A lot of people view pregnancy as a happy, joyful time – in fact, I’d venture to guess that most people do. However, there is something that most people don’t talk about: prenatal depression. It isn’t talked about for many reasons, some of which include (a) the feeling that pregnancy SHOULD and always is a joyful time, (b) the belief that pregnancy protects women from depression, and (c) it is simply a hormonal thing – the normal ups and downs of pregnancy. “According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, approximately 10% of women who have just given birth experience postpartum depression.” (1) Also, any depression within 6 months of giving birth is “postpartum” depression.
I’m finding through my own personal experience that prenatal depression is very real and very troubling and, like other forms of depression, very hard to fight on your own. I realized something was wrong when I noticed that I couldn’t make simple decisions well, I had stopped doing all of the hobbies I used to enjoy, and I had stopped enjoying most of the shows I used to watch. I also lost interest in preparing food, although I still enjoyed it if I went out. I wasn’t crying all the time, but I was pretty apathetic about life in general. It was difficult for me to accomplish what I needed to for school because I could not get motivated enough to start. I just didn’t care about school work. I could not focus on any of my reading or assignments. At first I thought that was just “spring fever” but it didn’t pass and it didn’t improve. Basically, I had trouble with day to day life – I found myself avoiding doing everything I needed to do for me and my family except the bare necessities. I checked some on-line sources and found descriptions of depression and realized that I had many of the symptoms.
Symptoms of depression (2) include the following:
- Depressed mood (hopelessness, sadness, discouraged, empty)
- Appetite or weight changes
- Loss of interest or pleasure (nothing interests you – including hobbies, social activities, and sex)
- Sleep changes (either insomnia or sleeping TOO much)
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Inability to sit still, or sluggishness, lack of responsiveness
- Inability to focus or concentrate
Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression (3)
- Multiple or serious stressful life events
- History of severe PMS or difficulty becoming pregnant
- History of childhood abuse (of any sort)
- Poor social support
- Poor nutrient diet or severe morning sickness
- Poor relationship with your mother
- High weight gain during pregnancy and/or poor weight loss after pregnancy
- Unexpected or unwanted pregnancy
- Women having their baby after the age of 30
The good news is that there is treatment. I was under the impression that there wasn’t much my doctor could do for me, since I’m pregnant. However, there are treatments. There are things doctors can do. First of all, it may help simply to talk to someone and let them know there’s a problem. Secondly, you can go to treatment. What helped me the most was a combination of talking to my doctor and having her understand that I was truly depressed and also having her put me on medication. It is true that you have to be careful about taking medication while you are pregnant, but doctors will help you when you are depressed. It is important – very important – that you take care of yourself as well at this point and doctors know that. According to the NIH, “women treated with antidepressant medicines and talk therapy usually show marked improvement. Depending on the type of medication they’re using, they may be able to continue breast feeding.” (3) It is important for women to realize that there is ALWAYS help available – of one type or another. It is also very important for the people around them to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression (versus the “blues”) and to reach out to them and offer support.
- Talk therapy
- Group counseling
Things You Can Do (4)
- Try to get as much rest as possible.
- Stop pressuring yourself to do everything. Do what you can and leave the rest!
- Ask for help with chorses and feedings.
- Find other mothers and talk with them; learn from other peoples’ experiences.
- Do not spend a lot of time alone.
- Get dressed and leave the house – take a walk or run an errand.
It is hard to find the words to describe what depression is from the inside. I always thought of crying, black moods, unfathomable sadness…and it may be those to others. For me, it has been like being in molasses up to my thighs – difficult to move around once you stop, difficult to get started again once you stop. It has meant no longer enjoying anything I used to do, including craft, read, watch forensics shows (I’ve cut out all but 2), cooking, and so on. No tears, really – not even a real sense of sadness. Just apathy, lethargy, lack of interest.
My purpose in writing this is to share my experiences and what I’ve discovered along the way in the hope that someone else won’t put off seeking help as long as I did. To think that I could have felt better much sooner is somewhat upsetting but I am not blaming myself or kicking myself or regretting anything; it is what it is. At least I did seek help and I did let someone know that I was having problems coping with my current situation. There is no shame in seeking assistance, in admitting that you’ve reached your limit and need help.
1 Helpguide – Postpartum Depression
2 Helpguide – Signs of Depression
3 NIH – Understanding Depression
4 Treatment of Postpartum/Prenatal Depression