Anna Williamson is a fantastic role model for women going through pregnancy. The journey isn’t always easy and Anna is the first to admit that. She’s a mouthpiece for women whose expectations of pregnancy aren’t aligning with the harder, more challenging reality. The TV presenter and author has often spoken out about prenatal and post natal anxiety, has published a book about it and is the an ambassador for mental health charity Mind, which supports anyone suffering from mental health problems. Here, we speak to Anna about coping with anxiety: being able to recognise it in yourself, your partner or child, then the best routes to relax and reduce your anxieties.
What has been the biggest expectation vs. reality surprise in becoming a new parent?
I don’t think anything can prepare you for parenthood, it is so universally unique to each individual that it’s hard to imagine what having a little human being dependant on you is going to be like. The reality was more than a little overwhelming for me at first, but it surprised me how after a few months of navigating some very stormy waters, I went from being completely shocked to extremely in love with my son. I have consistently been surprised how my emotions can spike and nosedive so spectacularly over such a small little human being.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of being a parent?
There are so many peaks and troughs when it comes to being a parent, but it is important to have a healthy balance. Sleep deprivation in particular can at times cause more bad days than good. My least favourite part is without a doubt the lack of sleep, but I have begun to get used to that. My mum was right, it does get a bit better.
My favourite parts really are too many to list. It would have to be my overall pride and love I have in my son each time I see him develop, say a new word, smile at me, want to cuddle… He is proof to me that I am in fact a pretty good mum, when many days I feel anything but!
You talked about antenatal anxiety on your Youtube channel. Talk us through how you coped with it and any advice you’d offer to women who may be struggling with the same thing.
Antenatal, or prenatal anxiety, is a lot more common than people think… At the time I just thought it was my hormones, but in actual fact it was my anxiety disorder rearing its head again, making it very difficult for me to enjoy my pregnancy. The irrational anxiety I felt the majority of the time really wasn’t much fun. It hindered me and my enjoyment of looking forward to becoming a mother. My advice would be to any other women who think they might be experiencing it is not to suffer in silence and simply accept that this is the way you feel. Talk to your GP, midwife, health visitor and ask them for some support. Talking therapy really helped me.
You’ve mentioned that you didn’t enjoy pregnancy as women are often expected to. What tips could you offer for taking the pressure off and making the journey a little easier?
I think ultimately it’s all about being honest with how you feel. I know it might sound a bit cheesy and a bit of a cliché but I really can’t emphasise enough how important it is to tell somebody who you trust and who you know won’t judge you about how you feel. I felt really guilty and almost ashamed to admit to my loved ones that I wasn’t enjoying pregnancy as much as I had really wanted to… My son was such a wanted and planned baby.
What has writing Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide To Parenting Anxiety taught you about yourself and being a parent?
That I’m a completely normal parent. I honestly thought I must be such a rubbish mum as I struggled at the beginning especially, and my feelings, thoughts and behaviours were all over the place. Through my research and writing the book, I know that I am in fact part of a wonderfully big club.
What’s the best advice for supporting your partner during your pregnancy? How can you reduce their anxieties and include them in the pregnancy journey?
It’s so important to look after and be mindful of the birth partner/fellow parent as if you’re doing this as a duo you’re both in this together. They are equally responsible and concerned about a safe happy outcome. Keep checking in with each other about see how the other one is feeling. Welcome any middles to be aired and don’t feel guilty or worried if you have any blips or concerns. In my experience most people do! Just don’t leave them unresolved. Also be sure to chat through each other’s preferences and ideals. Of course it’s the mum that will be doing the hard work delivering the baby, but your partner might also have expectations, worries and things that are important to him too.
Talk to us about your work with Mind and how they’re supporting post-natal anxiety.
Mind is a fabulous charity, they really do ‘get’ mental health and are doing a great job at destigmatising it. I’m very proud to be a very involved brand ambassador. They have some really good information available on pre and post mental health, and can help signpost for support if needed. Do give them a visit online.
Your Breaking Mad podcast often focuses on ‘time out’, how to put some time aside for yourself. Has this been a way to rediscover relaxing for you? What’s your favourite way to relax and destress?
Yes, my Breaking Mum and Dad podcast is definitely all about being open, honest and taking time out! Just listening to each weekly episode is taking some ‘you time’ – well done! Never feel guilty about reclaiming some time for you, we work too damn hard as parents as it is! I love to go for a walk or jog, have a massage, a nice bubble bath and read a book – relaxation bliss!
Is it possible to ever not feel a little anxious about parenting and your children?
Probably not, but I think that just shows what an awesome parent you are, because you care!
Have you thought about how you will educate your son about anxiety and its issues that you’ve experienced?
I want my son to grow up so in tune with what makes him tick, his strengths and weaknesses, and placing mental and physical health at equal levels of importance. Our family will always have an open judgemental dialogue about everything, I hope.
While adults can express what they’re feeling, young children may struggle to. What are the signs and how can you, as a parent, help your child feel less anxious?
Children can struggle to find the right words as much as adults, but with kids look for signs of changing behaviour. Perhaps they may become withdrawn, quiet or the extreme opposite. Let them know you’re there for them, offer a safe non-judgemental space to talk if they would like it. Reassurance of any worries can hugely help alleviate any of child’s anxiety.
What’s the one baby product you couldn’t live without?
Aldi ‘mania’ wet wipes! I go through packets and packets a week!
What’s your favourite family recipe?
My husband cooks a fab pasta al forno – a traditional Sicilian dish… I love it!
Credit: Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety by Anna Williamson is published by Green Tree and £12.99 at www.amazon.co.uk