After years of trying to become pregnant, Ellie conceived on her second cycle of IVF. For the first 12 weeks she was terrified of losing the pregnancy.
Her GP was unsympathetic but she went to a different GP who signed her off work (a stressful, physical job) until she was three months pregnant.
“I spent the first 12 weeks constantly worrying that I’d lose my baby, I knew the statistics were high for losing a baby early on, and I was completely petrified, almost irrational. I’d often break down in tears, thinking I’d lost the baby, but I hadn’t.”
Ellie is a naturally anxious person and she worried about the effects of her actions on the baby.
Following advice on having a healthy pregnancy helped her feel more in control.
“I led this completely pure life if I could, I would eat nothing that could harm the baby in any way, didn’t do any exercise I thought might harm the baby like running or gym type stuff, which I loved. I felt this gave me some control. I think one of the reasons I get anxious is if I feel the situation is out of control.”
Her partner was very supportive, although the baby didn’t become real to him until the bump started growing whereas Ellie was very in tune with her body and her pregnancy was always on her mind. She was open with family and some friends about her feelings but felt it was important to choose carefully who she talked to because some people make unhelpful comments.
“There are some people who give you quite unhelpful advice, like ‘Pregnancy’s not an illness’.
"Some people will say, ‘The stress is going to harm the baby’. I found that really difficult because that was how I was feeling, they were my genuine worries and I wouldn’t be able to just dismiss them.”
After a very positive second trimester when she felt much better, Ellie’s anxiety returned in the third trimester when she started feeling worried about labour. She really wanted a natural birth but in fact had late stage pre-eclampsia and was induced. She had an epidural and then an emergency caesarean section, then had an internal bleed and was rushed back into emergency surgery, which was successful.
She was distressed to find that although she had longed for her baby, she felt no emotional connection to him. While recovering from the caesarean and other surgery, her mobility was limited and this affected her ability to care for her baby and bond with him. Over subsequent weeks as she recovered and her baby became more responsive, she began to bond.
"I was holding this child who I had wanted so much, but I just felt completely disconnected from him."
I was very limited because of the c-section and was almost reliant on my husband to pick up and move our baby. I felt as though I was a feeding machine and that was all I was good for and I had no playful times with my son. As I’ve got more mobile and he’s giving me more smiles, I feel I can give him everything he needs in every way, and I’ve got more confident.”
Ellie felt upset about how different the reality with her baby was from what she had imagined. Her feelings of depression were compounded by feeling like a failure when her baby cried for hours at a time. Her husband persuaded her to ask a friend to come over to give her support and a short break during these crying episodes and her mother-in-law persuaded her to talk to her GP about how she was feeling.
“You have this dream of how it’s going to pan out, and when it doesn’t go that way, that’s what upset me."
Because I’ve wanted this baby for so long, I want to be the best mother I can be, so I’ve read all these books and sometimes they aren’t very helpful because they suggest all these things and when I can’t stop a baby crying I feel like a bit of a failure. It’s like I reflect back on me and think ‘Oh my God, I am not good at this, I can’t do it.’ It’s difficult trying to find out what’s wrong with you. Is it just being a new mum? Is it you’re anxious because you can’t settle the baby? Is it postnatal depression? There are so many things that overlap.”
Ellie thinks it would be better if people were more open about how some women don’t fall in love with their babies right away. She feels it’s important that new mothers look after themselves and are not too self-critical.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you’re failing."
Everyone’s gone through that probably but they don’t admit it. Give yourself some time out, do something that makes you feel better, like exercise, it gives you time to reflect.”