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The 1 Thing I Did Not Plan For During My Pregnancy

**Disclaimer: This is my personal story and journey with postnatal anxiety and depression. I am not looking for advice or opinions regarding my personal journey. I have professional support and a strong friends and family network. **

During pregnancy you do a lot of preparing for baby. You buy furniture, bedding and linen, cute little baby clothes, nappies, a pram and various items to make the home a safe and nurturing place for your new bundle of joy.

I did all these things. I prepared to bring my baby home and love him and nurture him.

What I did not plan for was the possibility of getting postnatal depression and anxiety.

In the days after Remy’s birth I was extremely emotional. And I figured it was normal. All of the hormones, lack of sleep and joy that is the rollercoaster of a newborn. I was like, “yep, it’s just the baby blues.”

BUT – the tears lasted. What I thought was normal anxiety about my baby’s health and wellbeing spiraled into depression. I can vividly remember on a Sunday afternoon being curled up in bed, sobbing inconsolably, while Remy was crying as well, and my partner had to soothe the both of us. Not only was I overly emotional and sleep deprived, but I was also telling myself horrible things.

Things like: “I am rubbish at this”, “I am a terrible mother”, “Remy deserves better than me”.

The scariest thoughts for me were thoughts of just packing up and leaving in the middle of the night or taking Remy to my parents’ and just driving away.

The new role of motherhood was something I never could have prepared for. The loss of independence, putting my professional career on hold, being stuck on the couch breastfeeding, and being covered in spew. I did not have time to eat or go to the toilet some days. I did not feel like myself. In fact, I had completely lost my identity. No-one asked about me anymore. All questions were directed at Remy. How is he sleeping? How is he feeding? Is he gaining weight? Is he happy? I became invisible.

The turning point came when I was at the 6-week Maternal Child Health appointment for Remy. Our MCH Nurse, Karen, asked how I was doing, and I burst into tears. Karen listened to how I was feeling and requested a mental health care plan with my GP. I felt relief and fear simultaneously. I was relieved to know that someone was looking out for me and wanting to help me. And fear because I felt like a failure as a mum.

Once I recognized that I wasn’t coping, I put a few things in place. As well as seeking counselling, I arranged for post-partum support with my doula. I told my sister that I wasn’t doing well and now she checks in with me daily. I arranged with my partner for some “Laura time” on weekends and arranged with my parents for a break during the week. I made the plan to return to work.

I now feel as though the dark cloud of depression is lifting. I am crying less and not having big emotions all the time. I can see the difference between the good days and not so good days. I am being kinder to myself. I am talking to my sister and partner when I am not feeling so good, instead of keeping it to myself. I am getting counselling.

I know I am not “cured” and I still have a long way to go. I am in a much better place now. And I know that if I keep doing what I am doing, reaching out to my support network, I will be able to be the mother that I need to be for my child.

This week is PANDA week, a week dedicated to raising awareness on perinatal mental health. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men experience perinatal anxiety and depression. Strong Independent Men and Women Ask for help and accept help. If you are not feeling yourself, and think you need support, speak to your GP, MCH nurse or a trusted friend or family member. This is the first step in feeling better. It’s hard to do, and so important.

Important Contacts:

PANDA National Helpline (Mon to Sat, 9am – 7.30pm AEST/AEDT) 1300 726 306

Lifeline 24/7 Crisis Support 13 11 14

Beyond Blue Support Service  via telephone 24/7 1300 22 4636

Blog

Body Image Lies We Tell Pregnant Women

Early during my pregnancy, I criticized my body in the mirror. “Oh God, I look so fat.” I thought to myself one day as I was getting dressed. It took me a moment to catch this automatic thought, and remind my self that during pregnancy, my belly is meant to expand and that I am in fact, pregnant, not fat.

This got me thinking about the impact that body image has on pregnancy and emotional health and wellbeing.

