I'm gonna fill you all in on a little new mama secret: More often than not, women who suffer from anxiety throughout their pregnancy suffer from anxiety during their labor and delivery. Ground-breaking stuff right there! You. Are. Welcome.
All jokes aside, it makes complete sense, right? If you’re suffering from anxiety during your pregnancy, you’re probably not going to arrive to Labor & Delivery and suddenly feel calm, cool and collected.
Well, no one warned me about this. After 40 weeks of the most challenging, most terrifying and most emotionally exhaustive pregnancy I could have imagined, I didn’t anticipate the birth of my second child to be any different than the birth of my first (especially because I was having a repeat c-section). No, I’m not delusional (or maybe I am); I just honestly thought I would approach the birth of my son with the same sound mind that I did with my daughter.
My first pregnancy was textbook—healthy and without incident—and when I delivered my daughter via c-section in October 2014, I wasn’t overly nervous. I had an incredible doctor and was at a reputable hospital. My husband and I were “anxious” to meet our little girl, but I wasn’t nervous about the procedure. We spent the entire pre-op cracking jokes and counting down the minutes until “go time.” Sure, when I walked into the operating room, the jitters started to appear, but all in all, fairly normal stuff.
My second pregnancy wasn’t nearly as chill.
Just a little backstory on baby number two: Before I knew I was expecting, I had a hysterosalpinography (HSG), which is basically an X-ray of your uterus and fallopian tubes. The procedure is NOT intended for pregnant women, as it’s considered highly dangerous and can put the baby at considerable risk of “being washed away.” Well, about three weeks after my HSG, I found out I was pregnant—about seven weeks along.
Let’s just say, things didn’t get much easier from there. After discovering I had a rather sizeable sub chorionic hematoma that threatened the pregnancy (it’s unclear whether it was the result of the HSG), I was placed on bed rest until 20 weeks. Bottom line: I spent the first half of my pregnancy crippled with fear that I would lose my son. And when I was finally in the clear, I fractured my foot, ended up in the hospital and needed to be in a boot until after the baby was born. If that doesn’t make you a ball of stress, something is wrong with you.
As we crept closer to my due date, my doctor assured me my child was a perfectly healthy, perfectly normal baby. But in the back of my mind, I was crippled with anxiety that he would arrive and there would be a major medical abnormality. After all, homeboy got pushed around my uterus by orange dye, which caused him to detach and re-implant, while getting exposed to radiation. It didn’t matter what anyone said; I couldn’t escape the fear that I had exposed my child to something that would cause irreparable harm. Not super fun thoughts to sit with, let me tell you.
Despite being extremely ready to get this baby out of my body, I began feeling more and more anxious. Not only was I terrified that something might be wrong with the baby, but I was also beginning to freak out that something was going to happen to me. My life was no longer my own; I had a 3-year-old little girl who depended on me, and I was about to undergo a surgery where they literally take a human being out of my body…while I’m awake!
The morning of the surgery, I tried my hardest to act like everything was business as usual. My mom had spent the night and helped get my daughter dressed, fed and ready for school. I kissed her goodbye, and my husband and I headed to the hospital. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with how well I held it together—that is, until my husband reminded me that 32 weeks earlier, at 5:45 a.m., we took the very same drive because I was certain I was miscarrying (bleeding is often a side effect of having an SCH) and now we were headed there to meet our son.
Sounds like a sweet moment, right? But did he have ANY IDEA HOW HORMONAL I WAS? Needless to say, from that point forward I was a complete disaster. During pre-op, I was panic-stricken. I didn’t speak for risk of crying. The only time I did open my mouth was to tell the anesthesiologist I needed all the anti-nausea medicine he could find and to ask that he start pumping me with anxiety meds as soon as the baby was safely out of my body.
When I finally made it to the operating room, it took the doctor FIVE TIMES to get my epidural in, which meant four pokes of the numbing shot and finally the epidural. Yes, it was painful, but not a crippling pain; if anything, I think my body was so incredibly tense by this point that I was just one big muscle knot.
