'When i was on the pill I suffered really badly with anxiety and panic attacks, on all of the different types of pill I tried I had different reactions, that made me realise that clearly I have a sensitivity to hormone changes,' Vicky Spratt, editor at large at Grazia, tells me. 'It's impossible to predict what would happen to my body if I get pregnant but I think about it a lot and it has influenced my decision to have kids hugely.'
When you have a mental illness, a huge life change, such as having children, is terrifying for it's ability to wreak havoc on your mind. And for women, that fear is intensified massively knowing their body will go through a huge hormonal change. That's why when Claire Foy opened up about how her anxiety improved after having children, those of us suffering rejoiced.
‘As soon as I had the baby, I didn’t have too much time to think, to second-guess myself. I didn’t put myself through the wringer as much,’ she told The Guardian.
Admittedly, her anxiety had been brought under control by therapy before this, but it’s soothing to know that actually, having a baby can do the opposite of what we fear because you're so busy looking after them that your brain may not be able to do the emotional backflips of irrationally fearing every little thing.
The Anxiety And Depression Association of America, studied this in 2009 and found that 52% of women who have been pregnant reported increased anxiety or depression while pregnant, 32% reported a decrease in symptoms and 16% experienced no change. WebMD also states that the risk of postnatal depression increases if you have a history of mental illness. However, while these statistics show that fears like Vicky's aren't unfounded, that doesn't mean a relapse is certain.
‘Parenthood won't necessarily make your anxiety worse,’ writers Alice Boyes, a former clinical psychologist turned author, in an article for Psychology Today, ‘other scenarios are possible.’
‘If you fear that parenting will exacerbate your anxiety or that you'll get postnatal depression, bear in mind that you may have the opposite experience,’ she continued, ‘a mixed experience is also possible, such as a period of postnatal depression but an overall decrease in anxiety and improvement in mood when you get treatment for that.'
A mixed experience was exactly what happened to Fiona Brown, a journalist with two children. While her OCD improved after having children, her anxiety around death increased massively.
‘Before I had children, my OCD was bad. Everything had to be in its place, I was early for everything, triple checking locks, worrying about things that hadn’t even happened yet,’ she said, ‘but now, even though I still feel like I want everything in its place, having two young kids makes it impossible.’
While Fiona was able to control one of her triggers, another popped up in it's place as her anxiety around death that increased hugely. ‘I lay awake at night worrying about me dying, them dying, their dad -my husband – dying. I'm literally petrified of death,’ she said.
Fiona, in the same vein as Claire Foy, has found day-to-day life too busy for her mind to take over, suffering more at night. ‘I don't have lots of time in the day to process the thoughts so they tend to manifest themselves at night when I'm trying to sleep and my brain just won't stop,’ she said.
For Pragya, who has three children, lying awake at night worrying about her first daughter was part and parcel of her anxiety. However, she had it under control until her twins were born two years ago. ‘They were born seven weeks premature, and for the first few months, they cried continuously for up to 12 hours,’ she said, ‘they were in and out of hospitals for the first year, and were diagnosed with silent colic and reflux and severe allergies. I felt like an awful mother, I was stressed, and exhausted, and my anxiety hit the roof.’
Suffering with ‘severe social anxiety’ and depression, Pragya struggled to leave the house and her children’s health issues only served to further her health anxiety. ‘I was consumed by worry about my children, particularly about their health,’ she continued, ‘there were times when I just sat in the car and cried in a supermarket car park.’
‘On the surface everyone thought I was doing very well, running two businesses and also bringing up my children,’ she said, 'but actually I felt like I was drowning'. In beginning to understand her triggers, taking more time for herself and learning how to say ‘no’ to demand time for herself, Pragya says she feels her anxiety has gotten better in time, although it does ‘rear its head now and again’.
Ultimately, it seems that having children can either give you little time to be clinically anxious, or compound it as you’re now responsible for the most important human you’ll ever encounter. Of course, there are treatments available depending on severity of symptoms.
'During pregnancy, doctors try to keep women off antidepressants unless they have severe depression or if they have a history of relapsing if taken off antidepressants in the past," says Dr. Victoria Hendrick, 'Instead, other interventions, like psychotherapy, are used to help reduce the need for an antidepressant.'
Essentially, we just can't know how having children will impact our mental health. But actually, in not knowing we could find solace. Fear of the unknown may come naturally when you have anxiety, but if your anxiety can improve from having children, is it not a beacon of hope?
It's scary, in fact, terrifying, to take the plunge when it comes to your mental health, to see what's on other other side of a huge life altering event. But if having children is important to you, it seems worth considering all your options. After all, if The Queen can do it, maybe you can too...