Anxiety is a common part of life, and some mothers find it affects them more severely due to previous pregnancy problems. If you are the mother that experienced anxiety over every little twinge during pregnancy, you’ll know what I mean. If you’re the mother who seriously considered shelling out hundreds of pounds for private scans to be reassured that your unborn baby was ok, you’ll know what I mean. If you meticulously planned your pregnancy, researched every little facet, yet found no joy in the pregnancy, you’ll know what I mean.
If you’re still with me at this point, you’ll know that what I am talking about is the effect of multiple pregnancy loss on early parenting behaviour. This is not an easy topic to discuss, and comes with a trigger warning!
Miscarriage. Missed miscarriage. Infertility. Stillbirth. Ectopic pregnancy. Rainbow pregnancy
All heart-breaking. None of them are your fault. But we women do love to blame ourselves right?
It must be something I ate.
It must be because I didn’t know I was pregnant.
It must be that unpasteurized cheese I had.
It must be because I had such bad morning sickness.
You know, the truth is – bad things sometimes happen to good people. There isn’t always a reason. But you will suddenly see about a thousand pregnant mothers around when you have miscarried or can’t conceive. You will feel delighted for them, yet secretly hate yourself a little bit more. There is something about struggling with achieving your own pregnancy that makes seeing pregnant women unbelievably hard. Seeing mothers with newborns is strangely slightly easier. I don’t know why. Part of the grieving process is to feel angry, jealous, resentful, irrational and bitter. No, it’s not healthy, but it is normal to feel all kinds of crazy things when we are in the midst of personal crisis or despair.
I remember with a certain amount of residual pain and sadness several years ago after I had just lost an ectopic pregnancy and was struggling to conceive. Every time we fell pregnant, I would miscarry. I remember feeling so resentful and hopeless. Every positive pregnancy test filled me with panic: Would this be the one? Would I get excited only to experience the crushing loss of miscarriage again? It seemed better to not hope, and expect the worst.
One day, after a particularly bad miscarriage, I was driving down the high street for some trivial reason. I was under no time pressure, and there was no reason to rush. An elderly gentleman had the misfortune to be driving in front of me about 15mph under the speed limit. I became absolutely incensed with rage. I drove right up near his rear bumper and started flashing my lights. I sounded my horn and gesticulated wildly, screaming at him from inside my car. My blood pressure must have been through the roof I was so stressed out and angry. I am not proud of any of this. After a while the poor man turned off and I sobbed and sobbed. I then drove my car straight to the home of my closest friend, almost on autopilot.
So friends, I get it. Every bit of it.
Of course, I eventually did have a healthy pregnancy, but it was a totally miserable experience from start to finish. There was no joy in the positive pregnancy test. No joy in the pregnancy symptoms. No joy in my swelling bump. I just kept on dreading the miscarriage that I presumed was inevitable. If you’ve been in this situation you’ll know what I mean by ‘obsessive knicker checking’! It’s the other baby you carry –called Anxiety, who is responsible for this.
The expectation of loss
The expectation of loss is almost worse than the loss itself. Anxiety and stress in pregnancy is utterly exhausting. Expecting to see blood, or worrying that your baby has stopped moving invades your every thought and you can become consumed by fear and depression. Very often, the fear, depression, anxiety and stress continue after birth as well.
And nobody talks about it. This compounds the feeling that you are alone in your misery and despair. But you are not!
Women in this situation become furious with their bodies.
“Why can every other woman in the world apparently manage this normal bodily process and I seem to be making a complete mess of it?’
“Why does my body keep letting me down?”
“What have I done wrong? I eat well, I take multi-vitamins, I don’t drink or smoke – what else can I do?”
Oh friend. I know. But it’s not your fault. Not at all.
It is certainly true that the effects of these horrible past events can taint your experience of the healthy pregnancy you now have, or the healthy baby you now hold.
Anxiety over labour and birth
This anxiety can creep its subtle fingers into every experience of new motherhood. Mothers who have suffered multiple losses or disappointments can yearn even more than other mothers for a natural birth. A spontaneous labour. A drug free experience. No medical intervention. You can cling onto something that is free from medicalization, scans, blood tests, IVs, examinations and charts. You want so badly for your body to not let you down again.
