Pregnancy Comes in All Shapes and Sizes: Mental Health
Thank you to Laura from FiveLittleDoves for very kindly offering to share her story with us. It is clear from Laura’s story that complications don’t occur exclusively, they often occur in conjunction with others. It highlights the need for specialist yet holistic care before, during and after pregnancy.
Tell us a little about your family.
My name is Laura, wife of one and Mum of five – Lewis who is almost 13, Eva who is four, Megan who is three and Harry who is two. I also have a second son, Joseph, who was stillborn in 2006. We live together in Lancashire with our dog Oscar, and our lives are every bit as crazy as you would imagine with four children!
When did it become apparent that you were suffering with a mental health problem and what was it?
I have lived with depression since the age of 17, developing anorexia in my late teens and yet by the time I fell pregnant with my third child, Eva, aged 32, I was in a much better place. During my pregnancy with her I developed severe anxiety and panic disorder, stemming from fifteen miscarriages and the stillbirth of my son, and I simply could not control the catastrophic thoughts or the panic attacks I was having, up to thirty each day.
If you were diagnosed before pregnancy did you receive adequate support during your pregnancy from health professionals and from family/friends.
Prior to my pregnancy I was treated by several health professionals and supported by family and friends. During my pregnancy I was flagged up as having mental health concerns and I was referred to antenatal counselling as a precaution.
If you were on medication, did you feel that your questions regarding the medication were answered and did you feel confident with the advice given? Was it consistent?
I was terrified of taking any medication during my pregnancy, despite being told that it was safe to do so. I refused to take my anti-depressants through fear that it would cause another miscarriage or stillbirth, and although I was told that it was deemed safe, it was “If the benefit outweighs the risk” which in my eyes, was not a good enough reassurance.
How did suffering with mental illness affect your pregnancy?
In all honesty, it completely ruined the experience for me. Obviously pregnancy was always going to be a worrying experience for me given my history, but I literally could not relax or switch off the entire time. I was convinced that my baby would die, I refused to buy even a Babygro or plan her arrival in any way. I couldn’t sleep, so convinced that if I slept I may miss a sign that she was in danger, I couldn’t eat, I felt as though I was simply waiting for the worst to happen.
How did it affect your birth experience?
Due to my anxiety being completely out of control, I was induced at 35 weeks as my consultant deemed it necessary for the sake of my mental health. As a result I had a lengthy 35 hour induction and I was hugely emotional throughout. Infact when she was born, the first thing I asked was whether she was alive or not, I was just so convinced she wouldn’t make it.
How are you now?
I’m doing well! After I had Eva I did become very unwell, my anxiety out of control and I developed severe PND, relapsed with my anorexia and I was set to be re-admitted to a mental health facility. By some miracle I fell pregnant with my fourth child, Megan, and with a huge amount of support from health professionals, she was born 15 months later. Just 12 months after her birth I gave birth to our fifth baby, Harry, and now looking back I wonder how I ever survive any of it!
I still take anti-depressants, I think I always will, and I still suffer with anxiety, but I’m doing really well and I’m very aware of asking for help if I am struggling. I have regular CBT sessions, and I feel much more in control of my mental health, I feel incredibly lucky to have had so much support.
What is the best piece of advice you would give someone else suffering mental illness during pregnancy?
I would say to simply take it one day at a time. Sometimes it can feel so overwhelming to look too far to the future, especially during pregnancy when 9 months feels like forever, but taking baby steps, just one day to the next, you will find a way to get through it.
Have you read the other guest posts in this series?