By Meghan Pallante of Musings of a Mama Meg
Prenatal depression. Yes, this is a thing. Most people have heard personal accounts and information on post-partum depression, but prenatal depression is rarely, if ever, talked about. This post chronicles my experience.
Here is a bit of back story. I have dealt with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. It began to spiral out of control in my early 20s. I started having panic attacks, and the periods of sadness were more frequent. I was 26 when I sought professional help and began taking medication.
When my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family. I was determined to have a med-free pregnancy. I became pregnant about two months after I stopped my medication. Unfortunately, my anxiety returned shortly after I found out that I was expecting. Even though I wanted a child more than anything, I did not feel joy — only fear.
Right from the beginning I began to obsess over childbirth. Along with the anxiety that I was feeling, I was convinced that my body was not capable of birthing my baby. These thoughts consumed the nine months of my pregnancy. During my first prenatal appointment, it was suggested that I resume my medication. I refused. Looking back, I probably should have considered this option, but I did what I felt was right at the time.
My first trimester was a blur. I was living in a haze of depression. Thankfully, I recognized that I needed help. Around 13 weeks, at the suggestion of my doctor, I began seeing a therapist specializing in expectant and postpartum mothers experiencing anxiety and depression. It was helpful to have someone whom I could be totally honest with—a neutral party who was not emotionally invested in my situation. I also took prenatal yoga classes, which gave me time to focus on myself. I was desperate to find something that would “fix me.” These things helped in the moment, but I still could not calm myself when panic would set in.
As my pregnancy went on, I began to feel more and more isolated. I felt like no one understood. People began asking my husband what was wrong with me, saying, “But this is what she wanted” or “I thought she would be happier.” I hated going to social events because I was afraid of saying or doing the wrong things. It is only now looking back that I realize I did not give most people a chance to understand what I was going through. There were so many times that I wanted to make the people in my life understand how sick I was, but it was just too hard.
Even now it is difficult to articulate how I felt. I remember the feeling so vividly, and I desperately want to put it into words. However, not all feelings can be expressed linguistically, and many times they are not meant to be. The best that I can do is to compare it to claustrophobia, except there was no escape. I felt trapped, physically and mentally.
I would have panic attacks that resulted in pure hysteria. I was angry and violent towards my husband. He began to fear for the safety of our baby. It was suggested several more times that I go back on medication, but I still refused. I was convinced that it would harm my baby. In hindsight, I think the choice of whether or not to take medication was one of the few things that was in my control during a time when I felt incredibly out of control.
This is my first time truly admitting this; there was a point that I was suicidal. I did not think that I would ever feel like myself again. My family urged me to focus on the end result, but I could not even picture it. As I stated previously I was convinced that I would not be able to endure child birth. This made it hard for me to see my life with my daughter. I already felt like I had failed at being a mother. I knew my stress levels could not be good for the baby. If I couldn’t keep her safe while she was inside me, how could I ever protect her when she was out in the world? (I now jokingly consider this as my pre-requisite in “mom guilt.”)
As my due date came closer, my fear of childbirth worsened. I read articles and books to prepare myself, but most of them just added to my anxiety. By the last month of my pregnancy I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I literally had nothing left.
Two days before my daughter was born I spent the day with my mom. I sobbed, asking her to take the baby after she was born. I insisted that I was too sick to care for her. I told my mom that I wanted to give her away to another family, to a better mother. I ACTUALLY SAID THOSE WORDS. My baby girl. The baby that I dreamed about for years. Of course I did not really mean it, but at the time I thought I did.
I had decided early on in my pregnancy that I would resume my medication after the baby was born. It was important for me to be proactive when it came to post-partum depression. I also made the decision to forego breastfeeding. The reason for this was two-fold. I did not want to expose my daughter to the medication, and I also knew that I needed some time to mentally recuperate. This added another layer of guilt, but I was fortunate to have support from my family and the medical community. I was encouraged to look at the big picture and to base my decision on what would make me the best mother that I could be.
My daughter came into this crazy world on October 17, 2013. I am happy to say that I did not experience any post-partum depression. In fact, it seemed to be the opposite. My maternity leave was the happiest time of my life. I cannot explain the feeling of relief that washed over me. My daughter and I had made it through, together. And she is happy, healthy, incredibly feisty, and full of life. I truly believe that it was her spirit that kept me going and got me through the difficult times. God blessed me with my spirited girl for a reason.
It has taken me this long to tell my story in its entirety. There is a part of me that wanted to bury this experience— to keep it hidden in the past. But there is a bigger picture. If I leave this experience behind me, then all it becomes is a memory of a difficult time in my life. I have made the choice to share my journey in the hopes that it may help other women.
While it likely would not have changed things, it would have been so comforting to know that I was not alone, that there were other women like me. It would not have cured the anxiety, but it would have helped with the shame and guilt. I do not have all the answers, but my hope is that I can provide support to other women dealing with depression during pregnancy. If this is your story please know that you are not alone and you are stronger than you think.
This post was originally published on Musings of a Mama Meg.
About Meghan Pallante
Meghan is a mother to a bubbly 2-year old girl and a proud member of the early childhood education profession. In that mythical state referred to as free time, you can find her blogging at MusingsofMamaMeg.com.