Day 9 of my 40 Day blog challenge.
Today, Kate has courageously shared her journey through prenatal depression, a condition far less known about than it’s cousin postnatal depression. Thank you Kate for sharing so personally. It would be great to hear from others in the comments section who have suffered with this or similar…
When I found out I was pregnant I was ecstatic. It was a dream come true for my husband and I. A couple of weeks later I could hardly stop vomiting. A couple of months later I was fantasising about having a miscarriage.
Reading that back is shocking, even for me. Which is probably why no one talks about prenatal depression. Why would a woman who wants a baby so very much become so deeply unhappy during pregnancy? Isn’t pregnancy a common, joyous, well understood biological process?
For me, my so called ‘morning sickness’ was debilitating. My nausea and vomiting caused me to lose a lot of weight and I was hospitalised a number of times during my two pregnancies, mainly to be rehydrated intravenously. Mealtimes lost their purpose. Days felt eternal and sleep was my only escape. I felt incredibly blue, weepy, anxious and overwhelmed. I constantly had thoughts such as, ‘I don’t think I’m strong enough to do this (pregnancy)’, which had never been my response to anything before, I’d always been an optimistic, determined person.
In the beginning my mind was constantly searching for a solution or ‘get out’. I felt like I was in ‘fight or flight’ mode, and losing the fight. I felt that my body was possessed and betraying me. I knew that my mental health was slipping away (and so did my husband), but all I heard from doctors, midwives, friends and family was, ‘Yes, but not long now!’, ‘It’ll all be worth it!’, ‘isn’t pregnancy miraculous though?’, ‘I thought you wanted a baby?’ and ‘stay focused on the outcome!’
During my second pregnancy I felt my depression became acute due to the added guilt and frustration I felt at not being able to mother my first child. My mother-in-law moved in and took over my role; it was the icing on the cake for me, I felt utterly gutted. And I blamed my unborn baby. I felt like my body was allergic to it.
I raised my concerns with my doctor. He said ‘Kate, I know you and there’s nothing you could do to harm this baby’. I immediately thought, ‘What if I were to throw myself down your stairs?’ Late in my second pregnancy I was prescribed anti-nausea and sleeping tablets…
I still don’t know if the deterioration in my mental health was directly related to my pregnancy hormones, or a response to my overall quality of life, or both. Either way, it would have really helped to have heard, ‘You’re depressed. But you’re going to be ok. It’s pregnancy related and there is support here for you’. Hearing that really would have meant so much to me.
In the end I found small ways of helping myself. I looked for inspiration and found it in stories of people managing to live with long-term pain and long-term illness. I directed my bitterness towards my placenta instead of my baby (and I made a point of saying a ceremonious goodbye to it, particularly after my second and last pregnancy).
I worked on forgiving myself for wishing my babies away. I still feel guilty… Now that they’re here, they’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
I discovered that ‘prenatal depression’ is a thing, and that women used to die as a result of Hyperemesis Gravidarum (severe morning sickness), and probably still do in some countries… Any woman does well to survive it!
I set up my camera so that now I have a few photos of my pregnant self that I can look at with pride today, even if that took a while.
I gave myself the time necessary to fall in love with my second child when it didn’t happen immediately. I focused on re-bonding with my firstborn and reassured myself that love for my newborn would come, which of course it did, around the time she began smiling at me…
I celebrated feeling ‘normal’ again, which happened almost the minute labour ended. I said ‘hello’ and ‘welcome back’ and ‘well done’ to myself a lot and I still don’t take my health – physical and mental – for granted. I have a new empathy and admiration for anyone battling depression or long-term illness.
Interestingly, people were quick to mention postnatal depression to me after I’d given birth. Little did they know that I was feeling so much better at that point!
I understand that depression is subjective and often difficult to diagnose. But I feel as though pregnancy is a lesser known road to feeling blue and that people seem to find it difficult to acknowledge misery and suffering in a pregnant woman, especially when the pregnancy was wanted and the baby is developing normally. Perhaps it offends their sensibilities.
I think pregnant women need to be encouraged to talk about their feelings free of judgement and taken seriously if they’re having dark thoughts, as is the case with postnatal depression these days. There’s enough mummy guilt in the world already. What pregnant woman in her right mind fantasies about miscarriage? A pregnant woman who’s not in her right mind perhaps..?
Sending out a big hug to any sad, struggling pregnant women out there xx