I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life. I don’t remember a time that anxiety wasn’t a part of my life. Most of the time it’s handle-able, but there have been many times in my life that it has been completely debilitating.
My biggest cause of anxiety has always come from “medical stuff.” Needles, IVs, procedures, blood pressure machines, and sometimes blood are all things I didn’t want to even hear about, let alone see or experience. I almost always faint when I get a needle, and at one point it got so bad that even going to the doctor’s office for a simple appointment (like a prescription refill) would send me into an anxiety attack.
I eventually began taking medication and was able to join a 12 week CBT group therapy program for anxiety. It helped a lot. I was able to go to the doctor’s office for appointments without my entire body going into fight or flight mode for no reason. But it definitely wasn’t a cure. There is no cure, unfortunately.
I still experienced anxiety in more extreme situations. Like when I was going to the doctor’s for a shot or getting my blood pressure checked. (I know that’s a weird one for most people, I can’t explain it, something about my arms being squeezed really bugs me)
Despite having this anxiety still, and being completely petrified about the idea of ever being hospitalized, I had always wanted to have a baby and experience pregnancy. Long before we began trying to conceive, I was already trying to figure out how I would handle going through pregnancy and childbirth. Would my anxiety be so severe that it would cause problems with the baby? That “wave of anxiety” that I feel rush through my body can’t be good for a baby inside me, especially if it happens all the time. What if I faint a bunch of times during my pregnancy from anxiety, would that hurt the baby? What if I faint while giving birth and then they have to give me a C-section, and OMG what if I have to have a C-section!! The idea of being awake during that reallllllly freaks me out.
Well, we tried to get pregnant, and luckily for us, we got pregnant on our second try. The 2-week wait between ovulation and the expected period felt like months. I was anxious both times, almost every day wondering if it worked. I was expecting that whenever I would eventually see that positive pregnancy test, I would feel excitement, but with an extreme rush of anxiety. And even though it was an outcome I wanted, knowing what all happens during pregnancy, I was afraid about how I would react once pregnancy became a reality.
So, I took the test. One day before my expected period because I couldn’t take it anymore! I woke up really early in the morning from a dream I had about taking a pregnancy test and it being positive. My husband was still asleep, and I went to the washroom and stayed in there for the 2 minutes you have to wait to get results. My heart was pounding! I had laid the test upside-down on the counter, so when the 2 minutes were up, I had to pick it up to look at it. I felt so much pressure as I reached for it, mentally preparing for both results. The disappointment if it was negative, and the anxiety if it was positive.
It was positive! There was no question about it. Sometimes you can hardly see the line and you keep questioning yourself “do I really see a line? Is the line really there?” But this line was dark, and very much there.
My heart started racing, but I didn’t feel the anxiety I was expecting. The excitement and disbelief overshadowed it. I kept saying “Oh my God” over and over again in my head, and a little out loud. I tried to think of fun ways to tell my husband, but I couldn’t contain my excitement and I told him the moment he woke up.
I called my doctor to make an appointment to go in. When we went in to see her I was surprisingly not very anxious. I had a small amount of anxiety, but nothing like what I’ve dealt with in the past. She checked my blood pressure, which I laid down for as usual, but luckily didn’t get too light-headed. Then, I was given a requisition to have bloodwork and ultrasound done. I was my normal anxious self for the bloodwork for sure! But the ultrasound was really exciting!
As the weeks went on, I was excitedly looking up stuff about how the baby was developing inside me. But I was also dealing with a horrible case of morning sickness which was making me miserable. I had always had anxiety around vomiting, but I got over that pretty fast! For the most part, I was so focused on getting through the days (yes days, not mornings, days! Morning sickness isn’t just in the morning, they lied to us!) That I wasn’t really thinking too much about the eventual childbirth.
We had our first appointment with the OBGYN in mid-late January, by this time, the morning sickness wasn’t nearly as bad since I was heading into my 2nd trimester. He went over family history, spoke to me about my general health, and mentioned that my primary doctor did let him know about my anxiety, specifically around medical stuff, and what medications I was on. He said that I can continue to take the medications, however, in a perfect world, the mother wouldn’t be on any medications, but in a situation where the mother’s health is affected by going off the medications, it’s best to leave them alone as long as it’s not a medication known to harm an unborn baby, which mine weren’t.
He asked about how my anxiety had been, and I told him, honestly, it hasn’t really been bugging me like I was expecting. Which in turn made me a little anxious. Because, when would it hit me?
He then wanted to check my blood pressure. I told him that this makes me anxious, however. I literally can’t explain why. It makes no sense. Then he told me I would probably be fine with blood pressure machines by the end of this pregnancy because of how many times it will be checked. So yay, I guess?
Months went on, I went to my usual appointments, tried to eat healthily, and keep active. We also moved out of our 1 bdrm + den apartment in Toronto to a 4 bdrm house, not in Toronto (which costs about the same!) And that was a big transition for us. But still no major anxiety.
When is it coming!?
I had to do my gestational diabetes test. For that, you have to drink a sugary drink, wait an hour, and then get blood drawn. I was certain this would be my moment to break down in a panic. After all, anticipation really exacerbates my anxiety, which is why I always go to get blood drawn when I can check online and see that there isn’t a wait.
