A “darker” topic today ladies. Depression post (and in my case, during) pregnancy is an overwhelming and all consuming state of mind that no one prepares you for. No one discusses. Let’s discuss the taboo.
During (and even before) pregnancy, we frequently hear stories of mothers love being so instant, so strong and so beautiful. A bond that is truly unbreakable. A love and connection that you have never felt before. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about. We are told that from the moment you see your child, all of the pain you are feeling just fades away, to become nothing more than a distant memory because the surge of love is so overpowering that it washes away any and all other emotions .
So, what happens when the baby is placed on your chest and your head is filled with thoughts of “can someone get it off me now?” What happens when there’s no sudden rush of love, or even a slight sense of attachment? What happens when instead of joy, you feel overwhelmed, regret, sadness?
Recently, a few of my friends spoke out about their experiences with postpartum depression and anxiety and I was truly shocked. These were people I’d grown up with – known for just shy of two decades – and I hadn’t suspected a thing. As an outsider looking in, their families seemed perfect. Outwardly, they were the happy, bubbly people I had always known, but on the inside they were struggling with their own mind. A dark internal battle with the uncomfortable – even painful – thoughts that they couldn’t control. They had lost themselves, and had put on a facade for the rest of us. Why? Because they were too embarrassed to speak out. They’ve inspired me to bring my story to you today, because I feel it is important to share these experiences with other women so that they know that they are not alone in feeling this way. So that they know this is so very common. So that they know they are not bad mothers, failures or undeserving of their child. One in seven women go on to develop PPD and it can develop immediately after childbirth, or up to twelve weeks postpartum. So why are we encouraged to hide these feelings? Be ashamed of them?
Personally, depression hit me at the end of the first and all the way through the second trimester. This was a planned “miracle” baby that I had been so excited about initially, so why was I desperately emailing the abortion clinics in my area to find out their latest termination date? Why every time I went grocery shopping did I imagine myself crossing the median line and driving into the path of the oncoming truck? Or off of the nearest bridge? Why did I spend every night crying on the bathroom floor about how trapped I was? I had never felt this intense feeling of doom before, and I wanted it to stop. The voice in my head told me that this was temporary, a hormonal shift caused by pregnancy that would pass. So why was I too ashamed to speak to anyone about it?
I received a referral to a psychiatrist at my 15 week appointment after a brief psych quiz that was standard for all newly pregnant women to take. Do you struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep? Yes. Do you ever feel like harming yourself? No. (Lie). Do you ever feel anxious in public situations? No. (Lie). I answered the remaining 12 questions how I thought they were supposed to be answered. But, despite doing my best to seem “normal”, my results indicated that I was “at high risk”. I threw that white note of shame straight into the trash. “See a psychiatrist? No way. I’m not crazy” I thought to myself. I wish I hadn’t contributed to the stigma behind PPD, as there shouldn’t any shame in seeking help. It’s there for a reason -that reason being – I’m normal. If I were the only one to have ever felt this way, the service wouldn’t be there waiting for me. But of course, I didn’t want to be “one of the weak ones”. I could do this on my own. So my stubborn nature told me.
So back home I went, to lay in bed and cry, for the umteenth day in a row.
The nurse working beneath the psychiatrist called after a week of not hearing from me. It was a blocked number calling, and being that the only call I usually receive from a blocked number is my neurologist, I answered. “ah crap” I thought as she introduced herself. I considered hanging up on her – phone troubles and what not. But instead, I thought well, I’m already trapped with nothing better to do, so why not. We spoke for an hour, and during that time I felt a weight lifted of of my shoulders. As silly as it sounds, she was a bright light in a dark time. To talk to someone who was actively listening and suggesting coping techniques tailored to myself was fantastic. She knew what to say and was in no hurry to get off of the phone with me. Usually, when speaking with doctors, I feel almost like a pay check, my concerns met with a “mmm” and a nod, and typically, a script. Not this time. She made it clear that medication was available if I felt I needed more than what I was capable of providing myself, or, if I wanted to come down just to talk again I was welcome to do so.
An important note is from that point forward, my physician was supposed to have me retake this quiz once a month to reassess my state of mind, but I was never asked to take it again. “Is baby ok?”, “How’s baby doing?”, “Feeling baby move a lot?” but no “how are you doing?”. Women seem to slip through the cracks to a degree, and at the time, that was fine with me. We need to look out for one another, and that’s something I’ll be making more of an effort to do from now on.
Around 25 weeks pregnant, I woke up one morning and I was…fine. The feelings had passed and I was back to my “normal” self. Normal aside from the occasional pregnancy induced mood swing, which was brief and nothing in comparison to what I had been feeling. I’m still amazed (and scared) at how swiftly I was engulfed in this dark despair, and how quickly it left me. Though it took me a few months to bond with my daughter (and believe me, I’m there now), I was thankful I didn’t experience these emotions again postpartum, but I had anticipated them, and was prepared to seek help immediately this time.
If you know someone struggling or are struggling yourself, please reach out. Check in with your loved ones and remind them that it’s okay to not be okay.