Pregnancy story by Annie
The doctors told me I was extremely lucky to get pregnant so quickly. And at all for that matter. Just a year ago, I was sitting in the doctor’s room having an intense ‘GET ME PREGNANT’ conversation with my doctor, who sympathetically talked me through the IVF process.
“You have had cancer and we know it’s very likely you will not be able to conceive, Annie.”
But I would. I would be pregnant before she had even finished her sentence. I had conceived naturally! You can imagine our joy when looking through my maternity notes at the word 'spontaneously'.
My clever, brilliant, knackered post-cancer body had done it! I felt very proud.
For so many years without hair or breasts, after a mastectomy, I had not felt like a woman. Now, I was one of those women power walking purposefully around all baby wear retailers, bundling piles of blue and white clothing into my basket. My baby didn’t need 18 vests or three pairs of shoes that he would never wear. He didn’t need a faux fur and he certainly didn’t need a personalised bib, but it made me feel good that I was lucky enough to be in that position.
“We need to make sure we are doing this right,” I said to my husband, as I typed in his debit card details for our private antenatal classes.
“£200! I hope they give birth to the baby for you too!” my husband exclaimed, frustrated and confused.
Mummy-to-be speed dating
Antenatal classes were a huge let down for us. Long, slow and outdated. Too much science and not enough talking about the ‘what ifs’. The room was full of anxious partners and women with bumps, everyone desperate to know more. Our leader was wearing a badge proudly declaring “25 years of experience!” We were in safe hands, I thought.
The first session was a ‘getting to know you’ session. We were ushered into a boys and girls group. On this occasion, it was fine, but what if I had been single? Or in a same sex partnership? What would happen then? We were forced to chat within a time limit and compare bumps. We all needed more.
Back to school
In the second session, we learnt about labour and birth. We saw endless diagrams of the cervix. It widening as big as my husband’s yawn after the session over ran by half an hour. Clambering into bed at 10:30pm, I had sharp pains, which were alarming. Was I losing the baby? Had I eaten too much? Or had I…
“Annie, you need to sort your wind out,” my husband snapped.
Relaxed and happy, I slept.
Week in, week out we went to our antenatal classes. I knew the biology of the body, I knew which hospital I was going to, and I knew how to clean chocolate spread from a baby’s bottom.
The classes felt long, tiring and uninformative. My husband felt like a decoration in the room. He wasn’t spoken to and he was never asked how he felt or if he had any questions.
I had heard people say that the best bit about antenatal classes was just talking to and meeting new mum-friends, to compare notes. I felt like we should all throw in the muslin, go to a coffee shop and just talk. It felt like an extra lecture on the back of a degree. So much attention given to science but nothing around mental health or the what ifs…
Then a ‘what if’ happened. Two months into the sessions, a couple stopped coming. We still don’t know why. Maybe they had enough. Maybe they had their baby. We didn’t know. I wondered about the parents and how they were feeling. I also wondered about their £200 lost into the chaos of antenatal class.
It all went tits up
My frustration led to anger as breastfeeding was the focus of the next session. The problem with that was that I didn’t have breasts. While all the other women sat in a circle massaging their breasts and pretending to breastfeed a plastic doll, I sat feeling like my femininity had just been snatched away from me yet again. No breasts! How would I feed my baby? 'Breast is best'. A baby cow drinks from her mother’s teat. I had no teats, so I was a useless cow. It felt unbearable. I had failed before I had even given birth.
I snuck off into the toilets and tried to cry without making any noise. A dramatic task, breathing replaced crying noises.
A knock on the door interrupted my melt down.
“Annie, I’m sorry. Your husband has explained why you may be feeling a bit left out.”
And that was it, a smiley, friendly, fellow pregnant woman looking back at me, holding out her hand and offering positive advice. That’s what antenatal was for, a friend.
Mind, body and baby
From that day on, I released my poor husband who was not getting anything from it (other than stress). I talked to other women about how they felt and started to enjoy my antenatal classes.
I didn’t know what would happen to my head after pregnancy, but I knew I would be a good mother.
I had a history of depression and terrible anxiety.
The ‘what ifs’ were never discussed. There was no mention of the complications - bleeding, pain, and mental health during, before or after pregnancy. We know that postpartum psychosis is one of the most serious mental illnesses that can affect women and we know it needs to be treated, but there was no mention of any of this. Nothing.
And what about women after physical illness? The ones without ‘slide show standard ideal bodies’? The ones with scars and no breasts? All of these women were missed off the list and it didn’t make sense. We all wanted to know what would happen if we didn’t deliver naturally, what would happen if we felt unwell and how we would cope.
My advice: you do you
Some parents have wonderful experiences of antenatal classes. They learn about their bodies and meet lifelong friends. Maybe I was just unlucky. Or maybe I was not mentally well enough to be part of this. What I did find out from these sessions was when women help each other, wonderful things can happen.
There are lots of wonderful charities and groups for women, pre-pregnancy, during and post pregnancy that can support parents-to-be in so many different ways, including Tommy’s. They do talk about the ‘what ifs’ and are there to support you through whatever pregnancy you might have – straightforward, complicated, full of worries or mental health concerns.
There is huge benefit from learning to trust your body and your mind. Keep talking about how you feel.
About the author
Annie is currently working on her book which is due to be published next year. Follow Annie on twitter @belascoannie.