How I’m Balancing My Pregnancy While Coping With Depression and Anxiety
Here is your fair warning that this is a very TMI article. Like… way too graphic for me to be comfortable with my coworkers or ex’s reading. I will also be discussing mental health, body image, projectile vomiting, and medications. These are all difficult things to write about. But I want to share my honest experience about expecting for the first time, while also balancing my own mental health struggles.
Yes, I would consider myself at an advantage over most struggling with mental illness. I managed to build myself a
great exceptional career, we own a home, and my husband has gradually built his own successes. From the outside, it really looks like we have it all. Looking back at the few photos I have from my first trimester, it’s difficult to understand how the person in these images could have possibly been struggling. But I did, greatly. And I kept it to myself. After much back and forth, I’ve decided that I want to be candid about my pregnancy experience in case it can help anyone else.
It’s not my intention to discourage anyone from becoming pregnant. It would be fair to say most people have their own struggles around the topic of children, whether it’s physical, mental, financial, or otherwise. Obviously, I survived the first trimester and am thriving now! Looking back, a lot of what I struggled with was simply due to me not being aware or prepared to ask for help. But it certainly wasn’t all bad. So here are the good, the not-so-good, and the TMI of my first trimester.
The Good: Unexpected Support
As a somewhat introverted and independent person, I had planned to handle most of the baby prep myself. (Picture: multiple, itemized spreadsheets. Yes, I actually did this.) I had mapped out everything baby could need, from Vitamin D drops to chord blood banking. But what I hadn’t considered at all was the support that I desperately needed. And I couldn’t bring myself to ask for it. I didn’t think I deserved it. You see, I’m not great at pumping myself up or giving myself mental support. When I struggle or feel overwhelmed, I turn inwards and start blaming myself.
So it was a wonderful surprise how many people around me immediately showered me with encouragement and offered to help out.
My husband and his family have been a blessing. And even my own family reacted in a far more supportive way than I had anticipated. I didn’t know that I needed to hear kind words and gestures of support until I felt them and saw the change in myself. Especially as I was starting to feel physically miserable. But we’ll get into those details later.
Takeaway: Surround yourself with a hype team! Know that you absolutely don’t have to tolerate behaviour that hurts you. And don’t be afraid to express how you’re truly feeling, especially to other moms. They’ll get it.
Mental Health Tip: People are quick to share their birth horror stories. I was quick to shut these down, as I just mentally could not handle it. I would be honest with people and say “sorry, I’m already super nervous and terrified of something awful happening. I can’t handle that story right now.” and everyone (so far) has been respectful of that.
The Good: Doulas are Awesome!
I’m not going to pretend like this was some epiphany that I had on my own. Many women have spoken about the benefits of working with a doula. Doulas are especially helpful in the third trimester, during birth, and post-partum. For someone as unsure and overwhelmed as myself, they have been a blessing even in the first trimester. A doula will actively listen to you and calmly address your needs in a caring but professional way. If you are giving birth at a hospital, she will actively advocate for you while you’re in labour and throughout your delivery.
Unless you live in Sweden, there is a cost for working with doulas. For me, this investment was worth it for my peace of mind and as an extension of the above-mentioned hype team. It’s worth noting that the recent pandemic seems like it may have shifted how doulas serve the public. The “remote doula” model actually makes them more available and cheaper! Our doula team even set up a group chat for my husband and me. We are able to shoot them a quick message anytime we have a question or concern. We have several remote birthing classes in my third trimester plus lactation and sleep consultations after the baby is born. Many doulas are offering different pricing tiers depending on the level of in-person work you’re hoping for. We opted to pay extra for our doula to be there in person during birth.
Takeaway: A doula may be a worthwhile investment for your own peace of mind. She will be your best advocate during your pregnancy, labour, birth, and post-partum.
The Good: Being Able to Continue with Antidepressants
I was pleasantly surprised to get the green light to continue with my SSRI prescription throughout my pregnancy! Back in 2020, I was diagnosed with high-functioning depression, chronic anxiety, and PTSD. The thought of letting go of this life-changing medication had me panicking about my ability to cope. But I was also very concerned about how SSRIs could affect my baby.
This is a topic to discuss with your doctor, mental health coach, and midwife or doula. Get a variety of perspectives. I had wrongly assumed that I would need to stop taking the prescription during pregnancy and breastfeeding. My doctor outlined the pros and cons for me. He also informed me that the brand I take is approved for safe use throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. For those on higher dosages, there is the option to reduce your dose.
Basically, the way that it was explained to me by my doctor, my therapist, and my doulas, is that it’s safer for the baby that the mother is mentally stable. Going off SSRIs typically leads to depressive episodes and other side effects that can impact both the mother and baby’s health. This makes a lot of sense since there’s a strong correlation between a mother’s stress and emotions on developing babies. Thankfully, I was given the go-ahead to safely continue with my prescription.
Takeaway: The choice that I made may not be the right choice for you. And I’ll admit it was a difficult one! If you are also on medication for a mental health condition, talk it over with professionals. Ideally, before you become pregnant.
The Not-So-Good: Overplanning and Nursery Anxiety
I’m an over-planner. Shocking, right? Overplanning is a double-edged sword. In some areas it serves me well. In other scenarios, it cripples me. By week 3 of my pregnancy, I had tediously put together three excel sheets, one for the things I
absolutely had to er, thought I needed to address each trimester. Don’t do this to yourself.
Newborns need very little. They mainly need a safe place to sleep and your loving attention. Just focus on your necessary medical appointments and maintaining good health. A car seat and maybe a breast pump are good investments. Beyond that, most nursery-related things can wait. It’s recommended that babies sleep in the same room as the parents for their first 6 – 12 months anyway.