Entire industries are built on telling women that they need to be prettier, skinnier, fitter, sexier. We are constantly bombarded with messages about how imperfect and unworthy we are. Women are given two societal roles. The Mother or the Whore. And as June Diane Raphael says, “we are both”.

When it comes to pregnancy, it is expected that women will gain weight. It is normal. And encouraged. Suddenly it is OK to indulge in food as women are “eating for two”.

However, women are still bombarded with perfect, soft bumps, glowing and perfect skin and bodies.  Instagram posts show the perfect baby bumps, with elaborately decorated nurseries and well-behaved children. Leaving women feeling inadequate and ill=prepared for their own parenting journey.

So, what does the research say?

An American study by Mehta et al (2011) 1192 pregnant women participated in a study which used the Body Image Assessment for Obesity tool to assess their ideal body size versus their actual body size. The study found that women who stated pregnancy with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) had an increased risk of excess weight gain if they preferred to be thinner and that women with a lower income had an increased risk of inadequate wight gain, while women with lower education were at risk of excessive weight gain. Mehta et al (2011) suggests that body image and weight perception is not just limited to a desire to be thin but linked to socioeconomic factors such as income and education.

But what about mental health?

A systemic review conducted by Hodgkinson et al (2014) found that women protected their body image by differentiating between “fatness” and pregnancy and utilizing this difference and an excuse to not conform to socially constructed ideals of body image. However, these findings were not consistent during the postpartum period, where studies recognized a strong belief that being fat is not socially acceptable, but pregnancy is.  Furthermore, women were forced to re-negotiate their identity due to pregnancy related changes, changing their identity from a sexually attractive woman to a mother identity. Hodgkinson et al (2014) suggests a need to support women to adopt healthy lifestyles with a focus on desired body image, rather that desired weight.

How do we tie this together?

Body images impacts many women during their pregnancy. Monitoring attitudes to physical appearance is especially important during this time.

Women can engage in nurturing practices to support positive body image attitude during pregnancy:

  • Maintaining a balanced diet, including a variety fresh fruit and vegetables, and limiting processed food.
  • Exercising regularly to support a healthy lifestyle.
  • Drinking plenty of water to keep the body hydrated.
  • Practicing meditation or mindfulness with a focus on accepting the physical changes of pregnancy.
  • Creating positive affirmations to shift mindset, such as “I am Enough”, “I am Beautiful” “I am Worthy of Love”
  • Seeking support from a counselor or psychologist to address mental health and body image issues.

There are some days that I look at my now 28-week bump and think “It kind of looks like I just ate a big lunch.” And other times where I feel like I look the way a pregnant woman should. Soft, round, feminine. I know that my body image will continue to change throughout my pregnancy and into motherhood. Awareness of the impact that body image plays on my own health and wellbeing is the first step that I can take to making positive changes and improving my overall perception and identity of who I am as I transition into this new role.

 

 

References:

Mehta UJ, Siega-Riz AM, and Herring AH, Effect of Body Image on Pregnancy Weight Gain. Maternal and Child Health Journal. 2011 Apr; 15(3): 324–332. Viewed 12-5-2020

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665282/

 

Hodgkinson EL, Smith DM, and Wittkowski A, Women’s experiences of their pregnancy and postpartum body image: a systematic review and meta-synthesis. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2014; 14: 330.

Viewed 12-5-2020

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261580/

Blog

I am the 14%

or the 8 simple ways I am regaining control of my gestational diabetes diagnosis…

I have just been diagnosed with gestational diabetes and It is a huge wake up call. Because I must face the facts (that I have ignored for a long time) that I am addicted to sugar.

Before I launch into my experience of gestational diabetes, lets learn a little but more about this condition and how it can impact your pregnancy.

Gestational Diabetes (GD) is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and most women will no longer have it once baby is born. In Australia, 12-14% of women will develop GD during their pregnancy.

The placenta produces hormone which aid the growth development of the baby. These same hormones can block the action of insulin and create insulin resistance. As a result, the need for insulin is 2-3 times higher than normal.

