Nicole’s Story: The Emotional Roller Coaster Started Earlier Than I Expected
I was never one to get ‘baby fever’ or even know when it was a good time to have a baby. My husband and I knew we wanted to have a family but we were not sure when it would be a good time to start trying. Who is ever financially ready to start a family? We weren’t for sure. I told myself we should at least start trying so by the time it happens, we would be mentally prepared.
An Unexpected Pregnancy
Surprisingly, I became pregnant right away but I didn’t find out the ‘normal’ way by peeing on a stick and seeing a smiley face. I was unable to surprise my husband with a cute note and balloons when he came home from work or utilize any of the other ideas I had been saving from Pinterest for the past year or so.
Instead I found out I was 10 weeks pregnant while visiting my doctor because I was ‘not feeling well’. After describing my symptoms to my doctor, I took a pregnancy test and she thought I may be having a miscarriage. I went to my gynecologist in order to confirm.
During the 10 weeks of not knowing I was pregnant, I had a sudden increase in my anxiety. I was already taking medication to control my anxiety, so my doctor suggested I increase my dosage. When I went to my gynecologist I learned I was not only 10 weeks pregnant, but the bleeding I was experiencing had to do with my placenta and it was somehow completely normal. No wonder I never thought anything of it!
A Mixture of Emotions
Unfortunately, excitement wasn’t the first thing I felt. It was a mixture of emotions together with the severe morning sickness I started to develop. I didn’t have that time to ‘prepare’ like I wanted to and I told myself, “I should feel lucky and blessed to have conceived a child so quickly”, but instead fear took over my body. I started second guessing myself and thought maybe I was not ready for this huge life change. What was even more alarming at the time is that I was taking anti-anxiety medication the first 10 weeks of being pregnant. Scary words were thrown at me like birth defects, abnormalities and death.
After completing many tests and ultrasound visits to make sure everything was fine with my son, I still wasn’t excited. Despite the tests, I was nervous that my son wasn’t okay. I was also becoming increasingly anxious because I couldn’t take my regular medication. I felt guilty for taking the medication and I was angry at myself for ever taking medication to begin with. It was my fault for putting my son at risk and it would be my fault if something happened to him. Since I wasn’t fully prepared to first get pregnant and then be told I was having a miscarriage, the emotional roller coaster started way sooner than I ever would have expected.
Trying to Find Support
I put my faith in the internet and pregnancy forums to help me get through this time. Reading and scrolling through different forums to get some insight was a HUGE mistake, especially the ones where they were not monitored well. Other pregnant women who were in the same boat as me pleaded for help and advice from fellow mothers and they all were shot down.
Seeing other women be shamed and bashed due to the horrible stigma surrounding mental illness was heartbreaking and it triggered my anxiety even more. I turned to friends and family for advice on what to do, but those who hadn’t experienced anxiety were not able to help and made me feel worse. I got the typical response of, “Why are you so upset? This is a happy time and you should be so excited” or “Be thankful you were able to get pregnant so easily.”
When I went to see my gynecologist for one of my checkups, I told him I was experiencing severe anxiety and intrusive thoughts. I literally watched him rolls his eyes and give me a, “Oh God, not another one” type of look. He then said to me he doesn’t do ‘that’ and I need to talk to a psychiatrist if I’m thinking about going on medication. Shockingly, he then took out his smartphone and Googled medications that were supposed to be safe for pregnancy. He wrote down a few medications, handed it to me, told me to lay off eating pizza and sent me on my way. Um, what!?!?
Going Back on Medication
My anxiety was so bad that by the end of my second trimester I decided that counseling was not enough and needed to be put back on medication. It was a few more weeks until I started to get my anxiety under control with medication.
My psychiatrist was supportive and although he did not specialize in perinatal anxiety and/or depression, he made sure my son and I were safe with what he prescribed. I also found supportive midwives who didn’t judge me and helped me build confidence throughout the rest of my pregnancy.
I continued to take medication and had to make the ultimate decision if I was going to breastfeed or not. My decision was based on both mine and my son’s needs. I learned to tell myself if I am not healthy to care for him, then he won’t be healthy. I stayed on my medication even when my psychiatrist called me late one night to tell me he read a new study saying some anti-depressants are linked to Autism.
Doing What’s Best for Me and My Baby
After some more research and massive support from my husband, I decided not to change a thing. I wouldn’t know how to handle these situations if I felt the way I did during my first trimester. Since I became emotionally stable and could think rationally, I was able to trust myself to make the best decisions for me and my entire family.
I can go down the list of the choices I made throughout my pregnancy and after my son was born, and I am sure I’d be criticized for some of them. I love my son more than anything and the fact that I am trying my best makes me a good mother. Shame and guilt will not ruin motherhood for me and I will continue to support and not criticize others on the choices they make. There is no right or wrong way to do things throughout pregnancy and motherhood if it involves your love.
We’re honored to share Nicole’s story as part of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative’s Marathon of Moms campaign. Stories of lived experience are one of the most powerful tools we have to combat stigma and the shame surrounding mental illness. They’re also vitally important as we look to develop tools, resources and treatments that work for moms and meet their needs. Thank you, Nicole!