Pregnant and Not Glowing: My Prenatal Depression

I hadn’t intended for my first real post of this blog to be about something rather weighty. I also didn’t intend to start out my blog with a lengthy two-part series, or with something so incredibly personal. But this is all I have been able to think about for the past few days, and I hope this post may encourage someone out there.

You see, I was recently diagnosed with prenatal depression.

The diagnosis wasn’t exactly a shock by the time I was actually convinced that I needed to talk to someone about how I was feeling. I’ve felt as if a cloud has been over me almost this entire pregnancy. And I had been a total sad, anxious, crying mess for no particular reason for a couple weeks straight. But in a sense, the diagnosis is still a surprise.

If ever there was a person to not have to deal with depression, one would think it would be me. Highly logical. Little emotion. Not very empathetic. Relatively level-headed. Hardly ever cries. A typical INTJ.

Plus, this is my second pregnancy. Although I had a bit of postpartum depression after the first, I experienced no abnormal moodiness or anxiety during the actual pregnancy. I thought it would be the same this time around.

But there I was, sitting in the midwives’ exam room, with clinical depression. Feeling like nothing was right in my world. Like there was little to smile about, and nothing deserving of a laugh. Terrified of the “what if’s” and “maybe’s” that will probably never occur. Feeling like I was drowning in sadness with no way out.

Depression. It’s something that people don’t often talk about under normal circumstances. It’s sometimes addressed during a woman’s recovery from childbirth, but it’s almost never mentioned as even a possibility during her pregnancy. Even scientists have just recently begun researching pregnancy, depression, and treatments. Apparently, up until the mid-90’s, doctors largely believed that pregnant women were incapable of being depressed (something about the high hormone levels “protecting” them from feeling blue).

Add on top of that the controversy surrounding pregnant women on antidepressants, and the conception that pregnancy should be a time of glowing happiness with the miracle of bringing new life into the world, and no one really seems to want to talk deeply about prenatal depression.

Yet, people are slowly becoming aware of its existence and studies are finding that as many as 10-15% of pregnant women struggle with prenatal depression. It’s almost as common as postpartum depression.

Thankfully, I go to a supportive community of midwives for my prenatal care, and didn’t face any stigma or hesitation when it came to a diagnosis. I was asked to fill out a short quiz on my state of mind. My midwife took one look at my answers and said, point-blank, “You have pretty strong depression.” For someone who hates delays, this immediate diagnosis was a relief. (“Good. I’m not crazy after all.”)

She went on to tell me that my depression may be partly due to circumstantial issues that might be addressed through therapy, but that it was probably largely due to the biochemical changes that come with pregnancy and could be remedied with antidepressants. By this time, I was feeling even more relieved. (“Biochemical? So it’s not my fault I’m feeling this way and can’t force myself to snap out of it.”)

And then she said something even more encouraging:

“You have a loving husband, a beautiful little girl, a good job, a house. It sounds like you have a lovely life. You’re just overwhelmed. You can’t give your job 100%, and your daughter 100%, and your husband 100%, and your house 100%. And that’s okay.”

It’s no secret to those who know me well that not only do I like to stay busy, but also that I am a perfectionist. Being a mom has knocked my perfectionism down a couple notches (drop by our house sometime mid-afternoon, and you’ll see what I mean). But my desire to be perfect in everything I do is still very strongly there. And that desire is leading me to feeling overwhelmed. My perfectionism is one of the things spinning me into depression.

But with those few sentences, my midwife gave me permission to be human. To not be perfect in everything, at once, all the time. To play with my daughter, and not worry about the million other things I have to do. To focus on my work, and not feel guilty about letting my girl play by herself for a while. To take time for myself for my own mental and physical health.

Pregnancy is not easy. New motherhood is not easy. The stereotypical glowing, rosy excitement thought to accompany new life is not always present. And that’s okay.

But it’s not okay to suffer depression silently. Prenatal depression is real, as real as depression under “regular” circumstances. My midwife told me that prenatal depression left untreated can pose real, physical dangers to the unborn baby, such as preterm labor and low birth weight, due to the mother’s stress. Not to mention, it can cause very real mental, emotional and physical effects on the rest of the family.

I’m thankful that my depression is not severe and that it didn’t get to a crisis point before I got help. But in my pride, I almost didn’t seek a diagnosis. It took a particularly blue day and my husband’s persuasion to convince me to finally talk to the midwives about my depression.

And I’m so glad I did. For the first time in a long time, I feel almost like myself again. I have the motivation to be the wife, mother, and employee I want to be. I am not 100% back to normal, and don’t really expect to be until I’m through the postpartum period. But I feel like I can breathe again. And smile. And laugh. And love life.

I hope my story may help other mamas out there who may be struggling with depression, whether clinically diagnosed or not. You are not alone. I thought I was a crazy and broken mess for having to deal with depression (and there are still moments when I think that). I thought I was the only one struggling with it. Turns out, I’m not. And neither are you.

To be continued…

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