When Amber discovered she was pregnant, she felt as though she had to hide the way she was really feeling. Following a diagnosis of antenatal depression, Amber finally began to prioritise herself and her own feelings, and uncovered a newfound sense of excitement for the future
On some level, I guess I had an expectation for how I’d feel when seeing that positive pregnancy test. My eyes would transform into teary love hearts, and there would be a slow-motion embrace with my husband. Butterflies would flutter around us as we skipped through meadows talking about how wonderful it was that we were making something that’s a little bit of me, and a little bit of him.
Because that’s how it’s supposed to be, right? We’d reached a certain age, fallen in love, wed. Our next step was to start a family and live happily ever after. And I say this with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek because, although the fairy tales are still out-of-date, society is finally acknowledging that this topic is complex.
Postnatal depression is getting more airtime, we’re speaking up about battles with infertility, the ‘childfree by choice’ conversation is being celebrated, and people are openly exploring the role mental health can play in deciding whether or not to start a family.
But what about when you know you want a family, you conceive, but then it doesn’t feel right?
Instead of feelings of love, joy, and excitement, I felt doubt, overwhelmed, conflict, and confusion. Confusion because having a baby was exactly what we wanted, but that second blue line didn’t feel like good news.
As I write this, I can feel my baby girl wriggling around in my belly and I’m able to feel a love for her that, in the depths of the darkness, I wasn’t sure I’d reach. It can feel impossible to see the light when we’re kicking about rock bottom but I now know that, like 12% of pregnant women, I experienced a bout of antenatal depression (AND).
The shame and stigma that surrounds AND encourages whispered confessions at best and desperate silence at worst. So I tell my story with my head held high knowing how reassuring it is when you find that you’re not actually alone.
I knew there was something wrong before I even took the pregnancy test. Having survived a mental breakdown back in 2017, the warning signs of poor mental health were all too familiar. Since this time, mental health has become a large part of my world. I volunteer for Shout UK, I’ve built a business, Balpro, to help organisations put in place better mental health support for their employees, and staying mentally healthy is something I work on every-single-day.
But you can’t guarantee unbreakable resilience, and I started to feel unhinged.
I had my first panic attack in years, the tears set up camp just below the surface and I was exhausted all of the time.
Lockdown had just started, so the world was weird, but I knew the way I was feeling had nothing to do with that. I’m the kind of person who comes alive in chaos and rises up when stuff is a mess. But I felt paralysed.
Having survived a mental breakdown back in 2017, the warning signs of poor mental health were all too familiar
Time passed at a snail’s pace and, try as I might, I could not connect with the pregnancy. When we started to tell people our ‘happy’ news, I couldn’t relate to their delight. When people gave congratulations, it triggered feelings of sadness, guilt, and shame.
Anger and hate joined the party as I started to resent the fact that I felt like I was sacrificing so much for other people’s happiness. My phone would ping with excited messages from family as I hid away, trying to put my mind back together and keep this little thing safe.
One of the most complicated parts, amongst all the bitterness and pain, was that I was terrified of miscarriage. I’m no stranger to how hard the path to parenthood can be. I’ve mopped the floors and held the hearts of friends who have lost their babies. How dare I not be delighted? This second-degree trauma triggered an irrational obsession that I was going to be punished for not embracing the pregnancy.
So, of course, I played down how I was feeling. “Oh yeah, just a bit hormonal. I have it easy compared to others and we’re so lucky to be pregnant. It’s all worth it”.
Ironically, in the depths of my depression, I worked with Channel 5 News to deliver 60-second mental health tips during an awareness week. Hitting record on various videos with the secret knowledge that the audience in need was actually me.
On top of my wild mind, the physical symptoms raged. Hollywood pokes fun at the morning sickness (which has no care for time of day), the irrational moods, and spontaneous tears. It all looks hilarious in the movies.
But, let’s keep it real, there is nothing funny about this stuff.
Exhaustion, nausea, sore boobs, abdominal pains, indigestion, hyper sense of smell, breathlessness, food aversions, bloating. We’re pressured to embrace these glorious signs of our bodies doing amazing things, but that goes against basic human instincts.
I told myself that just because these were all good signs, that didn’t mean they were pleasant. I recognised that even though things could be worse, that didn’t mean my pain wasn’t real or valid. I reminded myself that my emotions don’t care for rationality or comparison.
I encouraged myself to do gratitude lists, but forgave myself if I wasn’t up for it. I numbed myself with TV, half-read books, semi-listened to podcasts, set boundaries with others, tried to sleep and walked as much as I could.
I asked for help. Letting my midwife team know how I was feeling and embraced a referral to a perinatal cognitive behavioural therapist (CBT).
I followed the advice I’d give to others, forcing myself to work less, creating space to prioritise my health, knowing that without my mind there was no business.
And, in time, I stopped spending so much time in bed and the tears slowed. I started to see the positives of only eating beige food and realised I was laughing more. The fear eased. I avoided conversations less and stopped adding “but the first trimester sucks” to every sentence. I started feeling lighter.
I followed the advice I’d give to others, forcing myself to work less
By the time my 12-week scan came, it was magical. The babe was having a whale of a time in my body, and it was amazing watching her move around. The sonographer commented on how chilled she was, and it was reassuring to know this little thing was protected from my feelings.
Throughout the pregnancy, I’ve felt every single emotion. I’ve felt fear, doubt, despair, guilt, shame and regret. I’ve felt hope, love, delight, joy, pride, celebration and peace. And I’ve felt them all at once and one by one.
It’s confusing as hell but emotions can co-exist. Feeling that range, and experiencing those depths, arms us with skills that will make us such wonderful parents.
I write this six months pregnant and the depths of depression have thankfully been replaced by a deep connection to the new life that I’m growing, and genuine excitement for the future. And when the dark waves come, I cradle my bump as if I have my baby girl in my arms and feel a fierce protectiveness about me. I vow to keep her safe and I know that we’re in it together and it’ll all be worth it.