If there was one pregnancy symptom I hoped and prayed would skip over me this time — more than morning sickness, more than swollen ankles and sciatic nerve pain — it was anxiety. Terrible, intrusive, racing-brain anxiety.
It didn’t skip me this time.
I’d hoped it was really the whole firstness of my first pregnancy that was to blame, but here I am again, going through the same doubts and fears and worries. When I do manage to shut off my overworked brain (money, jobs, that snippy tone of that one email, need to replace the tub, money, two babies oh my god TWO BABIES), I am plagued with really annoying anxiety dreams, of the “I have a final in a college class that I never attended but forgot to drop” and “I’m waiting tables and can’t seem to get orders in and customers are storming out and/or ordering stuff that isn’t on the menu and what do you MEAN I have to get soda refills from down the block?” varieties.
And then I wake up from these dreams with my mind racing as I fret about the very same things I worried about with Noah, even though I KNOW everything will be okay and work out in the end. Will I love my baby? Will he love me back? Will I get PPD? Will I be able to breastfeed? How will I cope with middle-of-the-night ear infections with a toddler and a newborn and still get any work done? Will I ever leave the house? Will I ever make some more mom friends? Will I ever be anything other than a mom again?
Here’s the thing, though. Not all anxiety and depressive feelings during pregnancy should be casually swept away under the rug of Crazy Pregnant Lady Hormones. Full-blown panic attacks and major depression can happen during pregnancy, and you should always tell your doctor if you’re experiencing anything like this.
Women who have previously struggled with (or have a family history of) depression and anxiety are at a higher risk for pre-partum depression, as are those who have lost pregnancies, undergone fertility treatments or are classified as a high-risk pregnancy. Major life events, like relationship problems, big moves or job changes, can also trigger anxiety far beyond a manageable level.
Having had a long rich history with regular old anxiety, I’m grateful to have a built-in set of coping mechanisms. Namely, writing, list-making (I write down everything I’m stressed about and/or putting off and then tackle it, item by item), long walks and meditation. But how do you know when that’s not enough?
A lot of the depression checklists are downright laughable when applied to a pregnant woman (extreme fatigue? a desire to eat all the time? increased irritability or crying jags?), but if the feelings are unrelenting for a good two weeks — or coupled with bleak feelings of emptiness, anxious obsessive-compulsive behaviors, thoughts of self-harm or a feeling like your baby would be better off not being born or being given to someone else — then call your doctor right this minute. Many antidepressants can be safely taken during pregnancy, with the benefits far outweighing the risks. Talk therapy can also be extremely beneficial in helping you work through your fears and issues before the baby is born. Just SPEAK. UP. And don’t let anyone disregard your feelings because you’re pregnant.