One month on from my inspiring interview with Lauren, who bravely tackled some huge life changes following her BRCA diagnosis, and I’m back with the second post of my Women and Resilience series, which features women who have shown inspirational strength in their endeavours to overcome traumatic, life-changing or debilitating life events, and are thriving in a world where the odds haven’t always been in their favour. Today, two inspirational ladies, whom I am also honoured to be able to call friends, bravely share their stories of the physical and mental health challenges that they experienced while going through one of the biggest changes that exists in life: pregnancy.
Allow me to introduce you to two British expats with two very different pregnancy stories, but whom share so much in common in terms of the bravery, tenacity and resilience that they have shown throughout their respective journeys.
First up is Laura, one of my favourite bloggers here in Qatar, who writes very real, relatable and emotive posts about parenthood over at Life With Baby Kicks, and who suffered with antenatal anxiety while she was carrying her third son, Noah.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I’m Laura, a 30(something) expat mum to three boys. Just after my eldest son turned 6 months old we took the decision to move our family out to the Middle East. First to Dubai, now here in Doha.
Along the way we’ve added to our family, one baby per country lived in, and I set up Life with Baby Kicks to document our adventures as we go.
2. Could you explain a little bit about your antenatal anxiety – what were some of the triggers, what were your symptoms and how did you first come to realise that you were suffering from it?
When we were planning on trying for our third child we looked back at my previous births, both traumatic and emergency c-sections. I knew that should I be lucky enough to fall pregnant this time that I would definitely be having a section.
What I hadn’t counted on was my state of mind during pregnancy leading up to the birth.
At first I was thinking things that, now I look back, were screaming indicators of the antenatal anxiety. At each early scan I was very pessimistic, IF there was a heartbeat, IF the baby is still ok. If, if, if. Now I know it is normal to feel some worry, but I was voicing this outlaid each time, and each positive scan still left me with “well anything can happen, let’s not tell anyone yet” mentality. Which was so different to my first two experiences of pregnancy.
It all came to a head when I went to Sidra hospital (in Qatar) for the first time and met the lovely Chrissy. As I sat down and all these words tumbled out of my mouth in a great gush,
“And my first birth was a crash section as we think the epidural caused his heart rate to drop, then 7 minutes later he was born. My second was a section after induction failed to progress and they told me we were within 30 minutes of both of us dying as I had a complete rupture of my uterus. And they told me they want to deliver this baby early so I don’t contract, and thats ok, it really, really is. I get that the baby needs to be safe. And it could happen again. And it is definitely a section. But they said 34 weeks, why did they say 34 weeks? Does it really have to be that early? I make little babies, really little and this one will be too small at 34 weeks. And in NICU. Wouldn’t it be better to keep him in? But what if it happens again? Maybe I just can’t do birth. What if he isn’t OK?”
…without pausing for breath. When I looked up at her, she simply squeezed my knee and told me she was referring me to the perinatal mental health team. And it all kind of made sense that the thoughts I was feeling were down to anxiety.
That my feelings of something going wrong, worst case scenarios rushing through my head were not my normal state of mind. But instead anxiety related.
3. And yet you got through it! Congratulations on the birth of gorgeous Noah! What were the most difficult things that you had to overcome while you were carrying him and how has life changed since he was born?
The biggest obstacle was towards the end, getting through each day and bargaining with my consultant over when I would have him. For me, 37 weeks was the magic number to get to. And I did.
The worry that every ache was a contraction, and I was definitely hyper aware of movements, coupled with blood pressure issues, meant that I was up at Sidra regularly. In appointments, counselling sessions and triage.
The worry and fear was always on my mind.
All while trying to continue on with life as normal for my older two. School runs, play dates, family outings.
Now he is here, it feels as though he has always been with us. We drink a little more coffee, have a little less sleep, but a lot more love. Everything is slowly falling into place and the older two, though have exhibited some challenging behaviour, have always loved him and our routines are slowly forming.
4. What coping mechanisms did you put in place in order to manage your pregnancy with anxiety? What’s the biggest piece of your advice for other pregnant sufferers?
For me, what has helped the most has been talking and writing.
When I couldn’t talk about it I wrote blog posts about it, that then became talking points, conversation openers when I couldn’t get my words out.
I also found keeping busy helped, meeting friends, reading, cooking and getting out definitely helped. As well as listening to happy podcasts (I love Fearne Cotton’s ‘A Happy Place’).
My biggest piece of advice is to reach out – help is out there. Talk to your midwife, doctor, friends, family.
5. Finally, what’s your favourite positive quote that always puts a smile on your face when you need it the most?
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” John Lennon.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, what you do and your CFS diagnosis
Hello! I’m Rosalyn, and I live in Valencia with my husband Rich, and work as a life coach, helping women find balance in their lives.
In February 2017 I was diagnosed with glandular fever and had a couple of months off work in order to recover. I found it difficult to relax at the time and let my body heal as I was always worried about getting back to the school I worked in at that time. I was worried about looking lazy or weak and so I rested a bit, but in hindsight, I can see that I didn’t slow down enough. Largely this came from the fact that the doctors I saw seemed sceptical that I was still unwell. I was told how glandular fever usually lasts from 2 weeks to a month and I even began to doubt the way I felt.
