Every night for months, I’d do the same thing. I’d go to bed, wait for my husband to fall asleep, and then open my phone and google the effects of anxiety on a fetus. There would be variations of the search – at what point would the anxiety affect the baby, how bad did it have to be, what was the likelihood, what were all the possible manifestations of the effects, what would be the signs based on what the baby was doing…etc. I obsessively Googled risk factors for autism, connection between autism and anxiety medication. Endless. Hours of googling. For months.
I knew it was a problem, that I was in a cycle, and I couldn’t stop. I blamed my very stressful job for what I was going through. Looking back, with information and experience, I’ve realized that I was starting to experience something very common – perinatal anxiety. I had no idea – nobody talked to me about my mental health at all during pregnancy.
What made my situation particularly rough is that I had very quickly broken a dependence on anti-anxiety medication. I had taken a low dose of medication following a traumatic experience about a decade before, but in the last few years had started needing it – and needing higher doses – to sleep through the night. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I started cutting back my doses to wean myself off. It was a horrible process that only my husband and I knew about. While struggling with the side effects, I worried through the process didn’t realize how long it would take or the potential effects of the medication on my developing baby.
Once I was off the medication, I started to realize (with the help of my husband) that I didn’t have coping mechanisms to calm or soothe myself. I had no way to break out of my cycle. I tried meditation apps, I tried yoga, more consistent and regular exercise, and nothing was working.
In addition to living abroad in a place without much mental health support, seeking a therapist was not an option for me. I hadn’t had good experiences with therapy. So, I didn’t get any help at all, and just kept on going through a painfully anxious pregnancy that made everything about my life much harder, including all of my relationships.
In retrospect, I wish I had thought to research the solutions instead of the problems. I wasn’t in the headspace to do that. I know very well now that there are therapeutic techniques that can help – like cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, or compassionate mind training.
When I finally discovered these techniques while researching maternal mental health solutions as part of starting Canopie, I was already past the worst of it. But it wasn’t too late for me to understand myself better and think about my past and current self with much more kindness.
So mama – if you are feeling anxious, very anxious or just a little anxious, you are in very good company. While it can feel overwhelming and paralyzing, it is also common, and there are evidence-based techniques (and other things!) you can try in order to feel better.