TV’S Anna Wil­liamson talks to us about man­ag­ing anx­i­ety in preg­nancy

TV’S Anna Wil­liamson talks to GABRIELLE FA­GAN about man­ag­ing anx­i­ety in preg­nancy and the life-chang­ing ef­fects of seek­ing men­tal health sup­port

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS -

DIS­COV­ER­ING you’re ex­pect­ing a much-wanted sec­ond baby sounds like it should be a joy­ful time – but it plunged Anna Wil­liamson into a dark place.

“I was wak­ing re­peat­edly at night with acute anx­i­ety and plagued by fears that, ‘When I have the baby I won’t cope, ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to im­plode, I’ll lose con­trol and the fam­ily will fall apart’. It was scary,” re­veals the glam­orous TV pre­sen­ter and new re­la­tion­ship coach on E4’s Celebs Go Dat­ing.

At five months preg­nant, and now glow­ing with health and hap­pi­ness, Anna is re­liv­ing that dis­tress­ing pe­riod in the early weeks of her preg­nancy, as she sits chat­ting at her peace­ful coun­try home in Hert­ford­shire.

She and her hus­band, per­sonal trainer and nu­tri­tion coach Alex Di Pasquale, al­ready have a two-year-old son Enzo. The new baby is due in De­cem­ber.

“I’d just found out I was four weeks preg­nant and was ini­tially elated as we’d been try­ing for a while, but I sud­denly felt this ab­so­lute wal­lop of anx­i­ety take hold,” con­fides Anna, 38.

“Then the un­mis­tak­able feel­ings of dread, worry and a black cloud came over me, as I was so con­cerned about what this preg­nancy would do to my men­tal health.”

Up­per­most in her mind was the fear she’d have a re­peat of the prob­lems she suf­fered dur­ing her first preg­nancy.

She’s dealt with gen­er­alised anx­i­ety dis­or­der for most of her life, but be­ing preg­nant trig­gered “se­vere peri­na­tal and post­na­tal anx­i­ety”.

Anna also had a trau­matic 40-hour labour, which ended in a for­ceps de­liv­ery and her los­ing two litres of blood.

“I didn’t en­joy my preg­nancy at all. I wor­ried con­stantly about the baby’s health and peo­ple kept warn­ing me, ‘You’re never go­ing to sleep again once you’ve had the baby’, which was aw­ful for me as lack of sleep is a trig­ger for my anx­i­ety. It made me very fear­ful,” she shares.

“Af­ter the ap­palling birth, my ex­haus­tion and in­som­nia height­ened the prob­lem and I re­ally strug­gled for the first few weeks of Enzo’s life. I even had un­founded fears they might take my baby away be­cause I wasn’t a fit mother.”

Now, Anna is sup­port­ing the NSPCC’S Fight for a Fair Start cam­paign, which is call­ing for peri­na­tal men­tal health sup­port for ev­ery mum, so that ev­ery baby and fam­ily gets a fair start.

The char­ity says that up to one in five mums and one in 10 dads in the UK ex­pe­ri­ence men­tal health is­sues dur­ing preg­nancy and af­ter birth, yet many are not re­ceiv­ing the sup­port they need.

“I was des­per­ate with this preg­nancy that his­tory didn’t re­peat it­self, es­pe­cially with a lit­tle boy to look af­ter who’s my ab­so­lute world and ev­ery­thing to me. I knew he didn’t de­serve me be­ing un­der par,” says Anna. “Thank­fully, this time round I knew there were no prizes for be­ing a su­per­woman, and af­ter a month could ad­mit I was strug­gling and reach out for help.”

Through her doc­tor, she was put in touch with the NHS Com­mu­nity Peri­na­tal Men­tal Health team.

“They’ve been won­der­ful. A cou­ple of ses­sions of talk­ing ther­apy, and know­ing they’re there for me, cou­pled with the love and re­as­sur­ance of my hus­band, fam­ily and friends, meant I was able, from around 10 weeks, to start en­joy­ing my preg­nancy and feel happy and ex­cited.

“That’s a first for me,” says Anna. “That’s why it’s so im­por­tant to sup­port the NSPCC cam­paign, so all par­ents get the sup­port they need, like I did.”

Anna started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety when she was young, and dur­ing her early-20s, while work­ing as a chil­dren’s TV pre­sen­ter on GMTV, she suf­fered a break­down at work.

A com­bi­na­tion of med­i­ca­tion, coun­selling and psy­chother­apy helped her get back on track, and even­tu­ally pur­sue ther­apy as a ca­reer her­self.

“It might sound con­tro­ver­sial but I al­ways say the best thing that ever hap­pened to me was be­ing di­ag­nosed with a men­tal health ill­ness,” says Anna, who’s an ac­cred­ited coun­sel­lor and life coach and has been an agony aunt and re­la­tion­ship ex­pert on TV shows such as This Morn­ing, Good Morn­ing Bri­tain, and Big Brother’s Bit On The Side.

“It’s not easy to go through, or deal with again when it flares up, but it’s taught me so much about my­self and pro­pelled me into a dif­fer­ent arena in my ca­reer.

“I feel blessed be­cause I love help­ing oth­ers through my pri­vate coach­ing and ther­a­peu­tic tech­niques, and do­ing the same through my tele­vi­sion work. That break­down in my 20s, which threat­ened to de­stroy my ca­reer, was in fact a mas­sively pos­i­tive turn­ing point for me.”

On screen, you’d never guess her per­sonal vul­ner­a­bil­ity. On Celebs Go Dat­ing, the bub­bly, out­go­ing dat­ing ex­pert con­fi­dently and skil­fully ad­vises, sup­ports and some­times dishes out “tough love” to celebri­ties hop­ing for the date of their dreams.

“I ab­so­lutely love the show. Celebri­ties aren’t known for be­ing back­wards in com­ing for­wards in their love life, but be­ing un­lucky in love seems to be a com­mon theme amongst many of the celebri­ties I’ve met in my ca­reer,” says Anna. She’s dis­ci­plined about sep­a­rat­ing her own work and home life. “I’ve learnt to tai­lor my life­style to what keeps me men­tally and phys­i­cally well, and so my life’s very sim­ple when I’m not work­ing,” she says. “We have a healthy diet, and I go on coun­try walks, prac­tise yoga and go to the gym. I turn off so­cial me­dia and the phone at home and my pri­or­ity is Enzo and Alex, who’s my rock.”

She adds hap­pily: “I don’t think I’ve ever looked for­ward to the fu­ture as much as I do now. I feel like the baby will com­plete us as a fam­ily.

“I’ve just got to the point in life where I know who I am, I en­joy what I do for a liv­ing, and I just en­joy giv­ing as much help as I can to any­one else that needs it.”

■ ANNA Wil­liamson is sup­port­ing the NSPCC’S Fight for a Fair Start cam­paign which is call­ing for peri­na­tal men­tal health sup­port for ev­ery mum, so that ev­ery baby and ev­ery fam­ily gets a fair start. See nspcc.org.uk/fair-start

Anna Wil­liamson, left, and with her hus­band, Alex Di Pasquale and their son, Vin­cenzo, above

With her Celebs Go Dat­ing col­league, Paul Carrick Brun­son

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