Shit. It is another line. ANOTHER LINE. When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, we high fived on the landing and rang our mums in tears. This time I was sat in the loos in Sainsbury’s, the fluorescent lights making my trembling hand look even more pale.
I’d sort of guessed. Sore boobs, sudden disappearance of my waist, a period which probably should’ve happened by now, but everything came into sharp focus on January 2 this year, just after midday, in a toilet next to a canal.
On the way back to the office (after setting off the store alarms with the now used pregnancy test) I rang my husband, he was delighted, me not so much, it had started.
Don’t get me wrong, we had been talking about another baby for a while, while this was unexpected it wasn’t really unplanned. But the dread had started.
At the booking appointment an indifferent midwife probably took one look at my blue hair made a judgement. As she asked about my first pregnancy I began to crumble. I always swore he’d be our only, those eight and a bit months were the darkest of times, hyperemesis and SPD, a toxic work life and raging hormones destroyed my self esteem. Add in a traumatic birth that neither of us can really talk about even now and with hindsight the antenatal depression stands out a mile.
This time I wanted it to be different, it had to be. I was still numb, telling my current boss she looked me in the eye and asked if I was ok with it, at that point I really wasn’t sure. At least, I joked, I’ve missed the vomiting this time.
Maths is never my strong point, so when we strolled into the scan expecting to see a 13 wk old thing with legs and arms, we were instead faced with something smaller, around seven weeks. And the vomiting started pretty much the next day.
The combination of hyperemesis and first trimester hormones sent me tumbling down a vortex of sadness like a bloated Alice down a big sad rabbit hole. Constant floods of tears, that lump in my throat sitting on a sob which was just waiting to erupt. At my worst I had to cancel work jobs because I was too scared to leave the house, worried people would think badly of me or smelly the sicky sadness which hung over me. Afraid of being judged for being pregnant
But, at that first appointment I’d asked for help and at my lowest ebb it arrived. First of all a specialist midwife who came to see me at home, listened patiently while I wailed on the sofa and referred me for CBT. Then came the mental health team, bumping me to the top of the list and getting me seen within two weeks of the first tearful call. On top of this was medication for the puking, a sicknote for a few weeks and a text from my boss warning me to keep out of the team WhatsApp and not to worry.
In the midst of all this we moved house and I decided blue hair probably didn’t suit me after all.
The first trimester passed in a blur of tears, appointments and depressing moments sat on the floor of the toilets at work.
The lowest point came on my 35th birthday, signed off for another spell, I ordered a pizza to fill the stomach I’d emptied only hours earlier in the loos at the doctors, then locked myself in the porch. Husband on call miles away, son asleep upstairs, I broke down sat in the porch, unsure of how I’d get out. 20 minutes of sobs later I found the spare key. Humiliated doesn’t cover it.
At times it has felt like this pregnancy has robbed me of a sense of self, part of my job involves writing about food, I can’t even go into my own kitchen somedays let alone summon the enthusiasm to write about “Seven amazing brunch spots you really must try.” I’ve missed event after event because I’m either too tired or too anxious to go out but somehow I’m still stronger than last time.
The CBT is helping every single day. This week I’m signed off with yet another illness brought on by who knows what (possibly a stomach bug, possibly a UTI) and I’m feeling pretty low. I can’t do all the things which have kept me feeling normal (primarily work, reading bedtime stories to my son and staying up past 7pm) but the emotional wobbles haven’t been as fierce. Those CBT techniques calm me and centre things.
The other big change is the other support, asking my mother-in-law to drive me to hospital for more blood tests, knowing my boss has my back (texting me to stay in bed and off Facebook), having a community of Insta buddies who can brighten a down day. Those little pieces of the puzzle make each step a bit easier.
That black dog is still there, lurking, tongue out waiting for me to trip. The hormones catch me out from time to time but that’s normal. Feeling alone, feeling fearful and feeling overwhelmed by it all is not. Asking for help is scary but it makes so much difference.
Written by Jenni Phillips
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Women talking unashamedly about their mental health and parenting innit.