As I sit down and type this, I am 14 weeks pregnant with my second child. By some magic or miracle (or incredibly weak stomach muscles) I can already feel my baby moving inside my belly, the fluttering is as light as a butterfly, like a feather tickling up against my insides. It's a feeling I never really forgot and yet I still find myself questioning it. Even as my stomach has begun to push against the material of my clothes, there is part of me that cannot believe I am pregnant again. I will come to that pesky part later.
Finding out I'm pregnant again...
My first pregnancy shocked me. Planned, intended, hoped and tried for, I was still so shocked at the cross on the pregnancy test that I couldn't leave the confines of our downstairs toilet for over half an hour. I spoke to myself throughout but nearly all the words were the four-letter kind that you wouldn't repeat in front of an elderly relative. My hands shook. Tears fell from my eyes and I went from sitting on the toilet lid to standing up to sitting back down again to staring at myself in the mirror looking for something in my face.... Reassurance? A smile? Maybe for something to look different... I just saw fear.
My second pregnancy was almost as much of a shock, and yet in some ways it wasn't. Planned, intended, hoped and tried for, I took a test the day before we left for our family ski holiday in Austria. I was a few days late but this wasn't completely unusual. What was more unusual was the feeling I'd been having for nearly a month. I'd been feeling a pressure in the deepest part of me and I had become very aware of parts of my body that only my last pregnancy had brought to my attention. I didn't remember anything like this feeling so early on in my first pregnancy. I Googled "can you feel conception" and "does implantation hurt?" and got answers on all ranges of the spectrum (Yes, No, Maybe, Possibly, etc). I was quick to rationalise the feelings away and I clocked it all up to my body preparing to menstruate... for over four weeks.... Truth be told, my main motivation for taking a test was to check I could still drink on our ski holiday, my brain was (ahem, is!) that good at convincing myself that my body knows nothing!
We had ten minutes to digest the test results - a cross that appeared so quickly on the test that I hadn't yet pulled my trousers up - as we had lunch plans and we had to get our son ready to leave the house, a feat that takes anywhere between five and thirty minutes. I allowed myself a few four letter words which escaped as whispers. I felt air get lodged in my throat and my lungs expand, I blinked and blinked and blinked at the cross. And then I called my partner to the bathroom. As he checked the test, I looked at myself in the mirror. I searched for the fear I should have been feeling, I waited for the whites of my eyes to widen and I checked my frown for more wrinkles that I'll never be able to iron out... I saw reassurance. I saw a smile. I saw just how different everything was compared to last time.
Then I saw my partner laughing, and that made me laugh too even though I felt sure I should be doing something else, anything other than giggling!
"I can't believe it," he said as he leaned in as close to the test as he thought safe because you know.... urine. Then he whispered a few four letter words too.
"Are you happy?" I asked.
"Why are you laughing?" I asked.
"Why are you laughing?"
Then our boy came over and we scooped him up and told him he was going to be a big brother....
Great expectations, and even better realities
Because of my first solitary state of panic, I always said if we were brave and lucky enough to try and conceive another child I wanted to do the pregnancy test with my partner. I would save it for one evening after our son had gone to bed and we would watch the cross appear (or not) together. We would be sitting together, our hands held, and we would have all evening to talk about it, to celebrate or commiserate. This rushed, shocked, slightly delirious episode one busy lunchtime was so far from what I expected or hoped for, but I knew I would never forget it. Or how as we went downstairs and got on our bikes to go to lunch, my legs were shaking so much I wondered how I would ever pedal to the restaurant. Or how I stopped at a store on the way to pick up folic acid. Or how my partner and I kept smiling at each other as we made small talk over lunch.
Or how, several hours later, I uttered another four-letter word when I finally realised I really couldn't drink on my holiday now...
What I love most about being pregnant... and what I don't
My first pregnancy was easy. I didn't have a minute of morning sickness and the worst things I experienced were terrible skin, getting up to go to the loo multiple times in the night and an exhaustion that saw me asleep by 8.30pm most evenings. I never reached the fed up stage of pregnancy - yes, mentally I was ready to give birth because having that kind of thing hanging over you is a little torturous - but I wasn't hugely uncomfortable and I could still sleep really well, almost on demand. Okay, so the chafing from my thighs rubbing together was pretty annoying, but anybody who has had a more difficult pregnancy will roll their eyes at me complaining about this, and rightly so. I missed being pregnant almost immediately after my son's birth - and this only intensified as the months after he was born got harder and harder and I became more and more tired. In comparison, pregnancy was easy. I used it as a weapon too, I told myself how much better I was at looking after my boy when he was inside me.