Once I was well enough to stand and walk short distances, I began teaching for an hour or two at a time, with the intention to build up to full teaching days (which are 9 am to 5 pm where I worked) within 2 months. However I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to be able to transition to teaching full time from September 2017. I was still weak and it took me all afternoon and evening after work just to feel well enough to cope with a couple of hours the next day.
I handed in my notice at school and spent time in England with my family, seeking other opinions. Instead of feeling as though I was being taken seriously, I was labelled as having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and being in the midst of a major depressive episode. I explained that I was frustrated and desperately wanted answers and a treatment plan, yes, but in many ways my mental health had never been better because of the plethora of ways I had learnt to take care of myself, but I was ignored. Having been “diagnosed” with CFS meant very little to me because it didn’t lead to advice, or treatment of any kind, apart from drugs which I knew I didn’t need.
That was the point at which I decided I would take 100% control of my own recovery and follow my gut instinct, in order to live as happy and healthy a life as I can, despite the condition being under researched and misunderstood.
2. Could you explain a little bit about CFS – what is it, how common is it and what are the symptoms?
CFS (also known as ME or Mylagic Encephalomyelitis) is a bit of an umbrella term, which doctors use when they don’t know how else to explain that your tests are coming back saying you’re OK. It’s often the result of not healing in the expected way after a virus such as flu or glandular fever and results in long periods of feeling unwell that can’t be explained in any other way. It’s said that around 250.000 people in the UK have ME/CFS but as there is no clear way to diagnose it, it’s very difficult to say!
Symptoms vary a lot, but can include joint pain, broken sleep, insomnia, or just feeling you could sleep all day and feel the same, headaches, dizziness, nausea, brain fog, enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits, neck and groin areas and fatigue. This is well beyond the normal tiredness of day to day life, and isn’t helped a great deal by rest or sleep. Everyone experiences being tired but explaining the effects of this deep level of unshiftable fatigue can be very difficult and is one of the things I know a lot of people find hardest.
My symptoms come and go, but are generally brought on my “overdoing it”. What prompts this also changes regularly though so getting a good balance is extremely challenging, even 2 years on. I can look really well and feel my worst so one of the things I find most difficult is being judged on appearance and people assuming I’m well again, when I’m barely holding it together.
3. Just over one year on from her CFS diagnosis, and Rosalyn found out the happy news that she was pregnant! Congratulations Rosalyn, I am so excited to meet your little one. Now that you’re nearing the end of your third trimester, could you tell us how your CFS symptoms have changed as you’ve gone through your pregnancy journey?
Thank you! It was a huge decision to try for a baby, as we had no idea how my body would respond to pregnancy, labour, birth or motherhood. Many discussions were had and I had to make it very clear to my husband that if I have another flare up, he will be taking care of both of us. We waited until a point in my recovery that we though might have been the right time, but there really is no way of knowing.
I have been very lucky over the course of this pregnancy. My CFS symptoms have been non existent at times which has thrilled me more than I can say. My joint pain has been 99% better, I’ve been able to sleep well throughout (expect for the usual pregnancy toilet trips in the night!) and although I’ve been very tired, it hasn’t reached my usual CFS levels of fatigue so I see it as a normal pregnancy symptom.
Now that I’m 37 weeks, my attention is focused on being as strong as I can be, both physically and mentally in order to enjoy the beginning of this new chapter, despite not knowing how CFS will affect me.
4. What coping mechanisms have you put in place in order to manage your pregnancy with CFS? What’s the biggest piece of your advice for other pregnant sufferers?
The main thing has been to stay away from reading anything about CFS and pregnancy. It’s very easy to get caught up in reading about the worst outcomes and now that we’re doing it, I want to use my energy for preparation and gradually improving my health, rather than worry and panic.
We’ve also tried to be as proactive and productive as possible in the third trimester, spreading out the numerous things we’ve needed to do to prepare for the baby’s arrival in a way that suits us. I’m not in a position to decorate a nursery in a week, or fill the freezer in a weekend so instead I wrote my lists of what I wanted to achieve and I very gradually made my way through them. I wrote a blog post recently about how we’ve done that and would highly recommend this approach to anyone with a chronic illness and it’s helped me feel in control.
I’ve also spent time learning about hypnobirthing and practising the techniques which has been helpful in that my husband and I feel prepared for birth, but I also have designated time to relax and focus on my body and my baby every day. Meditation, affirmations and visualisations have always formed a big part of my recovery from CFS and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to incorporate them into my pregnancy too.
My biggest piece of advice is to continue to do things your way because you know yourself and your condition better than anyone. Ignore anyone who says “pregnancy is like this for every woman” because everyone has an opinion and chances are, they won’t be all that useful to you unless they know your condition really well. Yes, pregnancy is a demanding time for most women, both physically and emotionally but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to have your own specific worries and concerns. Talk to those who know you best and respect your feelings. You may have chosen this and be thrilled about it, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t tough too.
5. Finally, what’s your favourite positive quote that always puts a smile on your face when you need it the most?
Catch my Women & Resilience series on the last day of every month, where I will be interviewing inspirational women who are thriving under difficult circumstances.