“When you’re trying to get pregnant every small failure becomes a catastrophe. The arrival of your period is like an emotional apocalypse.” Jacki Badger on suffering acute anxiety and depression while trying to conceive her first baby…
Earlier this year my husband and I decided to try for a baby. I was prepared for the stresses that pregnancy would bring – the fear of miscarriage, the worry about eating or doing the wrong thing, the constant advice from absolute strangers – but what I wasn’t prepared for was the absolute mental horror show that trying to get pregnant would bring.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that I’d get freaked out; a quick look on the forums of Mumsnet makes it very obvious that trying to conceive can quickly turn otherwise sensible and grounded women into obsessive monsters who can’t go a day without symptom checking and peeing on a stick. But when you’ve got pre-existing mental health issues, then it can be a serious challenge.
I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression around five years ago. I’ve received some excellent treatment and generally my symptoms are under control, so I thought I was perfectly stable enough to become a mother. I may well still prove to be correct in that assumption, but I was definitely underprepared for the emotional warfare of what came before motherhood.
For a couple of months, I completely lost my balance. I was crying at the sight of babies on TV, researching the costs of IVF and looking into adoption agencies with a frankly frightening fervour
Anxiety is, by its very nature, a cruel illness. It makes you doubt everything, makes worst-case scenarios the only inevitable outcome, and takes over your entire mind so that much as you may want to take a break from the cruel thoughts, you can’t. It sneaks up to you, and latches onto your brain until – in my case, at least – you end up a crying, hyperventilating wreck, convinced that all the very worst things that could happen are going to happen. Right now.
What this means when you’re trying to get pregnant is simple, and horrible – every small failure becomes a catastrophe. The arrival of your period is like an emotional apocalypse, proof that you aren’t able to get pregnant and are trying in vain. The symptom-checking, so common among the Mumsnetters, becomes obsessive – do I feel sick this morning? (The answer is usually yes, but it’s likely got more to do with the anxiety than anything else.) Passing comments from people can become cruel mantras; “hopefully you’ll be able to have children” became, to my brain, a barely-concealed way of saying “of course you won’t have children”, as likely to come true as “hopefully you’ll win the lottery.”
And for a couple of months, I completely lost my balance. I was crying at the sight of babies on TV, researching the costs of IVF and looking into adoption agencies with a frankly frightening fervour, and obsessively peeing on ovulation sticks – often while sobbing if they didn’t give me the answer I wanted. I was only two months in, and I wasn’t sure I could carry on. I had to do something differently.
So I reverted to my survival mode, doing everything I had when my anxiety had got on top of me before. This started with a lot of a therapy, which helped me realise that what I was really struggling with was the complete lack of control I had over my own situation. And the only way to counter that was to control what I could.
So, in my third month, I tried to do just that. I researched fertility-boosting foods, fertility-boosting yoga, and tried hard to force my sleep pattern back into something that resembled normality. When I felt my brain turning in on me, telling me that I was being an idiot to think that I’d ever be able to have a baby, I meditated. It was often like wrestling with a particularly cruel opponent who knows all your weak spots, but slowly, it started making a difference.
Early on, I was guilty of Googling every tiny detail, twinge or niggle I felt in that hope that someone somewhere else on the internet had felt it too and ended up with a baby
Leading fertility author, acupuncturist and integrated women’s health expert Emma Cannon agrees that finding ways to get away from unhelpful thoughts is key. “Breathe, go for a walk or do a gentle yoga class – something to take yourself out of your head” she says. “Acupuncture is excellent for calming the mind and reducing anxiety – women walk out of treatment in a completely different space.”
But it’s not all about what you do – what you stop doing can be just as important. Early on, I was guilty of Googling every tiny detail, twinge or niggle I felt in that hope that someone somewhere else on the internet had felt it too and ended up with a baby. And all I ended up with was confusion, scare stories, and disappointment. “Awareness of what is, rather than what might happen is key” Emma says. “Women with anxiety tend to catastrophise instead of dealing with facts. Don’t Google anything medical or compare yourself to other people. Everyone has a unique experience quite unlike anyone else.”
Thankfully, my story has a happy ending – after four months of trying I got pregnant. We’re expecting a baby boy in January, when I’m sure my life will become completely chaotic once again. But this time round, it’ll be a very cute kind of chaos.
Follow Jacki Badger on Twitter: @jackibadger
To make an appointment with Emma or find out more about her work please visit www.emmacannon.co.uk