This is an account of my health anxiety during pregnancy, in early 2014:
I feel so restless with worry that I’m not even brave enough to publish this until after I’ve given birth and know the outcome.
Where do I begin? I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 30 weeks.
Yeah, yeah. I know. Fairly common. Except the way my obstetrician told me: He informed me that my 3-hour glucose tolerance test results had come back high, which meant that I had gestational diabetes. He then went on to cheerfully outline all the potential risks, including a higher risk of unexplained still-birth.
There it was. Still birth. My biggest fear about this whole pregnancy caper. I have couple of friends who had babies that died during, or shortly after birth. So I know it happens. And it scares me to death.
And then… I Googled. Holy fuck, that was a mistake. It sent me straight into denial, looking into ways that I could control my blood sugar ‘naturally’. I did not want diabetes, and a quiet nagging inside me is telling me that I probably will be in that small percentage that has type 2 diabetes which lingers after the birth of the baby.
A few days of languishing and feeling sorry for myself, and some reassuring words from my diabetes educator (that gestational diabetes babies actually have a lower than average stillbirth rate due to the extra care they receive leading up to the birth) and I decided, for my own sanity, that I needed to make a firm decision about which voices I listened to. My diabetes educators had strong, researched facts behind them about different things. It certainly meant a lot more than nobody bloggers who peddled nothing but fear about what is essentially a manageable condition. I’m now on insulin and feeling much better for it.
21 March 2014 – In Australia, it is common practice to have a growth scan of baby at about 32 weeks. And due to the gestational diabetes, my obstetrician wanted me to get this sooner rather than later.
During the scan, the technician said “Has anyone ever mentioned anything about your cord? There’s only two vessels!” Now, I’ve heard some seriously BAD things about 2-vessel cords. But after a bit more scanning, he reassured me that there was actually 3 vessels, just that one of the vessels was huge, the other medium and the other tiny.
But there was something else – something he didn’t actually mention to me as he was scanning my baby. Most of my measurements (head, abdomen and estimated weight) are up in the 80-90 percentile ranges. Except for his femurs (thigh bones). These are actually measuring behind, and are in the 8th percentile.
Yet, the report says “Foetal anatomy appears normal.”
And under comments, “All seems well.”
This didn’t seem right to me. So I googled. BIG mistake! Turns out that short femurs can be an indication of chromosomal abnormalities, including Down Syndrome and Dwarfism. So I’ve spent all afternoon and all evening in a state of shocked paralysis.
I’m normally so together. I HELP women with energy self-healing techniques for anxiety, goddamn it, I should know exactly what to do when faced with this. I’m blank.
All I can hear are my fears swirling around in my head – all pointing towards my awful fear that I will go through 20+ hours of agonizing labour just to deliver a dead baby.
The worst part is the mixed messages. On one hand, the measurements are clearly out of kilter. But then the report says “normal” and “all seems well.” So of course I do my own research on it – as it’s another week and a half before I see my obstetrician again.
I have to find a way to keep myself sane. I have to, I must. Even though I don’t know the outcome, I must find a way to become comfortable despite not knowing.
I’ll start by staying off Google. Which is so hard when I’m turning to Google for reassurance and, at the same time, something concrete. Which I’m not going to find, because there are literally millions of stories out there about fetuses with short femurs. All with different outcomes – some positive, some negative. Too many voices, too many opinions. I’m not going to find the certainty I’m craving online.
I need to go back to what I wrote above – about the medical staff who know what they are doing.
At present, the most authoritative voice I have is the voice in that report. And until I see my obstetrician, it will stay that way.
Ok, step 1: Stay off Google.
Saturday 22/3/14 – I actually slept in this morning, it’s the first time I have slept in since being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I had a protein shake before bed, and I think that probably helped my hunger. Sugar levels are slightly elevated, which isn’t surprising with the stress I’ve been under.
