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Anxiety control
My Journey Jan 8, 2020
12 Minutes

My Journey: anxiety, control and body image through pregnancy and beyond

Our philosophy is that when it comes to fertility, conception, pregnancy and early years every person goes on their own unique journey. We are simply here to support that. Raising awareness and providing tools and the latest science/experts for you to pick and choose from. Particularly when it comes to navigating our modern world and challenges. We love hearing about inspiring people’s journeys. There is usually a lot to learn. Today’s ‘My Journey’ is with someone who suffered with issues around anxiety, control and body image throughout pregnancy and postpartum.

She also suffered with guilt and shame for feeling the way she did. Today’s ‘My Journey’ is actually with our head of marketing Vicky Hersheson. She bravely shares her story, warts and all. She also shares what she learnt along the way.

Click here for the podcast version in Vicky’s own words or read on below for the highlights!

I feel like this is something that isn’t talked about:

Whilst there is greater awareness around postpartum mental health issues, I feel struggling with anxiety and the way you look during pregnancy is something that isn’t really openly discussed as much.

I felt ashamed for feeling the way I did…

I got pregnant very quickly. It goes without saying that is something super fortunate and something many people really wish for that. Honestly, we were so lucky that it happened the first month. However, I was really not mentally prepared for it. I then felt really guilty for the anxiety I felt. For not being ‘over the moon’. Particularly as I am so conscious that many people (including friends of mine) struggle with infertility. It felt really ashamed and guilty. 

All about control, or lack of…. 

Trying to be ‘in control’ of everything is something I think a lot of us struggle with. I think it was really at the heart of the reason why I personally struggled. I think it can be a problem in particular for women these days. We are all trying to be super achievers and juggle a million roles. Ultimately, I felt really out of control during my pregnancy. Particularly as my body started changing rapidly. 

I would wake up and feel like I didn’t recognise myself: 

As my pregnancy progressed, obviously my body started to change at an increasing rate. It almost felt like every day I’d wake up and there would be a change. I started to feel like I didn’t recognise the person in the mirror. It became a major driver for my anxiety. 

Comparison to others was one of my big downfalls when it came to anxiety: 

I was surrounded by a lot of friends who were and had been pregnant. Plus of course social media. Obviously all I could see was everyone looking and feeling ‘amazing’. Comparison is such a dangerous thing. It is something that I think many of us do. Often even unconsciously. Alongside that inner self critical voice. As time went on my anxiety just went on to build and build. 

How it came out to others: 

I really internalised how I felt. This was a huge problem in itself. So although I didn’t openly talk about it, I felt too ashamed to, it did come out. Mainly in me being short tempered and snappy.

Why does being pregnant give a green light for people to comment on someone’s body? 

I still find it strange that there is suddenly a ‘green light’ the minute a woman is pregnant. Seemingly signalling that you are ‘allowed’ to comment on a woman’s physical appearance. It is like all of a sudden when you tell someone you’re pregnant, it becomes socially acceptable to comment on a person’s body. It just seems so wrong to me. 

I felt like my body and body image were suddenly ‘fair game’: 

I had lots of unfortunate comments made to me by people throughout my pregnancy. Which I internalised, didn’t acknowledge or address with the person saying them. Worse, I would then go over and over them in my head. I would tell people about some of them as a ‘joke’ and to laugh about with people but inside it was causing me a huge issue.

It’s not about size, but about the way you feel: 

I felt huge during my pregnancy and very bloated. I almost felt that I was being fat shamed which is ridiculous to say, but it is how I felt. However, it is not actually about size. It works the flip side as well. I have a friend who is nearly six months pregnant but is barely showing. She told me that people are always commenting on that. It makes her anxious, self conscious and worried about the baby’s size and health. 

How I wish I’d dealt with my anxiety and lack of control: 

I fully acknowledge now that I did not deal with it in the right way. What I wish I had done is to deal with comments that bothered me without shame and with honesty. I wish I had addressed it directly with the people saying them. 

As a pregnant woman, or anyone really, we shouldn’t feel ashamed about the way we feel. Particularly if it is relating to someone’s comment about our bodies or our physical appearance.

