There are things I wish someone had told me when I was severely depressed and pregnant with my first child. Things that would have made it easier to cope. Things that might have caused me to seek help sooner. It’s not easy to talk about depression during pregnancy, but I realise now that it is essential.
Let me back up. I had taken antidepressants since my final year of university, but I dealt with depression and anxiety for years before I ever sat down in an actual psychiatrist’s office. My depression would come and go, but was usually related to stress or change. And other than one really bad bout during my post-graduate degree, it felt under control.
It took a year and a half for me to get pregnant. There were lots of medical tests, rounds of artificial insemination, hormone shots in my stomach, and more. So when I learned I was expecting and my doctor asked if I thought I could stop taking my anti-depressants, I didn’t blink. I was so happy. I mean, this was what I wanted. I was pregnant now. Finally. I envisioned a parade of “feel-good” hormones marching through my body, then doing high kicks at the finish line of birth.
So, for better or worse, I went cold turkey. I didn’t call my psychiatrist. I didn’t talk to my doctor about weaning off of Prozac. One day I was taking the pills, the next day I wasn’t. Prozac has a hefty shelf life, so I didn’t notice much of a difference for weeks. I picked out a cot. I bought maternity clothes. And then, about a month and a half later, I started to exhibit very real signs of increasing depression.
I can’t explain this enough. It really felt like one day I was fine and then the next day I was absolutely, unequivocally depressed and anxious. Every simple action from tying my shoes to unlocking my front door seemed like the most complex and intense feat. A spilled cup of coffee felt like a failure. A missed parking spot could cause me to cry. It wasn’t rational. I became paranoid my friends didn’t like me anymore. I obsessed about small, seemingly mundane details.
There were triggers. Stress made everything worse. A deadline for work could create paralysing fear, for example. And now that I was pregnant, my brain was working overtime. We wanted to move. We had to change our insurance cover.
I couldn’t sleep. My heart raced. At night, I roamed the halls of our apartment like a nervous house cat. I checked and rechecked the stove to make sure I hadn’t left it on. My stomach churned constantly. It felt like I was always sick. Always run down.
When we decided to move to a new neighbourhood, I began to obsess over the crime rates. I went to the police station, 5-months pregnant, and rambled a barrage of questions at the police officers. How often were people mugged here? How many break-ins on average? Irrational stuff. But, here’s the important fact: I thought it was rational. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was seeing my world through the lens of depression and anxiety.
The day we moved, my husband sent me to be with my mum, but I couldn’t calm myself down. I was a ball of nerves, strung up telling myself all sorts of disaster stories about what would happen to our baby in the new suburb. And, then there was the actual move. What if something got lost? Or broken? The next night, my mum and husband sat me down and told me that they were concerned about my behaviour. This type of worry wasn’t good for me — or the growing baby. They thought I should see my doctor and think about going back on some type of medication.
I already felt paranoid that everyone was looking at me like I was crazy and couldn’t handle my life, so it was definitely worse when I was carrying a child. I had another life I was supposed to be responsible for. The weight of it felt unmanageable at times. When my mum and husband made a point of offering me support, I could see myself getting better. It wouldn’t be easy, but they were telling me I didn’t have to live like this. Sure, it was a risk — taking medication — but, for me, it was riskier not to take it.
A day later, I went back on Prozac and a few months later, my healthy baby girl Eva was born.
I’ve since learned a lot more about my depression, what triggers it and how to manage it. Unfortunately, when my depression is severe I don’t eat well, I don’t sleep well and I don’t feel well. It can be a gorgeous sunny day and all I feel is grey. Everywhere I go, it feels like I’m trudging through molasses. But now I know how to anticipate that grey. I have resources and a plan in place.
When I got pregnant with my second daughter, I saw a psychiatrist and took Lexapro throughout my pregnancy. We had a postnatal plan, since I had also developed postnatal depression with my first daughter. We had a plan for managing my medication after my delivery, too. And, yes, I say “we” because it’s important. Women who are pregnant and debilitated by depression cannot get better alone. My husband, friends, mum and doctors all helped me. Yes, I had to help myself first. And I know that now. I had to get over the stigma of being a mum/woman/person living with depression. I had to choose to get better.
And I can’t say the stigma ever goes away. It’s hard to take a pill (or several sometimes) for something intangible and unseen. When everything around you says a woman shouldn’t take any drug during pregnancy, it’s not easy to reconcile your own needs over that of an unborn child. But here’s the thing: You can’t think of it that way, because being well is what your unborn child needs.
I can say that I have seen how much my family and friends care for me and I hope that if my daughters are ever suffering from depression or anxiety, I will have the precise experience to help them through.
I hope this post helps even one woman dealing with depression during pregnancy. For more information, and a list of resources, I’m sure PANDA will be helpful. There are also perinatal psychiatrists who are specially trained to help women going through depression, anxiety and other mood disorders while they’re pregnant and breastfeeding. A quick google search for “reproductive psychiatry” should help you find a specialist in your area.
More for pregnant mums:
- Hayden Panettiere Beats Postnatal Depression: ‘I Feel Like a New Person’
- I Think My Best Friend Has Postnatal Depression (& I Have No Idea How to Help Her)
- Why We Need to Keep Talking About Postnatal Depression