—By Tori Rotter, Creator, Little + Free
As evidenced by my first several posts, I am incredibly open about my journey to pregnancy through IVF. However, what may not be as obvious from those posts, is the anxiety I felt surrounding that journey. When you suffer from infertility, pregnancy is a little bit scarier than average because you don’t always have the possibility of “we can always try again.” Depending on your specific circumstances, you may only have a limited number of opportunities, and should those opportunities fail, your journey is over.
In continuing to be open and honest about my story (because I think it’s so important that these things be discussed as such), I’d like to share that I recently gave birth to my second child (another girl). However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was not my second pregnancy. I plan to expand upon this in the future, but for now, I would like to mention my second pregnancy and note that I was unfortunately never able to meet that baby.
For that reason, and the reason I mentioned previously, this third pregnancy was incredibly stressful. On one hand, I knew how lucky I was to have one healthy child, and I never took that for granted through the process. But unfortunately, these types of rational thoughts don’t always put your mind at ease. After losing a pregnancy and knowing that this was our last embryo, I felt an immense sense of anxiety, knowing that something could go wrong. This anxiety, coupled with raising a toddler, maintaining a full-time job, dealing with the physical disturbances of pregnancy, and just handling day-to-day responsibilities, put a lot of strain on my mental health. I mention this specifically because I think it’s so important that people be more transparent about this portion of their pregnancy journey. And more so, I think the mental health of pregnant women is often overlooked. People speak a lot about postpartum depression, and mental health has been prevalent in conversations given the pandemic. Still, I don’t believe there is enough attention to a woman’s mental health while pregnant (pandemic or not).
Ironically, the most asked question of a pregnant woman is probably “how are you feeling?” However, I can say from experience that this question is most often meant to address physical feelings and even more often just meant to elicit a polite and obligatory exchange. Someone rarely expects an open and honest answer, and even rarer that they expect you to address your emotional and mental health when asked this question.
But suffice it to say, had I answered that question honestly, more often than not, I would have said that I felt like I was drowning. This pregnancy was very different from my first one. It was harder to enjoy being pregnant and honestly hard to maintain a positive attitude in general. In my first pregnancy, I was delighted at the newness of each week. I read about the changes in development and how my little one was growing. I remember the utter joy her first kicks brought and how I enjoyed each time they grew stronger. This time around, I felt myself trying to speed things along. I wanted to get through the first trimester, then through the 20-week appointment, then into the third trimester, then to the week of viability. I was convinced that very ache, pain, or otherwise uncomfortable feeling was something wrong. I felt somewhat distanced from my older daughter because I feared playing with her in any physical way or picking her up would somehow hurt the pregnancy. I got so lost in the stresses that I woke up each day and essentially waited for it to be over. I wanted the baby to come and pregnancy to be over so that I could finally relax.
This type of behavior did not go unnoticed by those closest to me, and many of them wondered how I could feel this way. After all, I had struggled to get pregnant. Shouldn’t being pregnant be one of the most joyous times of my life? Shouldn’t I focus on how lucky I am to have gotten pregnant and successfully carried two babies to term? How could I have feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression? I do not blame anyone for their lack of understanding here. In a perfect world, all those things would be true. But in reality, having gratitude for a successful pregnancy and depression/anxiety are not mutually exclusive. I was and am grateful every minute of every day for my two daughters. As I’ve said before, there was a time in my life when I wasn’t sure I would ever get to be a mother, and I honestly can’t begin to describe how truly appreciative I am to have found success at the end of my infertility journey. But those feelings don’t erase the hardships of the journey itself. And they certainly don’t erase the immense responsibility we face as women, having to put the weight (both physical and emotional) of our future children’s lives within our bodies.
Hindsight is funny because it’s so easy to look back and chastise yourself for what you should have done. To wish you had more faith, more positivity, or been more present. After my daughter arrived healthy and happy, I did feel slightly remorseful that I hadn’t savored that time she spent in my belly a little more. Because it is a feeling like no other. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t change anything. This pregnancy taught me so much about myself. About my own resilience and what I’m capable of as a woman and a mother.
They say when your first child is born, you’re also giving birth to a “new you.” I couldn’t agree more but would add that this happens with the birth of each child. I’ve never felt more physically, mentally, or emotionally tested. But the growth I’ve experienced has been invaluable. And I couldn’t be prouder of the new me. She’s one tough cookie.