And sometimes women get their wish! There is not always any very good reason why some women have a drug free, intervention free birth and others do not. Personally, I suffered from the worst pelvic girdle pain (SPD) that several obstetricians have ever seen, requiring crutches from 18 weeks with both of my children. I had pre-eclampsia with my eldest, requiring an early induction of labour followed by a high-intervention birth. Not much fun, and I have learnt that emotional and psychological scars last a whole lot longer than physical ones.
So, my goodness I get it. If you are nodding, or crying, I totally get it. You are not alone friend. And did I mention that it’s not your fault? I think I did… once or twice!!
Anxiety over breastfeeding
But what has all this got to do with breastfeeding? Well, surely, after a hideous time achieving pregnancy, sustaining pregnancy, and then giving birth…. Surely something has to be straightforward – right?
Um, well, not always. You see, breastfeeding is normal and natural. Like talking, walking, having relationships. And all those other things that require PRACTICE! And CONFIDENCE! And SUPPORT! And sometimes – getting it a little bit wrong before you get it right.
Most women can breastfeed. Seriously. But that’s not to say that the ones who manage to breastfeed did not have any trouble. They just had the right support. Know that if breastfeeding has not gone brilliantly then it is unlikely to be your fault. Your brain will try to tell you that it is, after all, it had trouble managing to get or stay pregnant – of course it will struggle to nurture your baby? NO!!!!!!!!!
You swipe those damning thoughts from your mind right now! Breastfeeding is a TEAM effort. It takes you, your baby, your partner, your friends, your family, and your health care team to get it right. Any break in that chain can mean that it all falls apart. Tell yourself again – This is not my fault!
Another state of mind I come across is that many mothers worry excessively about their baby’s weight, intake and whether they have enough milk. In fact, I would go as far as to say I have never met a mother who has experienced recurrent loss who hasn’t worried about their milk supply.
If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Breastfeeding is about nurture and sustaining life. Women who have suffered recurrent loss often feel cynical about their body’s ability to sustain life, when they have seen the absolute opposite of life time and time again. Why then should breastfeeding be any different for them? Because of your baby. That’s why. Your baby is here to tell you that you can do it. You carried a healthy baby and there is no reason why you should not be able to sustain your baby after birth.
It’s almost as if you gave birth to that otherbaby – the one called ‘Anxiety”. Do not feed Anxiety, it needs to go on a diet. Anxiety is the only loss you need to welcome now.
But I get it friends. Milk supply anxiety gets most women at some time or other, but my hunch is that women who suffer loss sometimes worry more about their milk supply than anyone else.
Some practical tips
Anxiety is a normal part of life to some extent. Everybody needs to have some tricks up their sleeve for managing anxiety.
So what can you do? Well…. Firstly, know what’s normal! Understand baby behaviour. Watch my videos on YouTube to get a better understanding of how newborns operate – like this one. Search ‘Lyndsey Hookway’ to find the rest of them.
Secondly, count nappies – you’re looking for 2 poopy nappies every 24 hours up to about 4-6 weeks, and 5-6 wet nappies after about day 5.
Thirdly, develop some coping strategies for managing anxiety that bubbles up:
- Acknowledge your anxiety. Try to say it out loud, or write down where it is coming from. Articulating it rather than pretending it doesn’t exist sometimes helps
- Give the anxiety a number, from 1-10
- Try some techniques to calm down, such as deep breathing, journalling, mindfulness, guided relaxation, distraction or meditation
- Re-scale your anxiety – hopefully it’s a lower number
- Talk to someone about it. Your partner, a trusted friend or family member, an IBCLC or breastfeeding counsellor, hypnotherapist or psychotherapist can all help
And did I mention that you need support and compassion? Well you do. Lots of it.
I could go on and on about the myriad effects of loss, depression, anxiety, health problems and IVF on normal post-natal experience, but I’ll quit while I’m still vaguely ahead!
Carry on mama. You can do this. Let your baby show you how great you are at sustaining life. Do not feed that otherbaby called ‘Anxiety’. That is the baby you need to lose now.
Lyndsey Hookway is a paediatric nurse, health visitor, IBCLC, holistic sleep coach, PhD researcher, international speaker and author of 3 books. Lyndsey is also the Co-founder and Clinical Director of the Holistic Sleep Coaching Program, co-founder of the Thought Rebellion, and founder of the Breastfeeding the Brave project. Check Lyndsey’s speaker bio and talk brochure, as well as book her to speak at your event by visiting this page. All Lyndsey’s books, digital guides, courses and webinars can be purchased here, and you can also sign up for her free monthly newsletter here.