This is likely to be my most personal and emotional post. I am telling my story in hopes that it will help other women in similar situations. My goal is to create something positive out of a difficult time in my life. I am asking that readers proceed with kindness.
Prenatal depression. Yes, this is a thing. Most people have heard personal accounts and information on postpartum depression but prenatal depression is rarely, if ever, talked about. This post chronicles my experience.
Here is a bit of back story. I have dealt with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. It began to spiral out of control in my early 20s. I started having panic attacks and the periods of sadness were more frequent. I was 26 when I sought professional help and began taking medication.When my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family I was determined to have a med-free pregnancy. I became pregnant about 2 months after I stopped my medication. I felt good for the first month that I was off the meds. I was surprised but extremely encouraged. Unfortunately, my anxiety returned shortly after I found out that I was expecting. Even though I wanted a child more than anything I did not feel joy, only fear.
Right from the beginning I began to obsess over childbirth. Along with the anxiety that I was feeling, I was convinced that my body was not capable of birthing my baby. These thoughts consumed the 9 months of my pregnancy. During my first prenatal appointment it was suggested that I resume my medication. I refused. Looking back I probably should have considered this option but I did what I felt was right at the time.
My first trimester is a blur. I was living in a haze of depression. Thankfully I recognized that I needed help. Around 13 weeks, at the suggestion of my doctor, I began seeing a therapist specializing in expectant and postpartum mothers experiencing anxiety and depression. I have to admit that it was helpful to have someone that I could be totally honest with; a neutral party that was not emotionally invested in my situation. I also took prenatal yoga classes and did simple workouts which gave me time to focus on myself. I was desperate to find something that would help me. These things helped in the moment but I still could not calm myself when panic would set in.
As my pregnancy went on I began to feel more and more isolated. I felt like no one understood what I was going through. I had never met anyone that had admitted to feeling this way during pregnancy. People began asking my husband what was wrong with me; “But this is what she wanted” or “I thought she would be happier”. I hated going to parties or gatherings because I was afraid of saying or doing the wrong things. It is only now looking back that I realize that I did not give most people a chance to understand what I was going through. There were so many times that I wanted to make the people in my life understand how sick I was, but it was just too hard. It was all too hard.
Even now it is difficult to articulate how I felt. I remember the feeling so vividly and I desperately want to put it into words. However, not all feelings can be expressed linguistically, and many times they are not meant to be. The best that I can do is to compare it to claustrophobia, except there was no escape. I felt trapped physically and mentally.
I would have panic attacks that resulted in pure hysteria. I was angry and violent towards my husband. He began to fear for the safety of our baby. It was suggested several more times that I go back on medication but I still refused. I was convinced that it would harm my baby. In hindsight I think the choice of whether or not to take medication was one of the few things that was in my control during a time when I felt incredibly out of control.
This is my first time truly admitting this; there was a point that I was suicidal. I did not think that I would ever feel like myself again. My family urged me to focus on the end result but I could not even picture it. As I stated previously I was convinced that I would not be able to endure child birth. This made it hard for me to see my life with my daughter. I already felt like I had failed at being a mother. I knew my stress levels could not be good for the baby. If I couldn’t keep her safe while she was inside me, how could I ever protect her when she was out in the world? (I now jokingly consider this my per-requisite in “mom guilt”…it’s ok..you can laugh).
As my pregnancy went on my fear of childbirth consumed me. I read articles and books to prepare myself but most of them just added to my anxiety. There is an incredible culture of fear surrounding child birth in our society. I encountered many women that went into great detail about the pain and other not-so-pretty parts of childbirth without considering how they might affect an expecting mother. I do not believe this was done in malice. I truly believe that they just wanted to share their experiences. I do think that women should be free to share their birth stories. Mothers bond over their birth experiences. I just think that we should also be providing encouragement and positivity as well. Yes, childbirth is difficult but when you strip away the pain and exhaustion it is a beautiful, trans-formative experience. Expectant mothers need to hear that. Reassurance is crucial.
By the last month of my pregnancy I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I literally had nothing left. Two days before my daughter was born I spent the day with my mom. I sobbed asking her to take the baby after she was born. I insisted that I was too sick to care for her. I told my mom that I wanted to give her away to another family; to a better mother. I ACTUALLY SAID THOSE WORDS. My baby girl. The baby that I dreamed about for years. Of course I did not really mean it but at the time I thought I did.
My daughter came into this crazy world at 4:02 am on October 17, 2013. I am happy to say that I did not experience any postpartum depression. In fact, it seemed to be the opposite. My maternity leave was the happiest time of my life. I cannot explain the feeling of relief that washed over me. My daughter and I had made it through; together. And she is happy, healthy, incredibly feisty, and full of life. I truly believe that it was her spirit that kept me going and got me through the difficult times. God blessed me with my spirited girl for reason.
I had decided early on in my pregnancy that I would resume my medication after the baby was born. My therapist felt it would be best to be proactive when it came to postpartum depression. I also made the decision to forgo breastfeeding. The reason for this was two-fold. I did not want to expose my daughter to the medication and I also knew that I needed some time to mentally recuperate. This added another layer of guilt but I was fortunate to have support from my family and the medical community. I was encouraged to look at the big picture and to base my decision on what would make me the best mother that I could be (This part of my journey will likely be its own blog post someday).
It has taken me almost 2 years to tell my story in its entirety. Even now, as I type this, I am shaking. There is a part of me that wanted to bury this experience; to keep it hidden in the past. But there is a bigger picture. If I leave this experience behind me than all it becomes is a memory of a difficult time in my life. I have made the choice to share my journey in the hopes that it may help other women. While it likely would not have changed things, it would have been so comforting to know that I was not alone; that there were other women like me. It would not have cured the anxiety but it would have helped with the shame and guilt. One of the many things I love about being a mother is the sisterhood that comes along with the role. We are truly all in this together. I do not have all the answers but my hope is that I can provide support to other women dealing with depression during pregnancy.
As for me, I do plan to have more children. I am hopeful that my next pregnancy will be different. I am now more prepared to deal with any feelings of anxiety and depression. I know how important it is to reach out to others for help and support. I know to be proactive and not wait until things get out of control. Despite my experience, I still feel incredibly blessed to have had a physically healthy pregnancy and a thriving baby girl with whom I share an incredible bond. My story is to be continued…
Mental health is an important topic and should be talked about more in our society. If you know someone who seems like they are having a rough time, reach out to them. You could be the only one who does. And in case of an emergency call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-88255.