A thirty six year old woman, waddling around with minimal energy, a mountain of extra chub and a little less patience… Yes, this is me at present. After seventeen years, I’m now having another bash at pregnancy having found my life partner. A huge age gap between children, you may believe, but, a blessing nevertheless.
Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s all hearts and flowers, ribbons and balloons. It is definitely harder having a child/being pregnant at some what more of a mature age; I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Some may disagree, but based on my own experience and after speaking with other’s, this is my truth. Mix that with growing a child in your womb during a global pandemic, with lockdown restrictions in place and limited support due to not seeing family, and friends and you have an emotional woman about to combust. Having joined an amazing app called ‘Peanut’, I now know I’m not the only one.
Given I’m a woman who is already emotionally sensitive at the best of times, I’ve endured extreme physical and mental pain throughout my pregnancy journey so I think it’s important to highlight the stages of sufferance in the hope that others are made aware of certain pregnancy facts and understand my journey. Now, the rest of this post is sensitive and I would advise anyone who may be affected, to not read further if they’re unable to.
Those closest to me and some social media friends, are aware that I sadly endured a twin miscarriage due to Sepsis which was brought on by a UTI, back in 2018. As a result, I nearly lost my own life in the process. At the time, I felt frustrated and neglected by medical professionals, because of the lack of investigation enforced.
A woman’s intuition, although dangerous at times, is a reliable source for identifying when something is wrong in our own body. I didn’t feel right, I knew this… ‘they’ didn’t listen. Having already miscarried the first twin, I was told there was a viable pregnancy still there but that I had a bleed in the womb, which is called a hematoma. The nurse informed me that I would most likely miscarry. Great! Lovely news. Following that appointment, I then began to feel generally unwell. I constantly called the midwife and was told I’d already been scanned showing a second viable pregnancy and because of this, would have to wait for another scan date. This was to be three weeks later. I then suffered infection symptoms and was told to attend as an outpatient at the maternity ward for examination. Despite telling nurses I felt really unwell, including pain in the right flank and kidney area, and other UTI symptoms , no bloods were taken, nor were blood cultures taken when I suffered a heavy bleed on the visitors ward. Instead, I was sent home with a course of antibiotics. Unfortunately, unbeknown at the time, the problem was already escalating and on May 31st I attended a scan where I was informed the second pregnancy wasn’t viable. In its place, my womb was full of blood clots. I was advised to have surgery to remove any tissue; I refused. Again, my instincts told me no. My instincts were right, because later that night, I was rushed to hospital with severe infection symptoms and told after two days of being admitted to hospital and on an IV of antibiotics, that it was Sepsis blood poisoning likely brought on by a UTI. Had I of gone through with the surgery the day before to remove tissue, my uterus would’ve been perforated due to how sensitive it was. Had blood cultures been done when I was treated for the UTI, the Sepsis would’ve possibly been detected.
I spent four days in hospital being fed medicine and bits of information here and there, only to be told on my return consultation that had I of been admitted thirty minutes later, it may have been fatal.
Now with all due respect to the NHS, who I happen to think do a marvellous job the majority of the time, unfortunately failed me during this time because they refused to LISTEN. Only when I was treated by my chosen hospital, Durham University Hospital, did I get the correct treatment and answers.
So you see, my faith in pregnancy care had been scarred from this experience. I suffered post-Sepsis syndrome as a result of it all which had a profound effect on my physical and mental health; it took two months to fully recover. However, shortly after finding out on Valentine’s Day of this year, that my partner and I, were expecting our own child, it triggered a form of Post-Traumatic Stress.
A time that should’ve been filled with so much joy -don’t get me wrong, we certainly celebrated, Rob more than me - was clouded by a darkness and anxiety over it possibly happening again. So, you can imagine the mental torture when I arrived at work one day to find I was bleeding…
Having arrived at A&E at Sunderland Hospital where I was initially examined by the most miserable of triage nurses, we were told I’d have to attend the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit the following morning. So we did. We were told there was a hematoma just outside the gestation sac but not to worry. Easy to say when it was like history repeating itself, only last time they straight up told me to worry and that I was high risk for miscarriage. It was hard for Rob to understand as he didn’t have the past experience to compare and took the news as the best possible outcome. I began to… slowly.