Takeaway: Unless you plan to spend your days and nights in the nursery, don’t wear yourself out over this space. Baby just needs you and a few essentials!
The Not-So-Good: Obsessing Over Body Changes
Full disclosure: I have been wanting a fuller chest for my entire life. You would think now that I finally have one, I’d be thrilled, right? Well for some reason I wasn’t. I wasn’t thrilled about anything happening to my body. Not in the slightest. If I’m being completely honest and transparent, I’ve struggled with body dysmorphia and even eating disorders in the past. So once my stomach started changing, my self-confidence took a horrific nose-dive. And let’s be honest, I don’t have heaps of self-confidence as it is. So this was bad for me. And everyone around me.
I refused to let friends and family take photos of me. Though I am super thankful that I did snap a few candids during this period, which are the photos that I’m sharing in this article. Gradually, I lost interest in any type of social interaction. I was disappointed in myself for ‘allowing’ any type of change in my body. (Makes no sense for a pregnant lady, right?) In reality, I didn’t even look pregnant and the change wasn’t significant. It was all in my head.
Mental health is a topic I’ve increasingly spoken about, both in my private life and on social media. This was yet another face of my poor mental health. And it had to be addressed. My husband was my absolute rock through this very difficult period of self-doubt. I needed constant reassurance that I wasn’t somehow messing up my health or my pregnancy. I can’t imagine how annoying this must have been for him, but I’m thankful that I had someone who I could trust and confide in to help me through it.
Takeaway: Remember that hype group from Takeaway 1? Yeah, let them handle any self-doubt you may be feeling. They will steer you clear of self-criticism.
The TMI: The Constipation
This was potentially the worst part of my first trimester. Simply because I was completely clueless about constipation, no one had told me to expect it, and it hurt a lot! The flood of hormones during pregnancy is to blame for sudden changes in your digestive track … and beyond. I’d never experienced constipation before, so I really didn’t know what I was feeling. Was it cramps? Is this a normal thing? I didn’t know how to treat something without identifying it first.
It wasn’t until I was deep in some pregnancy forums that I began hearing murmurs of constipation being an un-spoken pregnancy side effect. In my first trimester, was struggling to finish even a small glass of water. But I soon learned that this was the key to clearing my sluggish system. Make sure your diet includes plant-based fibres too. I know this is easier said than done if you’re dealing with food aversion, but give it an honest try!
Takeaway: Plenty of water or non-caffeinated tea is your friend. Once I increased my water intake, things became less painful for me.
Nausea and Constipation Tip: Melons contain lots of water and fibre! Snacking on watermelon was a breakthrough for me when I couldn’t handle anything else. Because melons have a somewhat subtle taste, I think most pregnant people can incorporate them as a snack. And, as I eventually learned, an empty stomach just makes nausea worse. It’s better to have a small amount of something in your tummy than nothing at all! So try to find light fruits that don’t make you queasy.
The TMI: Texture-Induced Vomiting and Scent Sensitivity
Before becoming pregnant, I had heard plenty about generalized nausea and smell aversion. But I was shocked that just the sight of something slimy, like pudding, a snail in the garden, or mayonnaise would, without warning, have me spewing my stomach contents. I don’t think this affects everyone because most women I spoke to only mentioned smell-related sickness. But I found visual triggers to be just as powerful as scent triggers!
In my 2nd month, our cat vomited a small puddle of slimy bile in front of me. (A very normal occurrence that I’ve dealt with for 12 years.) However, on this day, my stomach instantly flipped upward and I had to run to the toilet. Combined with general nausea, smell sensitivity, and constipation, I was miserable most days. I tried to tough it out through one of my in-laws’ BBQs. As a plate of steamy red meat made its appearance, I nearly recreated that Exorcist scene right at their kitchen table. This fateful day, I realized enough was enough. My body was in far too sensitive of a state to keep pushing myself to act “normal.” This was about survival! And not about trying to be “tough” so that my pregnancy didn’t *gasp* disrupt others.
Takeaway: Notice the pattern and try to be proactive about avoiding your triggers. This may mean skipping or limiting social events that involve lots of food.
Nausea Tip: I did end up getting a prescription for nausea from my OBGYN. This helped quite a bit but I only took it as needed.
The Bright Side…
Halfway through my pregnancy, it was like a switch flipped inside my brain. I was no longer plagued by doubt and self-criticism. At 22 weeks pregnant, I feel confident and, dare I say, stronger? My stomach, while cramped for space, is feeling significantly better too. Now I look back at these struggles and realize how much kinder I should have been to myself. This is my first time doing anything like this and I was battling with my inner demons at the same time!
I hope that sharing some of my struggles prevents you from making the same mistakes that I did. And don’t forget: while you may be doing the majority of the pregnancy work inside your body, it takes an external support team to get you through to birth and beyond successfully.
There is zero shame in asking for help or just an active, sympathetic listener during your pregnancy. I couldn’t explain why I felt it was too taboo to tell others what I was going through… but eventually I realized that sharing my truth was the only way to get what I needed: security, confidence, and clarity. I encourage you to reach out to your hype team! No matter what obstacle you’re faced with, these people will have your back.
Random First Trimester Tip: I rekindled my love for graphic horror movies during my first trimester. There was something about the nail-biting suspense that really distracted my brain from everything else that was going on. Throat-ripping zombies? Yes please! Paranormal hauntings? Give me all of them. At least I’ll be too busy being slightly terrified (and fully entertained) to notice how upset my stomach is.
Do you have any pregnancy tips to share? Comment down below.