I’m 20 weeks pregnant, and I’m suffering with anxiety. I’ve had anxiety for a long time so it’s nothing new, but I can’t stop convincing myself that something is going to go wrong. In fact, I can’t wait for the nine months to be over, so I can stop panicking and just enjoy being a mum. It stems from past trauma, which has left me with health anxiety.
In January 2015, I underwent emergency surgery to have my large intestine removed, after it perforated due to ulcerative colitis. It had gone undiagnosed, and I had been misdiagnosed for over a year, with doctors dismissing me at every appointment. My severe weight loss was an eating disorder. My rectal bleeding was a period. My horrendous stomach cramps were my ovaries. My flare ups were gastroenteritis. It didn’t matter how many times I begged them to listen to me and to take me seriously, to them I was just an overdramatic teen. Until I nearly died.
With my bowel perforating, I was given just twenty minutes to live without emergency surgery to remove the large bowel entirely. I was given a stoma bag for 10 months before having it reversed to allow me to go to the toilet ‘normally’ again – but the whole ordeal has scarred me for life, and has affected me mentally.
Ever since, I have been paranoid about my health and being misdiagnosed. I go to the doctor’s way more often than I should and I’m never satisfied with their answers. I’m always convinced there’s an issue underlying, and I’m scared of falling seriously ill again because something has been missed.
“Over the past couple of years, I have panicked about having mouth cancer, a brain tumour, throat cancer, meningitis and sepsis”
Over the past couple of years, I have panicked about having mouth cancer, a brain tumour, throat cancer, meningitis and sepsis. Each time I manage to get myself into a state and my tiny, non-harmful symptoms become massive and I convince myself there’s something wrong.
I have sought therapy and I have learned coping mechanisms to help me relax and trust medical professionals more, but since getting pregnant, the anxiety is back with a vengeance. In 20 weeks, I have had six scans, when most women will have had just one by now. I will panic something is going, go for a (costly) private scan where I will see my baby happy and healthy, and I feel better, but the comfort doesn’t last long. A few days later I will panic again, stuck in an endless cycle of anxiety and reassurance-seeking.
I worry about every little symptom, every stomach cramp. If my morning sickness lessens. If I get a headache. If I don’t sleep properly. I punish myself for small, harmless mistakes because I am so scared of affecting my unborn child. It’s a tiring, constant feeling of guilt – like I’m not good enough for my own child, that I’m letting them down even though they’re not even here yet.
I’ve spent so much time on Google reading about symptoms and on Mumsnet asking for advice and other people’s experiences. I’ve even joined Facebook pregnancy groups just to be able to ask questions. I’m a first-time mum and I’m so scared of messing up. I’m so scared of doctors messing up. I’m terrified that something is going to happen to my baby that will be missed, that could have been helped had it been caught sooner.
I know it’s a horrible way to think but I’ve been let down so badly by medical professionals in the past that I just can’t trust them anymore. I understand maternity is a totally different thing to bowel health, but I can’t shake the doubt.
And I’m used to my body failing too. After losing my bowel, I was told I would need IVF to conceive due to the severe amount of scar tissue. But this pregnancy was unplanned, and happened naturally, and I’m left with another reason to wait for something to go wrong. Surely something good can’t happen to me, medically? Surely my body is going to find a way to let me down?
I wish I could just stop worrying. I wish I could settle and just enjoy pregnancy. I wish I could stop focusing on the what ifs. If only I could stop thinking ‘What if this goes wrong?’ and start thinking ‘What if this goes right?’.
I find myself even scared to speak out about it. I worry that anyone who listens to my over-excessive worrying will think I’m a bad mum. That I’m not capable. That I’m not ready. And I know there are other women out there who feel the same, but who also fear speaking out and seeking help for the same reasons.
“I don’t expect to just wake up tomorrow and stop worrying, but I do hope that some day, that day will eventually come”
But I have made the decision to speak to my midwife and ask her for more support. To express my concerns. To explain what’s going on. Because I know that for my own mental wellbeing and for my baby, it’s important. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long, but I’ve been scared of judgement. But I know I have to bite the bullet and forget about that now, and focus on what’s best for me and my child.
I know it’ll take some time to deal with my fears. With the medical trauma I’ve experienced, they’re not going to go away over night. I don’t expect to just wake up tomorrow and stop worrying, but I do hope that some day, that day will eventually come. I dream of a worry-free pregnancy, and I hope with some support I will be able to decrease the panic day by day, until one day I’m waking up and the first thing I think about is how lucky I am to be carrying my unborn child, instead of panicking about things that are out of my control.
Hattie Gladwell is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @hatttiegladwell
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