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I Wish I Knew About Prenatal Depression

Photograph by Twenty20

As May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, I've been thinking about something that has haunted me since 2010: Was I unknowingly, clinically depressed during my first pregnancy? Please know I'm not sharing this lightly.

When I was pregnant for the first time back in 2010, the words "postpartum depression" meant nothing to me—I fell in love with my baby right away, was fortunate to never have any feelings of doom and hopelessness as a new mother and honestly had no concept or understanding of what 15 to 20 percent of new mothers experience after the birth of their babies. But, all this open talk has opened my eyes and required me to look back in time.

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Anyone ever heard about prenatal depression?

Yes, depression during pregnancy is a thing—a real thing. It's called antepartum depression (the term perinatal depression is also often used, although from what I found online, this term seems to include mood disorders that last beyond delivery and additionally affect a mother post-birth). The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates that between 14 to 23 percent of women struggle with symptoms of depression during pregnancy. And I may have been one of them.

I say"may have been" because I was ignorant about the condition at the time it was happening, never sought legitimate help and luckily came out of it a-OK.

Should I have sought help back then? I don't know. I'll never know. I was uniformed and ignorant.

What did I feel like during my first pregnancy? Sad. At a loss. Completely lost. I chalked up my constant weeping and moping around—for about eight months straight—up to the fact that my pregnancy was simply unplanned and I was sideswiped by a life change I wasn't mentally prepared for. I was also (legitimately) scared of my career coming to screeching halt after having babies, but that's another story.

I remember sitting in my brand new obstetrician-gynecologist's office and hyperventilating across from her, telling her that was I pregnant. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't speak, the snot was rolling down my face as though I was reporting a death. I remember the look on her face in response to my behavior—speechless shock mixed with support.

Throughout the pregnancy, I'd cry and cry and cry and cry. I'd go out and live life and smile in between, but I remember the constant emotional undercurrent of guilt and shame concerning my pregnancy. It baffled me but I kept keeping on (because that's what entertainers do, you know). I made it a point to "announce" to my friends and family at my baby showers how confused I was about being pregnant and how it all came as a huge unwelcome surprise. And then I'd cry some more.

Around month 7, my mom impatiently told me to "shape up and be thankful." My husband then told me to "get a grip" as well, and reminded me that becoming parents would be incredible. My head knew they were right, but my heart could not catch up. "You're lucky, you're lucky ... " I kept repeating to myself. "You have a healthy pregnancy; now snap out of it and start relishing in what so many other women relish in during this time!"

I pretended to snap out of it for the sake of my husband and my mom, but I truly didn't feel happy again until after my baby was born. That first pregnancy was a miserable period—despite the fact that I felt physically great. I never felt suicidal, but I was persistently sad. (Typing these words now are actually making me want to cry all over again for different reasons, considering how blessed and thankful and obsessed I was—and still am—with the daughter that was this baby just a few years ago.)

My baby was born and all was OK. I was content. Relieved. Energized. Happy (truthfully).

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So what happened to me during pregnancy? Was it case of crazy extreme hormones or something more serious that I fortunately came out of by random luck of the draw? Should I have sought help back then? I don't know. I'll never know. I was uniformed and ignorant about options, possibilities or what-ifs to even inquire about help back then. I'd never heard stories about pre- or postpartum depression. The blip of what I experienced doesn't begin to compare with the deep, dark trenches of what so many new mothers endure, and my heart aches for them. I know I was lucky and I am thankful.

But now, I know more. Now, I might've told myself to mention all those feelings to my doctor in the name of mental and emotional health during pregnancy.

And thanks to the ongoing conversation about postpartum depression, we all know more.

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