No one said pregnancy would be easy, I knew that much. I was fully prepared for the morning sickness, the sore boobs, the sacrifices and the body changes that are commonly talked about between moms during pregnancy, but what I didn’t prepare myself for was being pregnant during a literal pandemic, and some of the complications that I have had to face along the way, and how they would effect my physical and mental health. I also hadn’t fully prepared myself for how difficult it would be to go on this journey while mostly isolated from much of my friends and family, along with dealing with an unexpected layoff shortly after my first trimester. But I have somehow found a way to power through and find joy in everyday. For other first, second, or third time moms going through similar struggles, this is how I’ve been coping and have managed to still have a happy and healthy pregnancy despite the struggles which can sometimes feel overwhelming.
When I was just 9 weeks into my pregnancy I was diagnosed with something called maternal hypothyroidism. For those who are unfamiliar, it is a condition that affects somewhere between 3–5% of pregnant women. It is caused when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormones your body needs to have a successful pregnancy and can cause major problems for both mom and baby if left untreated such as miscarriage, preterm birth, and still birth; basically the three major anxiety triggers for me during my pregnancy. It sounds like a simple organ but it actually has a huge impact on your overall wellbeing, both mentally and physically, especially during a time when your hormone levels are already all over the place. It can wreak total havoc over your mood and how you feel, leaving you more tired and depressed which is something that pregnancy can trigger all on its own. Many doctors don’t commonly check for hypothyroidism, so if you are pregnant and in your first trimester its good to ask your doctor about it early on and always opt in for the first trimester screening. I’ve found that one of the best ways to cope with pregnancy related anxiety is to be informed about my body and my choices which has helped me feel so much more in control during a time of such uncertainty, especially as a first time mom. So many pregnant women don’t realize that they have a say in their healthcare when it comes to their pregnancy, labour and delivery. It is wise to do your research, join online support groups, read about your options and become your own advocate, and if you can afford to, hire professional help such as a doula or a midwife who will teach you and advocate for you.
Later, during my 28 week checkup I was diagnosed with a low red blood cell count also known as anemia. Basically I wasn’t getting enough iron and had to start taking daily supplements outside of my usual prenatal vitamins. Some of the common symptoms of low iron anemia are fatigue and trouble focusing, two things most pregnant women are already feeling at some point throughout their pregnancy. There are days when I can sleep for 12 hours and I still wake up feeling defeated which can be really hard to deal with when you have a life that you are trying to maintain. I have found that when I am feeling this way — tired when I should be fully rested or unable to focus on a task, or suffering from any other pregnancy related side affects, I consciously allow myself to be in that moment for as long as it takes to overcome it. Luckily (or unluckily?) for me I was laid off from my job right after my first trimester and haven’t been able to find work since so I was sort of forced into taking an early mat-leave which has come with its ups and downs. Obviously it has taken its tole and has been stressful at times, going from the monthly income that I had to what I get from unemployment insurance now, which is almost cut in half; that can cause a lot of stress for a first time mom when we’re basically starting from scratch, but there are ways to cope with that. Buy second hand stuff when you can and reach out to friends with kids, they are likely holding onto baby items and looking to donate to a good cause — you can be that cause. On the bright side, being unemployed and at home has allowed me to listen to my body and slow down when I need to. It has given me time to process everything instead of trying to multitask a job, a husband, two active dogs, a complicated pregnancy, and a pandemic. Sure we’ve had to cut back on costs and think more about budgeting, but being at home has given me more time to write in my blog which helps me have a healthy outlet when I feel lonely or the need to vent when no one is around (which is a lot) and its given me endless time to bond with my daughter in ways that working moms probably don’t get as much time to do. This, to me, is worth more than money.
Any woman who has been pregnant during the last two years can probably relate to each other in a different way than those moms that came before us. Being alone all the time with your thoughts while your body is going through such incredible changes can be hard. I have found that joining online support groups can be helpful, but can also cause some unnecessary stress if you fall too deep into the rabbit hole. Using apps like these should be used like any other social media platform — in moderation. I have found that for every supportive mom online who is looking to comfort you and relate to your struggle, there is a hormonal psychopath just waiting to amplify your worries more. Choose what you post and read into, wisely.
Some other ways I have chosen to cope with the mental struggles of pregnancy are by being active. Take good advantage of your second trimester ladies, because it is true what they say — it really was the best part for me. You feel more active, you feel more beautiful, your appetite returns, you begin to show which is always exciting, and hopefully by that point your first trimester struggles are just a short but distant memory of the past. I’ve found that a daily half an hour walk with my dogs at the park was the difference between a mental breakdown or a great day. It gave me independence and it felt like solid “me time” which is super important during pregnancy. Sometimes being pregnant can begin to feel like its all about the baby, or the in-laws, or the never ending list of things to do. Remembering to put yourself first is hugely important. It’s also good to be totally honest with yourself and with others around you about what you need and when you need it. I am the type of person that doesn’t always find it easy to ask for help. The feminist in me hates to admit it, but I like being a homemaker. I enjoy providing for my husband. I like cooking, I take pride in a clean home, and I enjoy caring for our two dogs and seeing them content and happy. I like managing things but the further along I get (31 weeks today) the less I feel inclined to do anything, and being able to ask for help when I’m feeling this way is crucial. Your birth partner whether it is your spouse or anyone else, should be okay with you coming to them for help when you need it. If they aren’t — I suggest finding a new birth partner.
Some other helpful tips for managing stress, especially if you are like me and aren’t working during your pregnancy, is to find your rhythm and routine. Some people thrive on this and while I understand that not everybody does, I personally have found it very soothing to live a bit more predictably lately. Whether its setting aside time for a daily bath, daily walk, cooking dinner, or some other way to timestamp your day so that you feel like you are accomplishing something, I think thats a good thing. It is easy to stay in bed all day especially when you feel tired or depressed but its healthy to try and maintain some type of normalcy. Luckily for me my dogs won’t really allow me to stay stagnant for too long. Another tip — get a dog! But maybe hold off until you’re past the newborn/postpartum phase.
If you do feel like your anxiety is getting the best of you and you have tried all the tricks and tips in the book its always good to seek help whether it is from another mom, family, friend or from a professional. I reach out to my mom friends all the time with questions and concerns and they’re always there for me. It truly is like being a part of something bigger than you — the mom tribe. There is no shame in admitting you are going through the motions because pregnancy is a bumpy ride and any other mother will understand that. Husbands (if you’re straight) are great for a lot of things but often men don’t understand the mental struggles that women face while growing another human inside of them. It would be like us trying to understand how it feels to be kicked in the balls. We just can’t. For me, I find writing calms me down and helps me return to centre when life throws curveballs, not so much when I have questions or concerns, just when I am feeling some kind of way especially during my pregnancy — it helps me cope. Sometimes its good to just get it all out on paper whether publicly in a blog or privately in a journal. Whatever you choose it’s your personal choice. You do you, mama.
To all the moms whether you are soon to be mom, first time mom, second time mom, or eighth time mom — I salute you and am proud to be apart of this elite group of females.