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Antepartum Depression: What You Should Know and How to Help

I have always wanted to be a mother. I played with baby dolls as a child, cared for my little brother as a pre-teen, and was a doting babysitter in my formative years. If I did not birth my own babies I most certainly would have found a way to love and guide other people’s beautiful children. My heart beats for the protection and love of little humans. I never imagined that pregnancy would be the cause of a deep and intense depression.

antepartum depression

Two pink lines brought me the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

It’s normal for women to worry during the first trimester. This is such a tenuous period when so many things can go wrong. I called the OBGYN after taking six positive pregnancy tests. I was certain they would schedule an immediate appointment to confirm my pregnancy. Instead, I was informed that the first appointment would be scheduled around ten weeks of pregnancy. That was a month and a half away! The waiting felt like an insult. I felt foolish for thinking they would be excited about another baby in their large practice. My initial elation was replaced with worry and uncertainty. I spent six weeks knowing I was pregnant, but uncertain because I didn’t have official confirmation.

The darkness felt light at first.

The depression was the weight of a backpack. It was easily managed and could be kept at bay. I assumed that it was normal pregnancy hormones and tried to brush it off. It grew during my second trimester while I was busy struggling through life. Despite trying to ignore it, the shadow slowly and methodically transformed. One day I woke up to a dark beast with its teeth at my throat and claws in my heart. I was numb to its weight and indifferent to the loss of my happiness, joy, and hope. My warm and exuberant heart had been replaced with despair, hopelessness, and fear.

presenting the baby lump

Presenting my 7-month baby lump! I didn’t take many pictures because I didn’t have “the belly” that so many other pregnant women develop.

Home life didn’t make me feel significant.

My husband was forced to transfer to another location for work and was saddled with more hours and higher expectations. He was not able to attend my appointments, go to birthing classes, or help me to prepare a space for our baby. I did all of these things by myself. He was tired and stressed with life. Coming home to a sad and angry wife didn’t help our marriage. He blamed the baby for how dramatically I had changed. He focused all his energy toward earning money to support his family and waited for me to “snap out of it.”

Desperate for a compassionate community, I joined an online group for expectant mothers. 

I was assaulted with pictures of perfectly round baby bumps (which I didn’t develop until around 8 months), beautiful baby showers, and expensive designer nurseries. These women had support and were enjoying being cared for by their families like precious treasures. It all seemed so perfect…so, unlike my situation. I fed the depression and wept bitterly about the things I lacked rather than counting my blessings.

By the seventh month of pregnancy, I was hoping that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.

My life seemed hopeless. My purpose was gone. Why would a baby want to join our family? I prayed that God would take me away. I imagined my husband raising my son as a single father. I wasn’t needed in the world. I was just a vessel to birth this new human.

baby belly 9 months

2 weeks before my baby was born. I finally had a belly. I was able to hide my mental state from everyone but those closest to me.

The baby was the only thing that anyone cared about.

As a patient at a large practice, I rotated through several care providers during my appointments. This rotation was intended to introduce me to each medical practitioner so that I would know the doctor on call when I went into labor. None of them got to know me well enough to see the change from bubbly and happy to quiet and sad. I was embarrassed by my weakness and ashamed of my inability to “pray it away” or “just be happy.”  I believed that I didn’t deserve to be cared for or celebrated because the baby was the focus of everyone’s conversation. I didn’t know how to shift the questions to my emotional state.

When my baby was born, the flood of euphoric hormones was a welcome relief.

After I gave birth to my son, I felt fantastic emotionally. For the first time in months I was OK. I was happy. The world was suddenly bright and beautiful. The dark beast had been banished by the arrival of my beautiful baby. I had survived.

It doesn’t work that way for other women. In fact, most women with antepartum depression are expected to suffer from postpartum depression as well. While I may have experienced a touch of postpartum depression, it is like comparing a mountain to a molehill. 

During the hospital check out I was advised on how to watch for physical problems as well as emotional ones. I was given a pamphlet that explained the warning signs of postpartum depression. The help for me was too little, too late. I had needed this advice months before.

newborn baby

My baby, who brought light and hope back to my life with his first breath.