Well, I went in, got the drink, (which actually didn’t taste as bad as everyone says. I wouldn’t buy it, but I would drink it again if someone offered it to me) and I sat down in the lab waiting room. It was full of people waiting for their number to be called for them to have bloodwork done for various reasons. I was sitting there, waiting and waiting. It was a very long and boring hour. I was really expecting that hour of waiting to be torturous, but it wasn’t. Why wasn’t it? I have no idea. I was bored, but that was about it.
When I went into the room to get my blood drawn, I started feeling anxious, but a handle-able anxious. I told the guy that I’m a big baby with needles so I will be looking away and I might have to sit there for a couple of minutes after to make sure I don’t faint. He was fine with that and took my sample. I was fine. I still sat there for a few minutes because sometimes it creeps up on me. I’ve thought I was fine after a needle in the past but then fainted when I stood up.
Ok but seriously, where is my anxiety and when will it hit me?!
The next kind of major appointment was the one where I had to be tested for Group-B Strep. It’s a bacteria that is present in the vagina for about 25% of women (If I’m remembering correctly) that can be harmful to a baby during birth. Otherwise, it’s completely harmless to the woman. If you have it, what they do to protect the baby is to give you a dose of antibiotics through an IV. So I was definitely a little nervous about this. I was nervous about the test to determine if you have it, as well as knowing I would need an IV if I did. But still, a normal amount of nervousness that I’m sure everyone feels. Not my intense anxiety attack nervousness I was expecting.
The test was weird but simple, and the next appointment I got my results. I have it. The moment he told me, I felt this heart sinking feeling, and my inner voice just said: “well f***!” But right after he told me, he started talking to me about what antibiotic he would put on my file because I’m allergic to penicillin. Then we went on with the appointment. After I left, it started to sink in more that I will have an IV when I give birth. But, I was more annoyed than anxious. Like seriously, I just had to be in the 25% for this! So annoying, I was hoping the odds would be on my side.
One thing that weirdly kept me from freaking out was reminding myself that by the time I would be getting the IV, I would probably be too distracted by pain to freak out about it.
Hey Anxiety, where the hell are you?
My last month of pregnancy, I was mostly at home, except for my weekly OBGYN appointments. I hadn’t been going into work for a while, and my last volunteer shift at the Toronto Humane Society was at 37 weeks.
During that last month, I was watching birth videos on YouTube (which I had been doing throughout the pregnancy as well) because I figured it would be good exposure therapy. I also found that watching other women go through this made me feel more confident that I could do it too. It also gave me a realistic idea of how things will go because, newsflash! TV shows are not realistic at all!
I was, however, starting to feel a bit anxious. But a different kind of anxiety than I was expecting. I was anxious about when I would go into labour, because I was anxious to meet our baby girl. I was also anxious about just not having any control over when I would go into labour. And mostly, I was anxious to get the pregnancy over with!
Leading up to the due date, I had the occasional cramping feeling, but nothing major. On my due date, I really didn’t feel like anything was about to happen. I was getting a bit annoyed about not knowing when it finally would, and getting daily questions from other people about if I had the baby yet was driving me crazy.
The morning after my due date, I lost my mucous plug, and I had a feeling this was the day. You’d think that in that moment of having that thought, I would have felt anxious, or even had a panic attack. Well, I did, sorta. I was surprisingly calm, and happy. Then I began to wonder why I wasn’t feeling anxious. Like seriously, why wasn’t I anxious?! This time, thinking about being anxious caused me to become anxious. My brain was playing a twisted game with me. How can I be anxious about not being anxious?
I started getting cramps on and off through the morning, then it began to become more like regular contractions around noon. Still quite far apart and not super long or painful, but I knew this was it. My husband was working from home so that he would be able to stop work on a moment’s notice if need be, so he was occasionally coming to check on me, but I wasn’t at a point where I needed him to stop working because there wasn’t much he could do at that point. I just watched TV while laying on the couch, trying really hard to keep myself from freaking out. But, I wasn’t even close to freaking out. I was still surprisingly calm, but again, wondering when the hell this anxiety would hit me. I was worried I would have a full-blown panic attack at the worst possible moment because all of my anxious energy would have been built up and ready to explode.
Yet again, worrying about not being anxious, made me anxious, and I had a few mini panic attacks over the day.
Well, I can tell you now that I never did end up having that major attack I was expecting. Which, you would think I’d consider a good thing, but, I really think the only reason I didn’t was because of how much pain I was in. I was so focused on the pain, and, of course, I felt a lot of anxiety throughout the whole process, but I think the adrenaline and my natural instincts kicked in to keep me as level headed as most people can be in that situation.
The IV I had to get and the epidural I didn’t want, but ended up getting because I wasn’t coping with the contractions anymore, did cause my usual levels of anxiety that I get when having most needles. But I considered that a win because both of those were things I was scared to death of.
After she was born, I was so focused on her and nothing else really mattered. Spending the night in the hospital wasn’t a big deal for me because it was actually nice having the nurses pop in to help me with things like diaper changes, feeding, and they also gave her a bath.
Childbirth and pregnancy wasn’t a great experience for me, I am still unsure about wanting to do it again, but not having that major panic that I was expecting does help. It was very weird to have so much anxiety about not having anxiety though. I believe now that I’ve been through it, if I go through it again, I won’t have that kind of anxiety again, or at least not as badly.
Have you ever been anxious about not feeling anxious before? It’s such an odd experience and really hard to explain, but if you can, share your story in the comments below.