Was I being ‘sensitive’?! 

I really became conscious of this in-built ’acceptance’ that it is socially ok and acceptable to comment on how a pregnant woman’s body looks. It made me feel really bad and guilty for being ‘sensitive’ to it. 

Honesty and no shame: it’s ok to put up healthy boundaries and communicate: 

After feeling the way I did, I fully believe that no one should feel ashamed to say and speak up when something makes you feel uncomfortable. Or if you feel something is inappropriate. There is no shame in letting people know you have a boundary and telling people you feel uncomfortable. It’s your right to feel the way you do.  

I internalised the shame I felt about not being comfortable with my body. That being said, if you don’t have the confidence to speak up (I didn’t), my advice would be to find a person you are comfortable with to talk about. You need to be able to vent to your partner or your friend or someone you feel you can confide in then I think its important. 

Feeding the anxiety beast: 

I really stewed in it, I wasn’t honest with others or really even myself about how I was feeling. You almost ’feed the beast’ by internalising it. 

With hindsight, I wish I had… 

  • not felt ashamed about the way I was feeling
  • Talked about it – to anyone. 
  • Realised that there is no ’right or wrong’ about the way you feel
  • Realised that if you open and up and are honest, you may find someone who has been through something similar. 

It sounds trite but sometimes a problem solved is a problem halved. 

Switching off unhealthy behaviours: be kind to yourself. 

Again with hindsight I wish I had done more of this. However, removing yourself from unhealthy behaviour and situations as best you can may also help. For example, there was a lady at my old job who would always comment on my body and size whenever I saw her. So I just started to avoid situations with her as much as possible.  

That’s not always possible of course, however an easy one, that you are in control of is social media. I was following people who had the ’insta perfect’ pregnancy. I just had to switch off from it. There are genuine actions you can take to remove the pressure and be kind to yourself. I wish I had known more about having an internal kind voice, protecting yourself and putting up healthy boundaries. 

How my anxiety impacted my relationship with my partner: 

This really struggled. If you feel that you look awful and unattractive it can have a very real impact on your relationship. I really felt it towards the end of my pregnancy as I got bigger and bigger. 

Honestly, I don’t think I dealt with it in the healthiest way at the time. Once again, I internalised it a lot. Then because of that, I really dragged myself over the coals about it.

I know this isn’t what you’re supposed to say… but… 

I didn’t verbalise it and tell my husband. It got to the point where I almost didnt want to be physically touched. I felt repulsed by how I looked. I know thats not what you’re supposed to say when you’re carrying your baby, but, I felt I looked horrendous. That came out in me not even wanting to be touched. It was tough for our relationship. 

I wish I’d talked about my anxiety more: 

My advice in hindsight is communication. I really think it would have taken the pressure off if I was a bit more open and honest. We can all do the eye roll and say men are useless about this type of thing, but 9/10 times if you have a conversation they are likely to be understanding.

It doesn’t stop with my husband though. I wished I’d been more honest my friends and family too. I feel that it would have alleviated a lot for me if I had just communicated it more. 

After I had my baby: 

Postpartum issues with your body and confidence does seem more talked about. We all know about the pressure to ‘get your body back’. It seems more socially acceptable to talk about this. To me it felt it was ‘allowed’ to not feel comfortable after I had my baby, but not allowed to not feel comfortable during pregnancy. 

It’s ok to feel how you feel: 

Luckily, for the first 5 months of my baby being born I fully ‘leant it’. I was breastfeeding. I became intensively focused on the baby. It was like I had a 5 month hiatus. I think at this point the hormones overtook and the desire to nurture really kicked in. I just didn’t care. It was great! 

However, pretty quickly once the breastfeeding was over it kicked back in and the comparison started. I then started to compare people who had immediately lost the baby weight and my anxiety kicked up. 

I felt SO much pressure:

It was from Instagram and media (who seem to love posting a postpartum celebrity bikini pic), but also from my peers. Honestly it was from me. I had a lot of friends who seemed to bounce back really quickly. Perhaps it was my perception. I just felt so much pressure to do the same. 

