SHAME and GUILT in Motherhood

Nicole of @ourrobinsnest and her family

I was never one to get ‘baby fever’ or even know when it was a good time to have a baby.

My husband and I knew we wanted to have a family. We were not sure when it would be a good time to start trying. Who is ever financially ready to start a family? We weren’t for sure. I told myself we should at least start trying so by the time it happened, we would be mentally prepared. Surprisingly, I became pregnant right away, but I did not find out the ‘normal’ way by peeing on a stick and seeing a smiley face. I was unable to surprise my husband with a cute note and balloons when he came home from work or utilize any of the other ideas I had been saving from Pinterest for the past year or so.

Instead, I found out I was 10 weeks pregnant while visiting my doctor because I was ‘not feeling well’. After describing my symptoms to my doctor, I took a pregnancy test and she concluded I may be having a miscarriage. I was sent to my gynecologist in order to confirm. During the 10 weeks of not knowing I was pregnant, I had a sudden increase in my anxiety. I was already taking medication to control my anxiety, so my doctor suggested I increase my dosage. When we went to my Gynecologist and learned I was not only 10 weeks pregnant, but the bleeding I was experiencing had to do with my placenta and it was somehow completely normal. No wonder I never thought anything of it!

Unfortunately excitement was not the first emotion I felt. It was a mixture of emotions and not to mention the severe morning sickness I started to develop. I did not have that time to ‘prepare’ like I wanted to. I told myself, “I should feel lucky and blessed to have conceived a child so quickly”, but instead fear took over my body. I started second guessing myself and thought maybe I was not ready for this huge life change. What I found even more alarming was I had been taking anti- anxiety medication the first 10 weeks of being pregnant. Scary words were thrown at me like birth defects, abnormalities and death. After completing many tests and ultrasound visits to make sure everything was ok with my son, I still could not feel excited about all which was happening. I was still nervous he was not okay and I was nervous because I could not take my regular medication to control my anxiety. I felt guilty for taking the medication and for the first time, I was angry at myself for ever taking medication to begin with. It was my fault for putting my son at risk and it would be my fault if something happened to him. Since I was not fully prepared about getting pregnant so quickly and then told I was having a miscarriage, the emotional roller coaster started way sooner than I ever would have expected.

I put my faith in the internet and all of the pregnancy forums to help me get through this.

Reading and scrolling through different forums to get some insight was a HUGE mistake, especially the ones where they were not monitored well. Other pregnant women who seemed to be in the same boat as me pleaded for help and advice from fellow mothers and they all got shot down. Seeing other women get shamed and bashed due to the horrible stigma of mental health was heartbreaking not to mention it triggered my anxiety even more. I turned to friends and family for advice on what to do. The people who never experienced anxiety, were not able to help and made me feel worse. I got the typical response “Why are you so upset? This is a happy time and you should be so excited.” or “Be thankful you were able to get pregnant so easily.” Then the people who have experienced anxiety, I refused to believe them when they told me “You will be okay”. I dismissed them. No one has ever felt how I felt. I am sure they have experienced anxiety but not like this, this was something different. I didn’t want to be pregnant anymore, I didn’t want to have intrusive thoughts anymore and I sure as hell did not want to have suicidal thoughts.

When I went to see my Gynecologist for one of my checkups, I told him I was experiencing severe anxiety and intrusive thoughts. I literally watched him rolls his eyes at me, like “Oh God, not another one” type of look. He then said to me he doesn’t do ‘that’ and I need to talk to a psychiatrist if I am thinking about going on medication. He then took his smart phone out and Googled medications that were supposed to be safe for pregnancy. He wrote down a few medications, handed it to me and told me to lay off eating pizza and sent me along my way. Um, what!?!? There were so many things wrong with this situation on all different levels. He did not care about my mental health and seemed to be more concerned about what I ate.

Also for the record, anyone who tells me that I cannot eat pizza does not belong in my life.

My anxiety became so bad that by the end of my second trimester I decided that counseling was not enough and needed to be put back on medication. It was a few more weeks until I started to get my anxiety under control with medication. My psychiatrist was supportive and although he did not specialize in perinatal anxiety and/or depression, he made sure my son and I were safe with what he prescribed. I also found supportive midwives who did not judge me and helped me build confidence throughout the rest of my pregnancy. I continued to take medication and had to make the ultimate decision if I was going to breastfeed or not. I made my decision based on both mine and my son’s needs. I learned to tell myself if I am not healthy to care for him, then he will not be healthy. I continued my medication even when my psychiatrist called me late one night to tell me he read a new study saying some antidepressants are linked to Autism. Of course I was on one of those medications, but after some more research and massive support from my husband, I didn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t know how to handle these situations if I felt the way I did during my first trimester. Since I became emotionally stable and could think rationally, I was able to trust myself to make the best decisions for me and my entire family.

My son is 4 years old and I still go to regular counseling and continue medication management. I will often stare at my son and analyze all of his moves to see how he is developing. Sometimes in the back of my head I will tell myself he is meeting his developmental milestones now, but he will have problems in the future. Unfortunately I have not been able to forgive myself 100%, but I am working on it. Who knows when I will be able to forgive myself or how I will react to situations in the future, but I know I am doing the best I can. Thankfully, I discovered some resources that helped me and hopefully can help mothers in need.

Postpartum Support International provided me with such helpful resources including a helpline, 1-800- 944-4773. I have been co- leader for their fundraiser Climb Out of The Darkness for 3 years. Climb Out of The Darkness is the world’s largest event raising funds and awareness for the mental health of new families. I have also volunteered to be a peer support for mothers who have had similar situations as me with PSI. I am also a member of Mom Congress, the U.S. mother’s rights membership organization that is addressing the most pressing policy issues of motherhood including what we call the “motherload” (the stress that U.S. mothers carry, at higher rates than other developed countries). I can go down the list of the choices that I have made throughout my pregnancy and after my son was born, and I am sure I would get criticized for some of them.

I love my son more than anything and the fact that I am trying my best makes me a good mother. I choose to not regret any of my decisions or choices I have made and I refuse to let anyone change that. Shame and guilt will not ruin motherhood for me and I will continue to support and not criticize others on the choices they make. There is no right or wrong way to do things throughout pregnancy and motherhood if it involves your love.

Follow Nicole on IG: @ourrobinsnest and on her site at: Our Robins Nest

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