If GD is not well-managed and blood glucose levels remain high, there may be implications to the pregnancy, such as having a large baby, premature delivery and still birth.

After pregnancy, blood glucose levels usually return to normal and GD can resolve and disappear. In some cases, the insulin resistance can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Prior to my pregnancy I never had any issues with my blood sugar levels. I knew deep down though that I ate way too much sugary, carby sweet treats and my portion control for meals was out of control. Plus, I know I am an emotional/boredom eater, so this does not help.

And of course, my pregnancy has me craving all manner of unhealthy foods, such as donuts and Maccas (which I never used to eat prior to pregnancy). When my partner expressed concern for my food choices, I would reply “But I’m eating for two now!” Which is such a poor excuse for unhealthy eating, especially when I know that what I eat impacts my baby’s health. * Cue mummy guilt in 3, 2, 1*

I am taking this diagnosis as an opportunity to get my diet into order and make healthier and better choices with how I fuel my body.

With stress and pregnancy affecting my sleep patterns, my serotonin and melatonin levels are a bit out of whack, meaning that I am craving food at all hours. Which makes it hard to stabilize blood sugar levels and manage what I put into my body and when.

Add to this the fact that I must wait a few weeks for my follow up OB appointment and referral to the diabetes educator. I feel a bit lost and alone trying to manage my diet on my own when I have not been great at this before. I feel like I am failing before I even start and placing further risk on my health and my baby’s health.

Despite this, I know there are easy and simple changes I can make, without seeing a doctor. Now, I am not a dietician, or nutrition expert. All I want to do is share my story and what I am doing for myself. Please consult a health professional for advice of managing your gestational diabetes. The purpose here is to share what I am doing to enhance my health and wellbeing.

  1. I have started by cutting out those sugary, carby sweet treats. No more dounts, cakes or pastries. Period. This seems like the easiest and most obvious change I can make to make my blood glucose levels.
  2. I have boosted the number of veggies I eat with each meal. Fresh salad greens or sautéed vegetables are piled on to my plate. Packed full of fiber, vegetables have been helping me to feel fuller for longer and I know that they are good for me.
  3. I am eating more consciously. To do this, I am eating my meals at the dinner table instead of the couch. Where possible I try to focus on just eating, without other distractions. No phone, no TV. I can pay more attention to cues of “fullness” and I eat more slowly meaning that I do not have my usual sugar craving after a meal.
  4. I am swapping foods. Instead mindlessly woofing down a block of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate for dessert or after dinner snack, I have fruit and Greek yogurt with a few chopped nuts. This is helping me to recognize that dessert is not “bad”, and I can make better choices.
  5. I am focusing on portion control. I am a visual person, so when it comes to food presentation, I aim to have half of my plate full of veggies, ¼ for protein and ¼ with a carb element. I like to fill up on the veg and protein first, before starting on the carb element
  6. I am moving more. Due to self-isolation, I have been going on daily walks. Now I have done my best to up the ante with my exercise. I am walking a few times a day (this helps to alleviate that boredom eating), I have a trusty stationary exercise bike if the weather means I can’t venture outdoors and I have a space to do yoga or pilates to stretch and strengthen.
  7. Hydration is key. I already drink heaps of water and now I am even more aware of how important it is for me to stay hydrated. Drinking water helps me to negotiate whether I am hungry or thirsty as often these cues get confused.
  8. I am minding my language. I am becoming more aware of the way I talk to myself about food. By changing the way I think about food, I can more easily manage sugar cravings and my negative self-talk that is causing “mum guilt”.

While I would prefer to have a completely healthy pregnancy with no medical issues, I am grateful that I can make some long-lasting health changes in my life. My diet was something I knew I had to change but did not know where to start. I am looking forward to the opportunity I have been given to make better choices, improving my health, and enjoying the rest of my pregnancy.

 

For  more information on Gestational Diabetes, please visit Diabetes Australia