My pregnancy journey hasn’t been easy. Even as I write this, I’m acutely aware that many women and couples have been through a lot more than me by comparison, but I’m here to share my experience.
My husband and I decided to start trying for a baby and to come off the pill after 10 years. After 14 months of irregular cycles, internet trawling and self-diagnosis, we went to seek professional help at a fertility clinic. As it turned out, I had low progesterone – a pretty key component of the hormone system when it comes to conceiving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
After three rounds of the necessary treatment – we did something called Follicular Tracking with supplemented progesterone – we made a baby. Of course I was absolutely thrilled; I also felt relieved and quite frankly, petrified. We got over the first hurdle, but I was more than aware that there could be a few more bumps in the road.
I’m not a pessimist. In fact, I have a pretty positive outlook on most things. I am, however, a realist who likes to know about all the possible outcomes of every situation. It helps me feel calm and more in control. Sure, you could call me a control freak. I do. My work at Pachamama over the last year has thrown me head first into the realities of motherhood, family life and fertility and with that, a greater sense of empowerment of my own body and respect for anyone who can birth and raise a child. It’s why I named my company after a goddess known as the Earth Mother – because I believe all mothers are goddesses!
After finding out I was pregnant, I think I had about two days of utter bliss and joy. And then, boom! I crashed. My mental health, and to a certain degree my physical, health, suffered in a way I wasn’t prepared for. Now at almost 19 weeks, I look back and it shocks me how far away from myself, and everyone else, I felt.
Whenever someone asks how I’m finding pregnancy, I say that I’m doing OK now, but the first few weeks were insanely tough. And everyone assumes it was because of the nausea, which I had (along with fatigue, sore boobs and the rest). But that wasn’t the tough bit. The hardest bit was dealing with what I can only describe as antenatal depression.
Any reference to mood swings online or in books felt really twee in comparison to what happened to me in reality, which was less mood swing, more constant low mood. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. I didn’t want to do anything because I lost interest in everything. And as a result, I ended up feeling quite hollow and numb. It got so bad at one point, I told my husband that if I miscarried, I wouldn’t be able to go through this again.
I don’t think my body has ever dealt particularly well with rushes of hormones, (particularly estrogen which is active in the part of the brain that regulates mood and is associated with depression). It explains why I experienced depression as a teenager and probably why I loved being on the pill for so many years.
I don’t think it helped that my mental health, like so many others, was already in a fragile place because of lockdown. I get my energy from other people, so the lack of contact impacted me massively. And what made it worse was the secrecy around the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
It baffles me that you have to wait 12 weeks before having your first scan. (I appreciate you can have private scans earlier, but most people don’t.) I find it disheartening that it’s not considered “acceptable” to share your pregnancy news before a certain date, but I also appreciate that I’ve not experienced a miscarriage, and if I had, I might feel slightly differently about it. That said, I wish there wasn’t such pressure to keep your news to yourself, as this only made me feel more scared and alone.
Around week 10 of my pregnancy, thankfully, those dark feelings started to lift. I’m sure my hormones levelling off had a huge part to play in this, but I also want to give myself credit. I pushed myself to do things I didn’t want to do in order to feel better in the long run. Listening to my body - like everyone told me to do - wasn’t the right thing for me. If I had, I would have stayed under the covers, kept the blinds closed and stared at the wall. I had to dig so f**cking deep, both physically and emotionally, to get out of the bed, shower and walk to the end of the road. And the more I did it, the easier it became.
I also wouldn’t have gotten through that time if it wasn’t for my acupuncturist, Mandy Brass, whose treatments not only helped alleviate my physical symptoms, but whose sympathetic ear helped heal my mental ones.
Even though I’m now in my second trimester, I’m not for one second foolish enough to be confident that those feelings won’t come back. I don’t think I’m going to get this second trimester “high” that everyone keeps talking about, and that’s ok. I don’t think it’s necessarily healthy for me to want it or to expect it, as I’ll only be disappointed if I don’t get it. I am, however, in a much better place than I was a few weeks ago, and when those harder days creep back in – which they very well might – at least now I have a more realistic sense of what can happen, and a better understanding of how to manage it.
So if you’re in it now - and you’re feeling down and isolated and alone in your thoughts, or you’ve been through it: I see you. I am you. And I’m here for you.
Arianna Radji Lee is the founder of Pachamama, a digital platform that informs, inspires and connects women in their fourth trimester and beyond. We are Pachamama. We empower parents with confidence, knowledge and connection in the fourth trimester and beyond. Through our online platforms and digital content, we support parents by providing access to experts in topics that matter the most to parents, from child development and nutrition to mental health and wellbeing. We look after you, so you can look after your little one.