This morning I did a technique that I call the “intense fear-releasing and truth-getting exercise”. It’s where you sit still, ask a question and after all the fearfulness dies down, then you get your answer. It took me a good ten minutes to get past the fear and to an answer that sat right with me. My first question was, ‘Does my baby have Down Syndrome?” and after all the fear died down the answer was no. Then I asked, “Does my baby have any health issues at all, other than my gestational diabetes?” Again, no. “Will this baby be born alive and healthy?” This was my hardest one as stillbirth is my biggest fear. I did get a “yes” answer 3 times, but each of those 3 times I was so overrun by doubt and fear, I wondered if that was the right answer at all. But “no” doesn’t feel right either. I had to change rooms several times as well as sitting positions, and I found I was asking the question so forcefully that there was no room for the answer to come to me. The answer was definitely yes. I love that feeling when I can just sit with it, that answer of truth. All of my tension just melts away.
Also, yesterday was World Down Syndrome day and the video “Dear Future Mom”has been plastered all over Facebook. Watching that video made me cry so hard, and I felt like a grade-A asshole for worrying so much about whether my kid is “normal/perfect” or not. It really is the thought of carrying this bundle for 9 months, and enduring the pain and exhaustion of labour, only to have him die in my arms or be whisked off to NICU that worries me. Seeing him in pain, that would kill me. And being so powerless over it.
And I feel so silly, because at present my ultrasound reports have all been positive and like I said above, the most authoritative voice at the moment is that ultrasound report, which will be replaced by my obsterician when I see him in a little over a week.
Actually, I think I will call the OB’s office on Monday, just to highlight that measurement and my concern about it. I’m paying them enough, they can deal with some of my anxiety! It might help reassure me, but hopefully it will help things be a bit clearer.
I feel like such an idiot – here I am, teaching women how to overcome anxiety, for my living. I’m trying to walk my talk. Really, I am. I’m trying. My stuff works – it gets great results but it really goes to show that you have to drive the process. Anyway.
Step 2: Ask the question that you fear. Let the fear overrrun you, and the truth lays behind that. The truth feels very relaxing. There is no tension.
12.20am, 27/3/14 – So I called my obstetrician about the femur lengths on Monday, and he put my mind at ease; apparently at this stage (33 or so weeks) their little legs are mainly cartilage anyway and so the femur length is not really used as an indication of anything amiss at this stage. In any event, he is happy with the ultrasound and all looks good.
Whew! Anxiety allayed, for now.
But of course, my pregnant, hormonal brain wants something to chew on.
I was very tired all day, and tumbled into bed at around 9.30 this evening. I woke up about an hour and a half later with my brain going at full-speed. The media is filled with the story of MH370 at the moment and I just think about all the people on board that plane and what they must have been through during their final moments.
Then that anxious energy gets turned around and onto me. I get anxious about the birth. My baby is apparently already 5 and a half pounds at 33 weeks, what if he gets stuck while I’m birthing him? What will they do? What will the outcome be for me and him? My brain rages.
And then, just as I talk myself around and remind myself that I birthed a big baby last time (almost 9 pound), and that my body won’t grow a baby that’s too big for me to birth naturally…
I start to worry about diabetes. Not the gestational diabetes (which I seem to be managing pretty well, by the way!) but type 2 diabetes. It runs in both sides of my family. I know it has other health implications. The literature I read says I have only a 30 to 60 percent chance of developing type 2 but with the family history I feel like a bit of a sitting duck. I’m told that I can “delay the onset”, but I hope to repel the onset!
But for now, I feel like there’s a lot going on with me. And there is, hormonally. I think I just need to deal with the present moment and focus on getting my head right for labour (for that’s 90% of the battle – the body leads the labour process and I just need to find a way for my brain to support it).
Step 3: Acknowledge you can’t solve it all now. But be comforted that there will be an answer in time. Focus on what you CAN do in the present moment, and what you DO have control over.
My beautiful, perfect, 100% healthy baby boy was born after a wonderful 3-hour labour on 1 May 2014. He is now 7 months old, and perfect in every way.
A few postscripts: I did not develop type 2 diabetes, my blood sugar went back to normal at the 6-week glucose tolerance test. I am still following my gestational diabetes diet however, so that I don’t develop diabetes down the track.
At birth, his femurs were perfect.
My best advice, when presented with a health challenge, is to listen to the most informed voices. Usually, these are not found on Google.
It took a long time for me to get the guts up to publish this page, but now it is time. If you are experiencing pregnancy-related anxiety, I hope this page gives you solice.
Love + light