’Instagram vs. Reality’: 

If you dont have lots of help, which most of us don’t, it is really hard. You can’t get down to the gym three times a week. There is the reality of trying to keep your head above the water. My advice would be, and I wish I had done this more, is to be kind to yourself.

The way we talk to ourselves is often the root and was for me at least:  

For a lot of us, the way we internally talk to ourselves needs to change. I would catch myself looking in the mirror and immediately talk negatively to myself. I think it is something that a lot of women do. It is that negative nasty language that you would never use talk to someone else. My advice is to be kind to yourself and give yourself a break. Particularly when you consider what your body has been through! Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a friend. 

Click here for much more on this by our resident psychotherapist Emmy Brunner. 

Getting help: 

I started to see a therapist around eight months postpartum. In the end,  I didn’t see a therapist because of my body issues, it happened because I realised I had unresolved issues from my past. Issues that had been dialled up during pregnancy and having a baby. It was all a symptom. It really came back from my deep seated desire for ‘control’. Obviously this is a time you have very limited control! 

The trigger: totally out of control! 

Anyone has a baby will know that they are not machines. They do not always do what you want them to do. I was clinging on to having a set routine. I would have full melt-downs when it deviated. I just knew I could no longer deal with it myself. Finding someone to speak to outside of my circle was really helpful.

Once I started to really see the language I was using: the difference was huge… 

Through seeing a therapist I started to really understand how I was talking to myself. The negative nasty language I used. The difference it can make when you alter the way you speak was really substantial. 

I was lucky to talk to a therapist and learn that skill. It is a skill. I am not perfect at it even now. I have days where I feel bad but I was lucky to have someone who could help me with that. 

It took a bit of time for my anxiety to ease: 

Feeling better did not happen straight away. If I’m honest, I still struggle with it now. It is not like a magic solution.

I am not an expert in therapy but there are different types, so sometimes it takes a bit of time to find the right approach and person for you. I probably saw an improvement after three months. But, being completely honest, I still have days where I dont feel good and can be quite down on myself.

For me, my big trigger is control and comparison to others. Something that is probably quite common and particularly for the world we live in today. We are constantly scrolling through people’s perfect versions of themselves. It is a pressure cooker and it has become a normal way that we live. Also for men!

A bit more kindness and acceptance: 

I will never be ‘perfect’. I don’t think I’ll ever be at a point where I will never a negative thought about my body and appearance. However, by changing the way I speak to myself and being kinder, more open and communicative about my feelings I have tipped the needle. There are definitely far more good days vs bad. 

If I have a second chance to deal with it (having another baby!) I would: 

  • Give myself a break and be kind. 
  • Not feel guilty or ashamed about the way I feel
  • Not feel guilty about feeling uncomfortable being pregnant. 
  • Realise that not everyone loves being pregnant. Feeling this way does not make you a bad person, it does not mean you don’t love your baby.
  • Feeling self conscious and uncomfortable does not mean you’re selfish and self obsessed (language I used to speak to myself). 
  • Allow and accept how I feel, speak to myself in a kind way.
  • I would like to think I would be strong enough to be honest with anyone making comments that didnt make me feel comfortable. 

How I am approaching body image, control issues and confidence with my daughter given what I’ve learnt: 

My husband and I talk about this a lot. I am acutely aware of it. For me, self confidence is huge. I think the generation that are being born now will likely struggle with pressures of social media. Pressures that my generation didn’t have growing up with. For me, I think it is about having a grounded sense of who they are.

I am now hypersensitive about the language I use in front of my daughter: 

I am hyper sensitive around lauguage around her. I dont like people using terminology like ‘fat’ or derogatory comments about people’s appearance. Including and starting with my own comments. It has made me really conscious of how I speak about it around her. You cannot wrap kids up in cotton wool forever, so for me all you can do is to try and instil the solid foundation and hope that is enough. 

For more on mental health for every step of the journey click here to read from our resident psychotherapist Emmy Brunner on all things anxiety.

Click here for more on Emmy.

Then here for a special podcast with body image specialist and psychotherapist Holli Rubin. She talks about how to deal with the issues Vicky describes as well as ways we can teach our children body confidence from the earliest days.

Click here for more on Holli. 

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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