Being pregnant is one of the most exciting, joyful, and magical experiences you can have in life. It’s difficult to even put into words, really. Building a life and feeling it develop and grow inside you is truly amazing. But let’s be real. Pregnancy can also be incredibly anxiety provoking, especially in the uncertain early weeks, and even more so if you’ve dealt with a pregnancy loss before. Plus, if you’re dealing with negative physical symptoms on top of anxiety, those first weeks and months can be particularly challenging.
Although I hadn’t dealt with a previous loss and was fortunate not to experience any morning sickness or other major symptoms beyond fatigue, I was incredibly anxious during the whole first trimester with Jackson. I didn’t really start to ease up and relax until well into the second trimester. I tend to be a worrier in general and pregnancy just amplified this for me.
For the first several weeks after I found out I was pregnant, I must have taken 20 pregnancy tests just to affirm my pregnancy, I kid you not (In case you’re wondering I bought the cheap sticks off of Amazon that come with a ton of tests in a pack). I kept them in a little Ziploc baggie in a drawer by the side of my bed. It was totally irrational, but for some reason seeing the positive result on the test made me feel better and assured me that the pregnancy was progressing, even though that’s not necessarily the case. At one point, when I was about 8 weeks or so along, I took a test right before running out the door for an appointment and it didn’t show up as positive. I was convinced that I was going to miscarry and spent the whole afternoon worrying about it. Again, this wasn’t rational because a test would still show positive even if I was on the brink of a miscarriage, but anxiety often isn’t rational. I took another test later that evening that was positive, and I realized that the negative test must have been defective. When I went to my next doctor’s appointment and told him what happened, he said, “You’re definitely pregnant. I think you can stop taking pregnancy tests now.” He totally thought I was nuts, and I don’t really blame him. I stopped taking tests after that but I still got nervous about every little twinge or sensation early on and wondered if it was a sign of something abnormal.
For others who may be experiencing similar feelings, I’ve compiled a list of things that either helped me manage my anxiety during my first pregnancy, or that, in hindsight, I wish I’d done or hadn’t done to keep the anxiety at bay.
1. Use your support system: Some people don’t like sharing news of their pregnancy with anyone but their significant other until they’re close to or into the second trimester and I understand why, but I recommend telling at least one person beyond your spouse who you feel comfortable talking about your experience with (and ideally who can provide helpful input). It will help to keep you sane. I told my mom as soon as I took the first test at 6 weeks, and probably talked to her about one thing or another related to pregnancy every other day for weeks. I also confided in a few very close friends who had been through pregnancy before and who could understand what I was dealing with. It was so, so helpful to have an ear (or three) to listen to my worries and help talk me off the ledge.
2. Don’t Google: Repeat after me: Stay. Off. Google. I know it’s easier said than done, but try! It’s so tempting to look up things you’re concerned about when all it takes is the click of a button but, more often than not, what you uncover on the Internet will paint a much bleaker picture than the reality. Forums are particularly bad about this! Many more people post about negative experiences they’ve had than positive, so reading through forums for answers about questions you may have tends to only increase whatever anxiety you may be feeling. Leave the medical questions for your doctor.
3. Limit the pregnancy books: When I found out I was pregnant the first time, I couldn’t wait to run out and pick up a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Am I the only one? It felt like some kind of right of passage and I was excited to learn everything I could about pregnancy. What I discovered though was that, when it comes to things like pregnancy, too much knowledge can actually be a bad thing. In reading through What to Expect and other books, I learned about complications that I’d never even heard of, and although they are incredibly rare, I couldn’t help but worry about them. When I spoke to my doctor about books further along in the pregnancy, he actually said that he didn’t recommend What to Expect for that very reason. Who knew? One book I did find helpful, which one of the bloggers I follow, Julie, recommended, is The Panic Free Pregnancy. It’s written by a doctor and really puts risks and concerns into perspective. For fun updates about what’s happening with the baby and your changing body, I found apps to be informative without providing too much unnecessary detail.
4. Exercise: As with any type of anxiety, exercise can really help cut down on pregnancy-related anxiety. I tried to stay active as much as possible throughout most of my pregnancy and I definitely think it helped me to relax. I took a break from working out in the first trimester because I was just so tired, but I wish I’d kept up with a little something because this is the time when I needed it the most. Keep in mind that exercise can be going for a walk around the neighborhood. It doesn’t have to involve hardcore intervals at the gym.
5. Keep busy: I was working full-time in my first pregnancy and I still managed to find time to obsess and stress about lots of things. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I had more free time on my hands! Whether you’re working or not, I recommend distracting yourself with activities and things you enjoy so that you’re not as inclined to go down the rabbit hole of worry. Of course you need to also take it easy and rest as much as possible, since the first trimester takes a lot out of you, but to the extent that you can, I suggest keeping busy.
Looking back, I wish I could have chilled out more and just enjoyed the first part of pregnancy. Although I was beyond excited, early on, the anxiety often overshadowed my joy. Fortunately, my second pregnancy has been much different and much more relaxed. It’s like night and day! I learned a few things the first time around and it has allowed me to be a lot more laid back.
I hope my tips help anyone else dealing with early-pregnancy nerves, and I’d love to hear what strategies worked for others!