5 Things Every Mom With Social Anxiety Experiences During Pregnancy
Pregnancy, for me, was challenging (to say the least). I experienced every symptom in the book, was deemed high-risk for both children I carried to term, and felt miserable through the bulk of each; including the two that ended in miscarriage. In addition to the aforementioned, I also dealt with things every mom with social anxiety experiences during pregnancy and to the hundredth degree. My feet swelled to the point I couldn't be on them for more than a few seconds. I had migraines and "morning sickness" that never ended and, to my "delight," hypertension. To end my second full-term pregnancy with a bang, I lost so much amnio fluid I could feel my son's every movement. He was in danger, and though I didn't know until the umbilical cord snapped upon delivery, so was I. It's no wonder my pregnancy wasn't as glorious as I had hoped — I was miserable. It only made my anxiety, particularly of the social kind, manifest in ways I couldn't tame.
Of course, my anxiety didn't begin with pregnancy. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that social anxiety is, "the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations." It's notably something a reported 15 millions of American's struggle with and, still, most of us delay seeking treatment because we can't fathom the embarrassment and humiliation. My mind played tricks on me (still does), telling me whatever I did or said was judged by others. I convinced myself I would never live up to anyone's expectations of me, therefore failing before I ever set foot outside my house or open my mouth to speak. If you factor in pregnancy, where hormones levels are higher, the anxiety typically worsens in women like myself (and it did with each pregnancy).
I've struggled with anxiety disorders and depression my entire life, only to find pregnancy exasperated the emotions and made things feel so much worse than they (probably) were. I know some of the things I worried excessively about weren't a real danger to me but, at the time, it sure felt like it. The feelings are, and were, very valid and in no way hallucinogenic. For instance, I'd fear going out for dinner because I thought all anyone would see was my huge stomach. I couldn't deal with having all eyes on me so, as a result, I'd request we order takeout. I found ways to avoid being around people so not to make the anxiety worse. It's an endless cycle, a game I played, but never won.
Even still, over five years since the birth of my son, the social anxiety persists in ways that have manifested over time. I'm managing my symptoms now with a combination of medication and therapy, as well as natural remedies, but there are parts that will seemingly never go away. It only reminds me of how scared or stressed out I felt during those pregnancies and, for better or worse, I know I'm not alone. If you're pregnant and have social anxiety, do whatever it is you need to for the health of you and your baby. To hell with anyone else's perceptions of what they think you, a pregnant woman, should feel.
Fear Of Being Touched With, Or Without, Persmission
I'll admit, when I see a friend's pregnant belly my first reaction is to want to touch as well because, you know, baby! Of course I don't because when it happens to me, I stop breathing and clench up and it feels like the world is ending. I'm not a fan of unsolicited hands on my body (for any reason) but just as with my initial thought is to touch, others may not realize what they're doing until hands are wrapped around your bump. I've been there and it's the worst, panic-inducing feeling.
It's substantially more difficult to endure if someone asks first, because then I struggle as to whether to say yes or no when obviously I want to scream, "No!" The balance of not appearing rude with not wanting to be touched is difficult. I'm thankful pregnancy is the only time people ask to touch my stomach or I'd never leave the house.
Leaving The House Is Too Stressful
When you're uncomfortable, bloated, and grumpy, leaving the house is at the bottom of the list. Add social anxiety to the mix, and you'll avoid it at all costs. I did both times. It didn't matter what the hell needed done, if I couldn't do it from my laptop it probably wasn't getting done. Leaving meant seeing people, talking to them when they innocently asked about my pregnancy, asked to touch my belly, and/or feeling like the walls were closing in every crowded place I went (the grocery store tops that list).
The Dreaded Doctor Appointments
Being high-risk during both my pregnancies, I had more appointments than a typical pregnant woman might have to sit through. My doctor was hyper-aware of how my body might perceive these babies (as threats to my reproductive system), and acted accordingly. It didn't change my feelings on going to the appointments, though.
The whole act of leaving the house (as previously mentioned), was really a pain in the ass and, on top of that, I was forced to deal with the awkward waiting room conversations, that were always followed by the awkward nurse conversations. Then, to wrap up the uncomfortable afternoon, the finale that is the awkward doctor conversations. Ugh. This became a weekly thing that eventually gave me so much anxiety it stressed my babies out, too, forcing me to be induced sooner than expected.
Baby Showers Are The Worst
There was a brief period during my pregnancies where I couldn't wait for baby showers and having all the attention on me for just one moment. That quickly passed, however, once I realized all the attention would be on me for all the moments. It's one thing to dream of how you want your first (or second or third) baby shower to play out, and it's entirely different when you factor in social anxiety. All that opening gifts, holding them up making small talk, and seeming genuinely enthused about every last part of the party is exhausting. In the end, I found that it only triggers more anxiety. Aside from the gifts, I hated the rest.
I Don't Wanted To Be Asked All The Questions
Yes, I get that seeing a pregnant woman triggers lots of questions: "When are you due?" and, "Is it a boy or a girl?" or, "Is your firstborn excited?" and definitely the, "Are you excited?" I grew tired of the, "Was it planned?" and, "How will you get all your work done?" and, "When will you sleep?" inquiries, and not just because they were really rude and intrusive. Plus, the questions I didn't want to answer 50 times a day caused me to actually think about my answers 50 times day, then spiral into a, "I'll never be a good mom" hole. Unnecessary, my friends.
Those of us with social anxiety can't help the way our minds work, especially when pregnant and more vulnerable than ever. So if you're about to touch my belly, ask me questions, or be around me in general while I'm with child, rethink that and get back to me later. Thanks, in advance for understanding.