I’m part of a few Facebook groups that are for parents who’ve been through loss. One of the groups is for women pregnant, or having recently given birth to their “rainbow baby”. A common theme I’ve noticed is the amount of anxiety women go through in pregnancy following loss. Clearly you’d expect this to be the case and trust me, I’ve been there through this pregnancy, and continue to be there.
However anxiety can be crippling both emotionally and physically and come to take control over our lives. That’s not a fun, nor healthy place to be for nine months. Now before I go on, let me put a disclaimer that I am fully aware anxiety isn’t something solvable, and indeed it may be that your anxiety is so great you need some medical help in dealing with it. However I also know personally that some of these techniques have helped take the edge of my anxiety, and even enjoy my pregnancy.
Accepting your anxiety
A common practice in CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is starting with acknowledging your anxiety. It’s important to recognise you feel anxious and what you feel anxious about. Now the problem here a lot of women who are pregnant after loss have, is that the worst has happened. Usually in CBT you are asked to begin to rationalise, look at the evidence as to if it’s likely to happen, put it in perspective. However these aren’t worries about things that are unlikely to happen to you, they have happened. It may also be your going through a pregnancy where you know statistically it is high risk. Hence rationalisation may not always be helpful.
Things that might be helpful from CBT though are things like boxing your anxiety-so giving yourself 20 minutes a day to really think through your anxious thoughts. Or turning worry into action e.g. is there anything I can do about this? For instance do I have a symptom which is worrying me that I can ask my midwife about? Or can I contact someone whose previous baby had a similar condition?
Ok so I don’t feel any of these are a one stop fix it method to helping with anxiety but combined I have personally found them helpful;
- Google is not your friend- I say this guiltily of not having always followed my own advice but stick to a few key websites for any pregnancy concerns. Perhaps NHS, Baby Centre, Tommy’s and Emma’s Diary. The amount of times I’ve googled a pregnancy symptom and pulled up streams of forums with worst case scenarios is not good if you’re already feeling anxious.
- Walk – Now I’m not throwing this out there in the way some people do as a ‘do some exercise and it’ll cure your depression/anxiety’, but there have been numerous times I’ve felt awful, taken our lovely Lab out for a walk and felt better. Apparently there’s a reason for this that walking uses both sides of our brains, and thus helps our brain to process stress and trauma. Plus fresh air and sunshine helps stimulate some of those good and happy hormones like endorphin’s which should hopefully balance out the nasty chemicals that make us feel worse if we’re stressed like adrenaline or cortisol.
- Talk- find someone to express how you’re feeling. Whether it be your partner, family member, a friend, a medical professional or even other mums who’ve been through something similar. As an addition to that, find someone who will acknowledge your feelings and be empathetic. Not someone who’ll dismiss your fears or tell you you’ll feel better once your past the ‘danger point’ of the last loss. I’ve also found writing to be a really helpful way to process my thoughts in a similar way to talking. So maybe think about writing your feelings down in a blog or a journal.
- Practice self-care- eat well, sleep (as much as possible) or at least rest if your anxiety is affecting your sleep, do things that make you feel physically good (e.g. have a “lukewarm” (*Sigh* oh what I’d do for a hot bath right now) bath, book a pregnancy friendly massage, eat something you really enjoy).
- Avoid caffeine- you should have cut down on caffeine already but if you’re anxious it might be good to cut it out altogether.
- Pre-natal yoga- this will be different for different people but I have found my weekly pre-natal class (which is run by the NCT) to be very relaxing and helpful. Yes there are moments I’ve found hard emotionally – I often feel like the party pooper in the rooom when I explain to all these wonderfully glowy optimistic women why this is my second baby but my first baby will forever only be 36 weeks old. However the relaxation techniques we’ve done, particularly the breathing, has been good emotionally and has had the physical consequence of giving me the best nights sleep of the week after it. Furthermore I think there’s an emotional side of it. I love my Facebook groups of women who’ve been through something similar BUT if you spend too much time in them it’s easy to feel like every pregnancy goes wrong. So that weekly dose of women, the majority of whom are going through uncomplicated and healthy pregnancies are a good reminder of how normal things can be.
- Keep busy- see friends, go for days out, do/take up a hobby- help time to pass quicker when it feels like every day is like a week sometimes, and every week is like a month!
- Talk to your midwife/consultant/GP- now I know we’ve had a very, very positive experience on the NHS through both our loss and this pregnancy and I also know there’s a lot of people who don’t. Hopefully if you have a good midwife or doctor they’ll fully appreciate why you have concerns and want to reassure you either through a quick chat to discuss any unnerving symptoms, taking your blood pressure, listening into baby or even giving you extra scans. If they’ve offered help, take them up on it! Many of them now understand, that a pregnancy after loss is as much about looking after the mother’s psychological state as it is about ensuring baby and mum are healthy physically.
- Do what you need to do- sometimes if you’re feeling rotten or wound up there are certain situations/people you might want to avoid. For instance a friend’s baby shower might be very difficult for you, or seeing a friend who you know is very opinionated in their views and hence doesn’t always say the most helpful of things. In our very British way we often feel a duty to go to things or see people, but if it’s going to be detrimental it’s ok to put yourself first sometimes and do what’s going to help you.
Daring to hope
This is the most tricky of all of the above I think but it is a piece of advice I’ve found very useful. Particularly early on in the pregnancy I was utterly convinced this pregnancy was going to end in miscarriage. I was so frightened of losing the baby, and I couldn’t allow myself some days to even think about getting past even the 8 week scan we were going to be having, let alone the 12 week one. I’d worry about every possible thing that could go wrong and try and prepare myself for the worst.
However, a good friend of mine who has A LOT of experience in this gave me some good advice;
- You can never prepare yourself for losing a baby. It’s going to hurt like hell whatever happens.
- You need to dare to hope this baby is going to be ok.
It’s true we often see anxiety and worrying as a form of self-preservation. And, as a natural pessimist, I do see the virtues sometimes in worrying about consequences. It’s often pessimists who ensure we’re prepared for when things go wrong. BUT in this case convincing myself baby wasn’t going to happen wasn’t doing me any good. And you know I wanted for my sake, and babies sake to get some enjoyment out of this pregnancy. I didn’t want this baby to be forever in the shadow of their big sister’s death. I wanted to be able truthfully to say to this baby one day I loved carrying you. And I knew my friend was right in saying no matter how much I worried it wouldn’t prepare me for if the worst happened.
So I had to daily choose to hope this baby would be in my arms by the end of June. This has often been a battle of wills internally, and some days I just have to let the pessimism (often combined with grief) take over, have a cry, and contact a health professional for some reassurance. It’s ok to have bad days. However some days it’s been helpful to physically make myself do something to dare to hope. For instance very early on I bought this baby a teddy just like I had done their big sister. Later on I’ve pushed myself to buy more things for the baby and make preparations. I think going to pre-natal yoga is also part of my daring to hope too, as has been writing in a pregnancy journal.
I hope the above is helpful to someone! As I said before the above is not meant to be a list of ways to fix anxiety entirely- I’ve just felt it’s helped me cope and not be so anxious it’s overwhelming. If you’re dealing with severe anxiety please do ensure you get professional help! Professionals really do take anxiety seriously and there’s lots of help available.