At this point, the water works had started and there was literally no way to turn them off. They quickly moved me onto my back, and I couldn’t breathe. “I can’t feel my legs! I can’t feel my legs!” I shouted. Ummm, yeah…that was sort of the point! Common sense was now completely out the door. I was having a full blown panic attack: crying and gasping and screaming. During my delivery with my daughter, I was watching videos of my dog catching a frisbee. During my delivery with my son, I was hyperventilating until I was finally given oxygen to calm down.
I looked back to my nurse and apologized, “I’m so sorry. Am I the absolute worst?”
She laughed. “No way, we have waaaayy bigger freak outs.”
Unlike surgery with my daughter, I couldn’t be distracted. My husband tried to show me pictures or talk to me about things we had planned, but I just needed silence until the baby was out. I kept looking at the clock, thinking how much longer this was taking the second time around.
“Just a few more minutes,” my doctor said. “Just a bit more scar tissue to get through.” Since my surgery, I’ve learned that all repeat c-sections take a bit longer because the incision from the first procedure leaves a good amount of scar tissue that the doctors need to get through. It's totally common, but I would have been less nervous about the time if I had known this fun fact beforehand.
With a few minutes to spare, I heard my doctor announce: “Ok, I see him. Wow, he has SO much hair!”
Because Roman was still sitting so far up in my body, I could feel the pressure across my chest as they wiggled him out. It felt like someone dropped a cinder block on my sternum. It didn’t actually hurt, but there was this enormous pressure and then…it was gone. At 10:55 a.m., Roman Bruce Amin was born—a whopping 8 pounds, 15 ounces.
I heard him cry and I broke.
He was here. He had made the journey. He had survived it all. I didn’t lose him. He was here. It was relief, joy and the release of so much guilt.
The rest of the procedure continued perfectly to plan, but I wouldn’t have noticed if there had been an issue. My son arrived safely and was healthy, and everything else was just the cherry on top. This is where this horror story turns into a love song: I held my son, my beautiful boy who I was so riddled with fear I would lose. I held him in my arms, something I wasn’t always sure I’d get to do. I held him, and we both cried. My heart grew.
But why was it that I was so ill-prepared? How come no one spoke to me about the possibility that a traumatic pregnancy could lead to a traumatic delivery (even if it all was just in my head)? I sure as hell could have benefited from the support and resources available to moms so they don’t have to suffer such anxiety.
According to the The Motherhood Center of New York (a group I recently fell in love with), it’s estimated that 1 in 7 women suffer from postpartum anxiety—which is a pretty sizeable demographic—and 6 percent of women experience anxiety during pregnancy. Those are some pretty high statistics for something that I’ve never heard of until recently.
Perinatal anxiety is common to so many women and falls under the same medical umbrella as postpartum depression (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders). So why is it more people aren’t talking about it?
If you or anyone you know is feeling out of sorts, I encourage you to learn more about PMADs. This issue isn’t black and white; there is such a wide range of conditions that can affect new mothers. If you feel like you’re ready to talk to a professional about what you’re experiencing, talk to your doctor or reach out to Postpartum Support International to help you locate safe local services trained to help you understand what’s going on.
As for my story, baby boy and I are safe, happy and healthy, which is definitely something worth celebrating. I’m living proof you can absolutely work through it! Most importantly, I want to let all mamas out there know that it’s okay to speak up. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Leslie Bruce is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning entertainment journalist. She launched her parenting platform Unpacified as a place for like-minded women to come together on relatable ground, no matter how shaky, to discuss motherhood through an unfiltered, judgment-free lens of honesty and humor. Her motto is: ‘Being a mom is everything, but it's not all there is.’ Leslie lives in Laguna Beach, California with her husband, Yashaar, their 3-year-old daughter, Tallulah, and newborn son Roman.
Published August 2018