Angelique Serrano with her daughter

How I Coped With Second Trimester Mood Swings and Irritability

My symptoms around the sixth month of my second pregnancy took an interesting turn: The good news was that I felt less nauseous than I had in the beginning. The bad news was that I became way more irritable. And by irritable, I mean angry. I never felt anything like this in my first pregnancy. There were days when most everything in my sight irritated me, and the feelings would run up my neck and straight through my head in a rush of ridiculous, nose-burning annoyance.

I had truly never experienced anything like that before, in the sense that my anger felt so irrational and real at the same time.

I had truly never experienced anything like that before, in the sense that my anger felt so irrational and real at the same time. It was almost comical. When my shirt didn’t fit in the morning as I dressed for my New York City publishing job, I’d want to rip it off. When my coffee got cold, I’d want to dump the mug into the sink. When my legs ached at night, I’d want to cry.

I had heard that pregnancy hormones (like progesterone, for example) could have an impact on my mood. But I didn’t know how to handle all the new emotional surges. I tried to get ahead of them and explained to my husband how the irritability and impatience would just flare up sometimes. That way, I reasoned, he would understand if he got caught in a moment with me. And it did help during those times when my emotions were directed at him (which he never deserved). He knew then not to take those moments personally.

But as the sixth month ticked into the seventh, I taught myself other ways to deal with my irritability. Whenever possible, I tried to remove the triggers. I stopped trying to wear clothes that were complicated, uncomfortable, or that I knew wouldn’t fit me right. And when I found myself starting to cry over something really silly, I would try and make myself feel better right away with a quick walk, a text message to a friend, or a lie-down with a Bravo TV show.

If I found myself getting angry, I'd try to move myself through the moment, rather than wallow in how it made me feel.

I found that the secret, for me, was twofold: Avoiding triggers was the first technique. If I found myself getting angry, I'd try to move myself through the moment quickly, rather than wallow in how it made me feel. That second technique is sort of similar to a step involved in meditation; a central idea in some meditation is allowing thoughts and feelings to pass without stopping or dwelling on them. I needed super short-term goals. If my moods were mercurial and unexpected, then I had to pivot quickly to get myself out of them. Sometimes I did that with a slice of pizza.

But I still had control issues. I tried to hold onto as much control as possible, even though (or maybe because) I felt like I was engulfed by situations I couldn't control. Some of those situations were my high-risk pregnancy, our Mosaic Trisomy 13 condition (isolated to my placenta), and my unpredictable symptoms, such as nausea and fatigue. And so I attempted to behave as if nothing had changed. I wanted to attend every presentation and meeting at my job. I wanted to pick up every box, and run to every appointment, just as I used to. And I felt embarrassed to ask for or accept any help. In fact, at times I’d grow defensive if I was offered help, unfairly irritated at the support rather than comforted by it. Because if I could keep control, then somehow everything would be okay. Right?

This tactic of inoculating myself against showing any hint of vulnerability was, I see now, counterproductive. For example, the idea did cross my mind to look into support groups that might offer advice to expecting parents with high-risk pregnancies. That likely would have wound up being a huge support for me and my family. But entertaining the thoughts just made me feel scared. If my hard exterior cracked, then I’d have to talk about my fears, and face them.

My first baby was born early, weighed less than five pounds, and remained in the NICU for almost a week. My second baby could potentially be impacted by a rare chromosome abnormality, and I was likely headed for another diagnosis of HELLP Syndrome. But if I didn’t think about my fears, or talk about them, then I could keep on holding my breath, pushing through my days, and pretending that I was okay. But I didn’t feel okay. I felt tired.

I did make one decision that proved to be a game-changer: I confided in a coworker (who was also a true friend) all about my condition. I shared everything, from the doctors' diagnoses, to my feelings, and even my irrational bouts of irritation. And it felt amazing. She helped carry the mental load with me during the demanding, busy workweek. She sympathized without judgment and looked out for me.

She also kept me mindful of my schedule, and helped me go home every evening as soon as I was able. If I had a doctor's appointment, she kept an eye on the clock and made sure I got there on time. Whether it was giving me snacks, or giving me an ear, she was instrumental and helped support me through my trimesters.

Finding someone in whom you can confide completely can be an unbelievable asset in the journey to parenthood. Having my friend with me during those long days made me feel calmer, less anxious, and better able to function. She gave the kind of support I needed, which was discrete and measured. She understood that for me, sometimes not talking about my worries and symptoms was just as helpful as talking about them.

While I learned how to get a better grip on my moods, it was learning how to let go a little and let other people in more that really supported me through. And those were lessons that helped me long after my second baby was born. And today, I'm a better friend, and a better supporter, for having learned these lessons. Now I can be that unconditional, non-judgmental ear for others.

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2 Sources
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  1. Buckwalter JG, Stanczyk FZ, McCleary CA, et al. Pregnancy, the postpartum, and steroid hormones: effects on cognition and mood. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1999;24(1):69-84. DOI: 10.1016/s0306-4530(98)00044-4

  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Meditation: in depth. Updated April 2016.