It can happen to anyone.

If you or a loved one experiences a combination of the symptoms I have described, get help. Providers will give you basic advice for mild depression. If you start having feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, or experience uncontrollable anger and agitation, please seek professional help.

If you were on medication for depression or anxiety prior to becoming pregnant, this may be your healthcare provider’s first step. There are alternatives for you and your baby. While adjusting your dose or medication is likely, and may be difficult, it can keep you above water.

This is not normal. You can get help. You need to take care of yourself. You are important.

Antepartum depression can be controlled with careful, intentional steps.

*This health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health advice.

Tell someone how you feel.

If they don’t listen, tell someone else. Eventually, you will find a person who understands. People are likely to dismiss your concerns unless you force them to really hear you. They will insist you are fine because that’s the “kind” thing to do. Make them listen.

Second, you must tell your OBGYN. You can fill out this questionnaire and give it to your doctor or nurse during a visit if you are not courageous enough to say it out loud. If you are too overwhelmed or embarrassed, ask someone else to go with you and help you to be courageous. You can also ask a loved one to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional on your behalf.

Take Care of Yourself

You are important. Don’t skip meals. Take a shower. Drink water. Sleep. I know it is hard to do these simple tasks. Ask your loved ones to gently encourage you to do these things. Simple goals will help you find your way back to the light.

Go for a walk every day.

Go outside and feel the sunshine on your face. Focus on the growing and living things. Listen to the birds singing, the hum of insects, and the sound of wind chimes. The fierce embrace of nature can banish the cobwebs in your soul.

When you want to isolate, find community.

If you are invited somewhere but you want to stay home, force yourself to go out. Being with others is better than sitting alone with poisonous thoughts. Pretending to be fine can sometimes make you feel better. Find a church, join a moms group, take a birthing class, go to a library event, do prenatal yoga at the hospital, take a fun class at the community college. Learn how to feel something again. Find a new creative outlet where you can safely express your darker emotions in a positive way.

Get a Friend.

During my second pregnancy, my best friend came over every week. We would have dinner and go on a walk. Just knowing that someone cared about me was significant. She proved that I mattered just by showing up. We didn’t dwell on how I was feeling or talk about anything dramatic. It was enough just to have her there. Her consistent friendship was powerful and healing.

Help Others.

Assisting other people can help you refocus your energy. Instead of feeling tormented internally, you can choose to have a positive impact on someone else. Acts of service lifted my mood more than any of the other tips I have given. I cooked meals for other moms, watched other people’s children so they could have a date night, threw parties for loved ones, and gave all of my energy to others when requested. It felt amazing to be a help rather than a burden. Being a servant to others gave me purpose and a reason for my life during a dark and lonely time.

Depression while Pregnant

Even if you haven’t heard about it, the likelihood that you know someone affected by depression during pregnancy is high.

Healing takes time even after you get help.

If you get help through medication or counseling you won’t be healed immediately. Medication and therapy can temporarily make things worse. You need to be patient with yourself and lean on those who care about you. The tight knot of dark thoughts and emotional pain must be carefully and gently untangled. You are worth the time. Your loved ones will wait for you to return. Be open and honest. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. 

If you experienced depression during or after pregnancy, please share your story.

You don’t have to plaster your business across social media like I am. You can tell women that you encounter in your everyday life. Once the darkness has touched your heart, you will recognize it in someone else.. The best way to encourage healing is to remove the stigma of mental health issues. Be someone else’s guiding light. Help them by telling them they aren’t alone.

If you are feeling hopeless, overwhelmed or despondent call the North East Florida Suicide hotline at 1-800-346-6185 to talk to someone who can help.

They can guide you in the right direction and give you better advice than I am able to offer here.

If you have a date or a method selected, please go to the nearest emergency room. Don’t do it. Make a pact with me right now that you won’t hurt yourself until you tell someone.

You can make it one more day. I promise.

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