a viable support network from the health service. Not without a change in attitude towards pregnancy.
If you’re struggling with your mental health during pregnancy, please see a doctor: the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a leaflet with advice. If you feel you aren’t getting the support you need within the NHS, the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) may be able to help.
Tommy’s, a charity aiming to make pregnancy safer for all, also have information on this.