That was what I loved most about being pregnant. Being useful. I had never had such an important job to do - grow a baby - and because my pregnancy was problem-free, I could tell myself that I was really good at it too. Talk about feeding the ego!
While I'm only three months into it, my second pregnancy has already been very different. I've had nausea and sickness most days, and the exhaustion has left me horizontal and headachey many afternoons. But mentally, in general, I feel really good. If you had told me a year ago I would have morning (ahem, all day) sickness while looking after a toddler I would have tied up my Fallopian tubes and put a Closed sign up on my.... well, you know, but time is a funny old thing and I guess having struggled as a parent before, I have learned how to be kinder to myself, how to ask for help and how to give in and rely on screen time when you really have to. This bodes well for the year to come, because of course I have no real idea how this pregnancy will progress.
I still love how useful I am when I'm pregnant, and with relatively little effort, but because this is very likely (VERY VERY LIKELY!) my last pregnancy I am not taking any of it for granted. Throughout the first trimester of my first pregnancy, I was desperate to look pregnant, to have a bump, for my baby to be bigger than a nut or a seed. This time, I'm in no rush. In a weird way I have enjoyed and am enjoying every moment - even the ones where I'm retching or in bed before 7.30pm - because I know only too well that none of it lasts forever. And for me personally because I like being pregnant, it all goes too quick. Honestly speaking, when I normally want to treasure a moment I am still terrible at doing so, and the pressure to cherish the moment just makes it so much worse. I can be worryingly un-mindful when it matters most, and yet with this pregnancy I have lucked out. And not through any special effort. I am in no rush, and I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would. Every day feels like a big fat gift, wrapped up in gold paper and with a couple of sweets tucked inside for good measure.
This is the part of me that is happy, excited, hopeful, and wouldn't-you-know-it also mindful to boot. This is the part of me that can't stop smiling. But as with us all, not all of my smiles are as confident as they look...
How to be pregnant again when you've had post-natal anxiety and depression
Let me tell you why I was amazed I didn't panic or shake or cry when I found out I was pregnant for the second time. Getting pregnant again after struggling with post-partum mental health problems is a bit like opening up your front door and leaving it open for anyone to come in and rob us, or worse. I am opening up a door to a threat I have already experienced and did not like, not at all. I am making it possible for something I hope never, ever happens again to effectively happen again. This is the part of me that cannot believe I am pregnant again. This is the part of me that nearly told me not to even think about it...
It is the part of me that remembers only too well how hard it all was. Giving birth, the shock of becoming a mother, the sleep deprivation, the fight to not lose myself to post-natal anxiety and depression, and the many, many struggles I experienced to get well again. Why would I do this to myself, and to my family again?
I suppose this is the point where I should answer this question. This would be a good time to say "Well, I've grown a lot since that time and I know the warning signs and I'm stronger and I'm wiser and I won't have the same problems..." but this wouldn't be me being honest. I know and accept that getting unwell again is 100% a possibility, and one that I can't guarantee I will avoid no matter what I do or say. That is my truth and my reality and I have spent a long time working on accepting that. I will continue to do so.
So I don't really know why I'm opening up this door again, or at least I can't fully explain (nor feel I should) here. What I do know is that I have more of a support system now than I did before my son was born. I have already made promises to myself about how I will look after myself before and after this baby is born. I have no issue with asking for help. I have no desire to be superwoman. I have nothing to prove.
I also have a little boy who already taught me how to be a mother. I look at him and I don't see all the mistakes I made. I look at him and I don't see the anxiety and depression that made me so unwell. I look at him and I don't feel alone or ashamed or afraid. I look at him and I see a boy who loves life. I see a boy who loves his mother. I see a boy who will remind me everyday that I am enough, for him and his little sibling growing inside me.
Of course, I have no idea what he will think about his new brother or sister, but that is a worry and a post for another day....
If you enjoyed reading this, you may like to read my motherhood diaries documenting my first year of motherhood. Start at week one here, or pick a week to read here. And if you think you may be experiencing post-natal anxiety or depression, maybe this post will help, but more importantly please ask for help - contact your doctor, tell a friend or loved one, or call a helpline. You are not alone.
Frances M. Thompson
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.