As the weeks of the first trimester moved forward, I suffered extreme anxiety, constant crying and low moods, teamed with intense frustration because no one understood how I felt or what I was experiencing. Then we were hit with the dreaded news… COVID-19!!! Lockdown had arrived. Tensions and emotions were heightened even more as we had to take precautions to ensure the safety of the baby, my daughter and Robs son. This meant that we went over a month without seeing our kids. It certainly didn’t help matters and quite honestly caused many arguments, simply due to the fact that we couldn’t communicate because neither person understood the situation or their own feelings in order to explain it to the other. I cannot express the mixed emotions I felt around this time; loneliness, frustration, a lack of understanding and support. Obviously over time, this only heightened pregnancy emotions. We were then hit with external stressors, my working hours were reducing and I was falling deeply into depression. At the time though, I didn’t recognise this was the case and continuously vented at those closest to me… mainly Rob. I began thinking in ways that I wouldn’t normally and didn’t feel like I was getting the support I needed even though the support was there. I was overwhelmed, embarrassed and feeling guilty that I was struggling too. I felt extremely alone and would cry in the shower. Sleep deprivation and running around after our dog became major things to contend with on top of everything else. Now, given sleep deprivation is a fundamental trigger for depression, you can imagine the intensity of exhaustion and stress that accompanied this during pregnancy, when you need to ensure more sleep and rest than usual.
Every time we attended a scan - well, we booked numerous private scans for reassurance, to settle my anxiety, and also because Rob wasn’t allowed to attend the hospital scans or appointments with me - I felt relief at seeing our baby on the monitor. I cried - and still do - every time; I would shake with nerves and swallow down panic attacks. But, eventually, the anxiety began to ease over whether all was okay. Deep into the second trimester, however, the physical symptoms started.
I was about to enter a meeting with a colleague on a certain day, when I started to feel strange… lightheaded, nauseous and anxious. I stepped outside for fresh air and it made me worse. I came back inside, sat at the dining table, said to Rob, ‘I really don’t feel well’, then nothing. I blacked out. Luckily, Rob was there to grab my head whilst he called for an ambulance. The paramedics entered, examined me then told us my blood pressure was worryingly low and after I’d answered a few questions, we were informed it was the result of suffering a tummy bug. Even though I’d been drinking copious amounts of water/juice and had the advised portion of dry toast instructed by the GP, my body was still dehydrated and low on everything else. Nee Nor Nee Nor! I was driven to Sunderland Hospital much to my disapproval. Rob wasn’t allowed to attend and therefore, I sat wired up to a drip until the bag of fluids were in my blood stream on my own, freaking out in case I caught COVID. It took a while but eventually my blood pressure regulated and I was sent home to rest.
A few more weeks went by and stress didn’t subside. I was a nightmare. Emotions all over, paranoid, low moods and extremely anxious over anything and everything. The fear that something would go wrong encapsulated me. If I’m honest, I still worry. I kept thinking bad things were going to happen. I felt like I had no one to talk to who could even begin to understand. I wanted constant attention in order to reassure me that I was important and was supported but at the same time, blamed my supportive boyfriend for how I was feeling. It was hard.
Then… physical symptoms started again. I began seeing more grey clouds in my vision (I’ve always suffered), sparks of light, having headaches and feeling pain in my sides which immediately worried me. Do I have another kidney infection? Am I going to die? What if I can’t carry full term? Were a few of the questions that ran through my head. Off I popped to the hospital again. I was examined in the Pregnancy Assessment Unit at Durham University Hospital after they advised me to go straight down because of the symptoms. They further advised that I may of been suffering from Preeclampsia. Yet, when the vitals were taken, I had no temperature and my blood pressure was fine. Phew!!! Then the midwife came in and told me I was suffering from extreme mental exhaustion. I was ordered to go home and rest. In my mind I was thinking, ‘it’s okay you saying that, I don’t find it that easy to just nod off’. A few days later my blood tests came back (I’d had them done too, at the time) and they had shown that I was anaemic. Acutely. A prescription of iron tablets was issued which I’m still taking now. It seems, when you’re already suffering from exhaustion and heightened emotions, a severely low iron count only enhances all feelings that are linked to those. So, there we had it, or so we thought… a reason for my mindset, behaviour and physical ailments.
