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I Didn't Expect to Feel Depressed During Pregnancy

Photograph by Twenty20

Finding out you are pregnant is supposed to be the most magical day of your life. Well, OK, maybe your wedding day is high up there too. When you are pregnant you nest, watching your boobs swell until your belly surpasses it. Life is grand. Your baby is blossoming and so are you.

But what if you aren't?

I remember the moment I became aware of something being off in my pregnancy quite distinctly. I was only a few months pregnant with my second son. I was curled up on the couch in my bathrobe while my oldest, who was 2 at the time, played on the floor in front of me. I looked at him. I knew I loved him, but I really didn't want to take care of him anymore.

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I was exhausted. I felt like crap. Nausea wasn't a hypothetical thing; it was a living breathing being in my body. I was convinced it would never end. All I wanted to do was curl up into a little ball for the next seven months and not come out again until this baby was born, when I would hand him over to his dad and I could just go back to sleep.

I craved solitude, but I wanted to be with my friends. However, when I was with my friends, I didn't want to be with them. I just wanted to be left alone. I was more confused than ever over how I was feeling. How could I not want to take care of my own child? How could I, who loved socializing and being surrounded by people, suddenly want nothing to do with them?

There were very few people I could talk to about this with. I felt like I would be ostracized or people would think I was a horrible mother and mock me behind my back. Luckily, I had a very dear friend who started to recognize what was going on. She lived in Switzerland, so we chatted over instant message and video chat a lot. She saw me deteriorating. She knew what was wrong before I did. She had experienced it herself.

I had prenatal depression.

Tom Cruise had said we should get over it without medication. Brooke Shields screamed back that post partum depression was a real thing that women needed medical help with to overcome.

According to Wikipedia, "Antenatal depression, also known as prenatal depression, is a form of clinical depression that can affect a woman during pregnancy and can be a precursor to postpartum depression if not properly treated." The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that between 14 and 23 percent of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression in pregnancy.

In my second trimester my friend suggested I talk to my doctor about my feelings. "No, no," I said. "I'll pull through. I'm just tired, but I'm getting out more. It will be fine."

It wasn't fine, and I wasn't getting better. I was just plain scared. What if I wanted nothing to do with my new baby? I continued to care for my oldest like a good mother should, but I just wanted to lock out the world. I held it together for him, but most days I felt like I was ripping apart at the seams.

In my mind, prenatal depression wasn't a real thing. Women only had post partum depression . Everyone knew that. Tom Cruise had said we should get over it without medication. Brooke Shields screamed back that post partum depression was a real thing that women needed medical help with to overcome. Friends told me about their own struggles with post partum, but never prenatal depression.

Prenatal depression is the one thing no one was talking about.

I was alone in my struggle. This could only be happening to me. Something was extra wrong with me. It was obvious.

We need to be able to do this without fear that we will be labeled unfit or unworthy of the title of "mother."

I read through every list known to man to see if I really had prenatal depression before I talked to my doctor. According to the American Pregnancy Association, possible triggers of prenatal depression include:

  • Relationship problems
  • Family or personal history of depression
  • Infertility treatments
  • Previous pregnancy loss
  • Stressful life events
  • Complications in pregnancy
  • History of abuse or trauma

There was nothing major happening in my life, besides the fact that we were having another baby. I didn't have an abusive marriage, my relationship with my parents was great, I'd never had infertility treatments or lost a baby, and I was eating just fine. Yet here I was showing none of the triggers but, according to the APA, many of the signs:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Loss of interest in activities that you usually enjoy
  • Recurring thoughts of death, suicide or hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Change in eating habits

I was lucky that I had an amazing doctor. She had known me through my first pregnancy and knew that I was generally a very happy, if not slightly crazy, pregnant woman who liked to ask a lot of bizarre questions (re: Can you give birth naturally if you have a broken leg? Yes, as long as your pelvis isn't broken. These are the conversations we had while I was pregnant with my first child. I was curious. She satisfied my curiosity.)

By my third trimester, I got up the courage to talk to her about my struggles. She didn't blink an eye. She didn't try to play down my emotions. She simply handed me a tissue, gave me a hug and began discussing my options with me. She suggested we start an antidepressant treatment right away. Nothing major. The lowest dose you could possibly take to see if it helped. She knew what was coming after my son was born. The hormones would start shifting again and my depression could get even worse.

This was something I didn't want to have happen. I wanted to get on top of this before it took a turn for the worse. We've all read the headlines when post partum isn't recognized and/or treated. Neither of us saw it going in a downward spiral, but when it comes to those post partum hormones, you just never know—especially if you are already having trouble prenatally.

The point is, I started to feel more in control of my life again.

Within a few weeks I was perking up. I felt myself looking forward to outings with friends. I'm not saying things were perfect. I still wanted to lie in bed most of day, but, let's be honest, by this point I was eight months pregnant, potty training a toddler and hauling him all over the place to keep him entertained. Any woman would want to lie down after that.

The point is, I started to feel more in control of my life again. I talked about it more freely with my friend who had encouraged me to get help in the first place. Another friend had stepped forward to share her own pregnancy struggles, adding another friendly face that I could rely on when I needed to talk. Both of these women had suffered from depression in their lives and needed help medically and/or through professional counseling. There was no shame in getting help. This was the one thing I had to get over.

I was not alone.

Prenatal depression is a real thing. It is something that needs to be talked about more often. Post partum depression still holds a certain stigma for women who suffer, many in silence, as they juggle motherhood and society's expectations. Prenatal depression needs to be brought into the post partum conversation. If these things can be caught earlier, and we are encouraged to talk more about it, fewer women will suffer in silence. There is no better medication for a tired and scared mom than talking and having someone relate to what she is going through. She needs to be encouraged to get help, or to at least know she is not weird or a freak for needing support.

My two friends knew about my struggles, and my husband of course, but no one else. I couldn't even bring myself to tell my parents, because I didn't want them to worry about me. It was an easy thing to hide. I lived 3,000 miles away. As I came out of the shadow of infanthood with my second son and into the crawling years, I began to talk a little more with friends. I made it my mission to check in on my pregnant friends and moms with infants to see how their mood was and if they needed a listening ear. Many did, others didn't.

RELATED: After Post Partum Depression, Parenting Gets Easier

We as women and mothers should not be ashamed when our bodies throw a few curve balls our way. We need to educate each other and ourselves, creating a comforting environment to address our concerns and needs. We need to be able to do this without fear that we will be labeled unfit or unworthy of the title of "mother." We all have a defining moment in our pregnancies—some see joy, while others face sadness. As you move through your day ask yourself whether you have a pregnant friend who might just need to talk today?

You never know what that simple question will bring.

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