Dr Amy Crossley-Lewis is one of our registered psychologists, and mother to 9 month old, Stevie.
In this post, Amy shares her own personal experience of the conflicting thoughts and feelings she had during her pregnancy in the hope that it can normalise the difficulties that pregnancy can bring up.
Pregnancy and childbirth can be a challenging time, especially for those living with a mental health condition.
We’d like to encourage people to talk and be kind to themselves and their bodies during such a life-changing journey.
I’ve deliberated writing this a number of times, but for some reason have felt scared of the judgement it may entail, and the vulnerability inherent in being so honest and open not only with others but myself.
However, my return to work and a job that I love has helped me to realise that those difficult feelings I felt in pregnancy and sometimes continue to feel, may well resonate with others.
Part of my job is to help others be vulnerable and brave, showing immense courage. Who would I be to advise being honest, if I’m unable to do the same myself?
It’s important to share our experiences in the hope that it may help someone else to feel that little bit less shame, less judgement, and allow them to show themselves the compassion they so greatly deserve.
Battling with conflicting feelings during pregnancy
The photo below was taken the night before my son, Stevie, was born. Looking at it now brings back such an overwhelming wave of both joy and sadness.
I kept a lot of my pregnancy private. I didn’t take any ‘bump’ pictures, and I made no effort to slow down, with people often telling me, “You do remember you’re pregnant, right?”.
In fact, it became a running joke in my hospital job that I’d give birth on the ward, and be back two weeks later with a baby strapped to my back.
The joke was that I worked with psychiatric nurses, and they had a look of pure panic on their faces whenever this was said.
I had convinced myself that I could only show my worth through trying to prove that I could be both pregnant, and the exact same person I was before.
Looking back, I know this was not because it was what I needed to do, but I was battling lots of conflicting feelings about the changes that were happening to my body and the overwhelming responsibility I felt at the idea of becoming a mother.
Having worked with children near my whole career it seemed easy for people to say, you have nothing to worry about. However, I felt I couldn’t share how overcome by fear I felt.
Fear that I might not love my own child, and if I didn’t, what that would mean, and what of me would be left.
Who was this person I saw in the mirror?
While I was genuinely amazed by my body, and in total awe at what it could achieve, I also wished the time away. I wanted my pregnancy to be quick.
I would avoid looking in the mirror, and if I did, I struggled to recognise myself, both physically and mentally. Who was this person I saw? I didn’t recognise myself, either in terms of my changing body or the person I was about to become and everything that encompassed.
I hated people looking at me and saying things like, “you can’t possibly be a mother to a young baby and work like you are now,” or telling me that, “it’s ok to accept that your body will never be the same again”.
I began to realise that maybe part of what seemed to others like a chaotic approach, that made them laugh and roll their eyes, was my way of avoiding preparing for what would undoubtedly be life-changing.
I blamed myself
After a difficult end to my pregnancy, Stevie was taken straight to the High Dependency Unit and I was unable to have what felt like such an important bonding time with my son.
I was worried, scared and unable to be with Stevie because of the c-section I had had to have, and other complications.
Mostly I felt encompassed by guilt. I felt my body had failed my little boy, and I blamed myself for being so ungrateful towards it.
I can’t tell you how many times I said to myself, did I not slow down enough, did I not let my body rest, have I done this, is this my own fault? I completely blamed myself for something that was entirely out of my control.
This continued into the first weeks and months postpartum where I struggled to breastfeed Stevie and was told that I likely wouldn’t be able to due to the complications at birth.
Again, this felt like failure and somehow my fault for not trying hard enough and not being able to feed from the beginning.
In reality, all it took was a kind and caring lactation consultant to show me that the way I was holding Stevie wasn’t conducive to feeding, and with a lot of tears and tantrums from us both, we eventually managed. However, had I continued to formula feed, that would have been 100% the right decision for me and Stevie.
These feelings resurfaced when I returned to work, and Stevie began to reduce his breastfeeding and went on nursing strike.
I wish I could tell you the number of minutes I spent pumping and the wild and wonderful places that I did.
What was right for me, and my family, was to stop, but the guilt and shame of not doing the ‘right’ thing overwhelmed me.
I felt that I had made the choice for Stevie by returning to work and that wasn’t the ‘right’ thing.
What helped me was a reminder of what I had said while pregnant. I was reminded by friends that I had consistently said that a loved and secure baby is all that matters.
It’s also normal to struggle with conflicting feelings. It’s ok to both love your body and feel uncomfortable about it at the same time.
- It’s ok to feel joy and sadness together.
- It’s ok to struggle. There’s no need to be ashamed of this.
- It’s ok to find being a new parent a scary and overwhelming world where you can simultaneously feel lost while believing it’s the best thing you’ve ever done.
- It’s ok to want a life for both your family and yourself. You don’t need to apologise for this.
And do you know what? My body still isn’t the same, it may not ever be, or maybe it will?
What’s important here is that I’m not the same person as I was pre-pregnancy, so why should I expect my body to be? Like holding two different feelings at the same time in a dialectic, you can be the new you and old you together. It may take some getting used to, and adjusting, but you are still you.
No one is perfect
I think people feel that as a psychologist, and in particular a psychologist that specialises in working with children, I have all the answers… Spoiler alert! I have absolutely none or no more than anyone else.
No one can tell you the right way to do things or the right way to feel, and every one of us will make mistakes.
We are all just trying our best. So just do you. As long as your baby is loved and secure, you’re winning at this.
I’ll leave you with this thought… I don’t think the core of who I am has changed, I am still me. However, I have grown, my heart is bigger than I ever imagined it could be and it overflows with a pure, untarnished, and simple love for Stevie.
Life is different and sometimes I yearn for parts of my old life, but life is better, filled with colour and certainly more beautiful with Stevie in it.
Take care and look after yourself.
We’d like to thank Amy for sharing her personal thoughts on this subject.
For help and support, please reach out to our licensed professional therapists.
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