I was about four months pregnant and sitting around my cousin’s cozy dining room table—wine uncomfortably out of reach—when the irony hit me. I was surrounded by my best friends, laughing, drinking and eating, and I felt utterly alone. It didn’t make sense. I knew it didn’t. And yet, that’s how I felt. Negative thoughts crowded my hormonal brain. I didn’t belong anywhere. No one really cared or understood. Not even these people. My people. Everyone was oblivious to how much I was struggling. I resented my baby for my nausea, mood swings, exhaustion and acne, and I felt zero connection to her whatsoever.
I hated being pregnant.
That night in bed, I made a pathetic attempt to explain this isolating feeling to my supportive and level-headed husband. As I lay in his arms, sobbing, he quietly whispered what I needed to hear: “I think it’s time you spoke to a doctor.”
The thing about depression is sometimes it takes you a minute to realize your shit is all out of whack. You’re so trapped in your current state of misery that it’s hard to think about the bigger picture. You start to believe, “this is just how I am,” instead of rationally recognizing that misery as a red flag. THE red flag that you should seek help immediately. You are not meant to feel/be that way, or else it would feel a whole lot better.
As ridiculous as it sounds, particularly with a history of depression in my family and my vulnerable pregnant state, it had never occurred to me that I could be depressed while pregnant. Oh I was TOTALLY bracing for the postpartum shit show that Brooke Shields made a hot topic with her book back in the day, but this? I had never heard anyone mention it. Not my OBGYN, who knew my personal history, nor any pregnant friends, nor the What to Expect When Expecting book.
Instead I guiltily masked my misery in response to knowing smiles excitedly asking, “Don’t you love it!?” I didn’t love any of it. Not the pregnancy, and not my growing fetus the size of an avocado, who I couldn’t possibly conceptualize as an actual human yet. All I did know was that I was in shock from the less-than-gentle transition and overwhelmed with guilt, exhaustion, anxiety and fear.
The thing I didn’t know about prenatal depression was that IT EXISTS.
During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels rise by about 40 times. However, in some cases, the placenta doesn’t produce enough progesterone; This imbalance causes symptoms of depression and this affects one in eight women. It is under-recognized and under-treated by physicians, and while there is lots of controversy about whether or not medication is safe for the fetus and health studies arguing both sides, we’re going to skip through all that crap (because this is about ME, yes?). I did not feel I needed meds (this time), though I know some mothers who have truly needed them and I 100% support the choice they made to take care of themselves. I counteracted my prenatal depression with talk therapy and exercise, and the heaviness lifted very quickly after my first conversation with my amazing and hilarious therapist specializing in prenatal/postnatal care.
Going from being a physically and socially active and independent woman to a pregnant one IS A HUGE TRANSITION. One that alters your physical capabilities, your emotional state, what you can eat, how well you sleep, how much energy you have for important friendships, jobs and your marriage. It messes with your skin and your digestion and sometimes, in my case, your mental health.
We don’t talk about it enough. I want to talk about it.
“You have to realize,” my counselor explained to me at one point, “from the outside you REALLY appear like you have your shit together. You’re extremely high-functioning and a naturally bubbly person.” Just because people seem like they have their shit together does not mean they do, my friends. Be kind and compassionate, because you might be surprised by how many of your pregnant and mommy friends are struggling right now.
It reminds me of the quote by Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
I am not interested in focusing on the shiny and happy parts of pregnancy and motherhood, without paying respects to those dark human moments when you’re crumpled in a ball of defeat on the bathroom floor wondering if there will ever again be a time when you will feel like your old self again.
If you are reading this and that’s where you are, I want you to know YOU WILL.
There will come a moment when you are snuggling in bed with your little family after EVERYONE will have had a good night’s sleep (and maybe even some sex). Your beautiful baby will rest her face on daddy’s and, smiling, lean over and plant a big kiss on your lips and squeal, “MOMMY!” In that moment you will know EXACTLY why you sacrificed your body, mental health and wine to create this family. Your family. There will be hard moments and moments you can’t even remember what used to be hard about it. It is work, but it is soul-feeding work. Rewarding work. Prenatal depression is one of the growing pains.
You are not alone, and you CAN do this. You are doing it, and it will get easier. I raise a glass to you (because I’m not pregnant and need to take advantage), because you’re a freaking super hero in my eyes.
Were there any tough moments during your pregnancy? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.