Something I’ve also been taking advantage of through this pregnancy, is a talking therapy, even though it’s become a weekly hour where I just get to offload with no therapeutic structure in place. It has helped slightly though. But, I needed help. I was lost in my own mind; I was not okay. After a few sessions of this, alongside intense research and speaking with other people and professionals, it’s been discussed that I’m suffering from what is now called Prenatal Depression (Antenatal Depression). Something not a lot of people have heard of - I certainly hadn’t - but equally something that can escalate to Postnatal Depression, if left untreated. It certainly explained a lot about how I had been feeling and how when my iron count was dramatically low, I was easily triggered. I’ve done a mass of research on this and now understand myself, my situation and all pregnancy related topics with more clarity. It’s not a shock after so much stress, but it has certainly helped me having a label (not that I’m obsessed with labels) on it. Given it’s World Mental Health day today, I wanted it to be the day I come forward about this. Statistically, although many women suffer emotionally due to hormonal changes when pregnant, globally, around 10-20% of pregnant women experience a mental disorder, which is generally linked with depression. ‘Historically, there has been a lack of integrated physical and mental health care for women during pregnancy and in the weeks and months following birth, and a lack of specialist perinatal mental health services to support women who become unwell.’ (4. Perinatal mental health, 2020.)
I certainly could - and can - relate, as I felt I reached out for helped and didn’t receive the correct amount of care. Now, I understand that lockdown has prevented the NHS from delivering the same amount of service, but the system in place for pregnant women, in my experience, did not deliver. I have felt a little failed, judged and without the help I quite clearly needed.
Luckily, I was able to self-manage and with time, as the pregnancy progressed, I understood more to the extent where my moods and erratic thinking mellowed. Not everyone is as lucky though.
For the last several weeks I’ve been in a much better place, Rob has, and is, being a Godsend to me and deserves a medal. We’ve decorated our baby girl’s bedroom and the house; my beautiful daughter Grace and cousin Alisha threw me a wonderful baby shower in the theme of Alice in Wonderland (fitting eh?). We’ve attended our 4D scan, three growth scans, and Little Miss Smith is progressing amazingly and she loves to tickle my ribs with her toes now and then. With two weeks to go, we’re excited and can’t wait to welcome our blessing to this poor world. I say poor, as it’s in desperate need of some light at the minute.
I will say this though… having been caged up with no physical or visual in person contact with loved ones due to the pandemic, it has affected me greatly. Much so, that when attending the baby shower, my nerves had me shaking and on the verge of panic attack for fear of catching the virus, but also because I’d been away from people that long, I was worried about my size, how I looked, how long I’d be able to sit in a public place without going crazy etc etc. You name it I felt it. It’s been hard enough enduring what I have in this pregnancy, but having to experience pregnancy, a time of joy and life, whilst under the claustrophobic nationwide circumstances, it’s only heightened all stress. Rob and I, have come to the decision of no more children after this, mainly because of the unprecedented times, but also because I cannot endure another pregnancy when we live in so much uncertainty. I will welcome my body and mind back, then enjoy the beautiful bundle we have created as she sprinkles her glow everywhere.
I urge everyone to reach out. I certainly feel during this time, that I didn’t receive the care and attention I needed from professions when I sought help, but I most definitely received the right amount from family and friends. Talk! No matter how ‘crazy’ your thought process may seem, you are not alone, just not everyone talks about it, but it’s when we don’t, that inner demons win. I’m so very grateful for waking up this morning and I’m grateful to those around me who have shown nothing but patience.
Thank you for reading and I hope this post shows other pregnant women or people suffering with mental health during lockdown, that they aren’t alone. Please feel free to contact with any questions, or if you’d like to share your own experience, I welcome that too!
Please find the below links informative:
GOV.UK. 2020. 4. Perinatal Mental Health. [Online] Available at: <http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/better-mental-health-jsna-toolkit/4-perinatal-mental-health> [Accessed 10 October 2020]