We Need to Talk About Depression During Pregnancy Too
Many of us have heard of postpartum depression–we talk about mothers and families that have been affected, we share resources and hotline numbers, we talk about ways that we ourselves have worked through it, and we keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms that (thankfully), we are becoming more aware of everyday.
Postpartum depression is a topic that is, of course, linked with pregnancy, with more women sharing stories to lessen the stigma, more research being poured into understanding how it happens and how doctors can best work with mothers to treat it. But postpartum depression is not the only form of mental health disorder that can affect a mother and it's time we start talking more about a condition that affects many women:
Depression during pregnancy.
Depression during pregnancy, medically known as “prenatal or perinatal depression,” is a condition that the medical community is beginning to look at more, as more women are sharing their stories and highlighting what is a very important issue. When it comes to pregnancy and postpartum, so many mothers are left in the dark, either unsure if what they are feeling and experiencing is just “normal” for having a baby, or out of shame that admitting how they are feeling will make them a bad mom, or that others will think they are a bad mom as a result. It's so, so difficult to navigate motherhood, especially as a first-time mom, and it can be even more difficult to navigate our own mental health as mothers through the process without worrying that we are “overreacting.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted in one clinical statement that around 9% of pregnant women that they studied met qualifications for “major depressive disorder” during their pregnancies–which points to just how serious the condition really is. Not only is that 9% just the tip of the iceberg, but other women may have varying degrees of prenatal depression, while others may not even be aware that they have it. Some of the signs and symptoms of depression during pregnancy can include:
- Persistent sadness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Loss of interest in activities that you usually enjoy
- Recurring thoughts of death, suicide, or hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Change in eating habits
Again, it can be extra difficult to identify prenatal depression, because many of the signs and symptoms mirror what we expect to be “normal” during pregnancy, like sleeping and eating more, or even having “pregnancy brain.” But you shouldn't discount any symptoms you are having.
One mom bravely shared her own story of prenatal depression with a message that clearly shows that when it comes to depression, appearances can be very, very deceiving. In a Facebook post, she contrasted the image of herself, with a wide smile, fancy dress, and holding her toddler son over her growing belly, with the reality of what the photo didn't show: that she was deeply in the throes of prenatal depression.
“No one told me about Prenatal (or perinatal) depression,” Tara Ott-Donahue wrote. “Everything externally is pretty near perfect and I should be elated. Inside it was not. At first I thought it was just hormone fluctuations and exhaustion with being pregnant, working full time, and having a three year old. I would end every day sobbing. Then it turned into trying to contain myself so I wouldn’t sob all day long. My motivation was gone. My enthusiasm for life was gone.
The moment I knew something was really wrong was the night I watched my son sleep and felt absolutely nothing at all. It was like looking at a stranger. I couldn’t feel the adoring and endless love I usually felt. I couldn’t appreciate how angelic he looked. I kept telling myself to feel things, but I couldn’t.”
Ott-Donahue went on to describe the scary situation she found herself in–beginning to self-harm and research ways she could kill herself without hurting her baby, and even being forced to ask her husband to hide their razor blades. Eventually, however, she talked to her OB doctor about how she was feeling and thanks to a team of support, including her husband, and psychiatric medication, she was able to get stabilized and is now looking forward to meeting her second son.
Moral of the story? Depression can hit anytime, and pregnancy may make women even more susceptible, so if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms, or have any thoughts of hurting yourself, speak to your doctor right away, because there is help and feeling terrible is not a “normal” part of pregnancy.