Caroline Foran was nervous about getting pregnant. Not about becoming a mother, but specifically, about the pregnancy.
Caroline is of course one of the country’s leading authorities on anxiety, thanks to her bestselling book Owning It: Your Bullsh*t-Free Guide to Living with Anxiety, and the accompanying Owning It: The Anxiety Podcast, which recently passed one million downloads. Both are comprehensive guides to coping with anxiety that were inspired by Caroline’s own breakdown, when an anxiety attack in 2014 resulted in two years of suffering, with her life being turned completely upside down amidst constant panic attacks and emotional turmoil.
Caroline, whose third book, Naked: Ten Truths to Change Your Life, will be published next month, is now in her second trimester, but she tells me about her concerns about getting pregnant, as we sit last week, pre-self-isolation, in the living room of her north Dublin home. The room is beautifully decorated, as one might expect from one of the co-founders (with Jo Linehan) of digital interiors platform Gaff Interiors.
She is also putting together another podcast, a series on pregnancy, which will combine expert advice with Caroline’s own experiences.
It was a very specific anxiety around getting pregnant which gave pause to Caroline, who married engineer Barry Doyle in September 2018.
“I mostly was afraid of the sickness, because one big anxiety thing for me was vomiting and nausea,” says Caroline, who is also working on the third season of her podcast series.
“I don’t know where it came from, but I have this thing about getting sick. I get caught in this cycle of going to bed… and it might just be indigestion, but I start thinking I might be sick, and I will not be able to go to sleep for the whole night. I keep jolting awake. I have this real fear of it. So it put me off being pregnant for a long time. Any time I felt sick I would think ‘no I can’t have a baby, I won’t be able to do this’.”
As it happened, she was sick during pregnancy, from about five weeks in until about two weeks ago (she’s now 17 weeks pregnant).
“I’m so used to being in control of my hormones, and the balance, and all those things, and this is… you’re definitely out of control,” she says.
This lack of control must have been a huge worry for her, given that since what seems to have been a form of breakdown in 2014, Caroline had dedicated herself to learning about and managing her anxiety, to the point of building a career around it.
“Feeling well has always been my goal. And everything to do with my career has been shifted towards being well. So when we started trying to get pregnant, I had a bit of anxiety, just from that mental shift of sort of surrendering my body to letting whatever might happen happen, then hoping that I would be okay,” she explains.
The anxiety began six years ago; she and Barry had just moved in together after six months of dating.
“Two weeks later I moved job, and started saying ‘I don’t feel well, I don’t feel well’. And it just went whoooosh,” she says, indicating a sudden drop. “Like, I fell off a cliff then. Before I was so carefree and easy-breezy.
“After my anxiety started, it became bigger and bigger: how would it affect my career, what would people think of me? How would it affect my relationship, because this isn’t what he had signed up for. And I didn’t really know what kind of person Barry was in terms of dealing with the difficult stuff.”
She was up front with him about what was going on, in fact trying to end the relationship. “I was like ‘save yourself’. I tried so hard to push him away. But very quickly he said ‘we’re going to figure this out together’. Just that language of ‘we’re going to find our way through this’. That he was taking it on. We’re a partnership. Not ‘you’ll be fine’.”
Caroline had by then given up work, and was not leaving the house.
“I was so depressed. He’d come home and I’d be in tears on the bedroom floor, and he’d have to come and pick me up. I just felt so much guilt. And he was like ‘you need to let me love you. And trust that I do. And stop saying you’re not lovable because you’re going through something hard.’”
Five weeks into her pregnancy, when the nausea and vomiting began to escalate, Caroline describes how her anxiety began reminding her of when it was at its worst. She describes the voice in her head berating her. “Women do this all the time, this is not special, you need to get a grip, people are going into offices all the time.”
The sickness was so severe she was virtually incapacitated for the first three months. “But surprisingly the anticipation is so much worse than the reality. As in, I was so frightened of how would I feel. I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope with it for one day. And then when it actually came to it, I was so sick that I didn’t have time to be anxious. It was just a matter of surviving and coping.
“So my learning was that your ability to cope is far greater than your fear of it in the first place.
“I know this with anxiety: it’s always so much wrapped up in perception, and what might happen, and what that will be like. In reality, you don’t know how well you’ll cope until you’re in a situation. Unfortunately, the only way to know that you are resilient, and that you can cope, is to be in that situation.”
In fact, being forced to face her fear has proved somewhat satisfying, Caroline reveals.
“The only way around fear is right through it. I felt oddly exhilarated, in that I was living through what I had feared so much. I felt kind of proud of myself for coping. I mean I wasn’t coping particularly well, but I was getting through each day.”
Being able to share honestly how she was feeling with friends helped, she says.
“I could accept the fact that I was feeling very low, and not panic about it. I was getting sick all of the time, I wasn’t able to eat anything, I wasn’t sleeping properly. For me it’s so important to vocalise. If I was feeling really bad, and upset and physically and emotionally drained, and I kept saying positive stuff, the negatives would just blow up.
“I think it’s always important to address stuff, and express how you’re feeling. For me, a large part of that phase was being able to say it to my friends, without having to worry about how people would perceive it.”
The thought of becoming a mother, unlike the pregnancy, has not been a cause for concern.
“Obviously, I’ve no idea what’s ahead of me, but I feel like because I got through the sickness, I can handle anything else. I feel like I’m just showing myself constantly that I can always get through when I think I can’t. And I feel like you can be a good parent with or without anxiety.”
In fact, she points out, the work she has done on herself will make her a particularly empathetic parent, with added insight into a child’s fears. She was an anxious child herself, she explains.
“It always came out in my tummy. Nobody would ever have said I was an anxious child. My whole life I’ve had tummy issues, but it’s only in the work I’ve done in the last few years that I have realised it was probably 80 per cent anxiety, 20 per cent actual tummy issues.”
Now, she says, she’s much more accepting of not being “a perfectly formed, well-adjusted human, and I don’t need to wait until I feel no fear before I do anything.”
It’s why she’s embracing impending motherhood, with all its ups and downs.
Pre-order Caroline Foran’s new book Naked: Ten Truths to Change Your Life www.easons.com/naked-caroline- foran-9781529352146 @carolineforan
Sunday Indo Living