Being pregnant was not my favorite experience in the world. In fact, I mostly hated it. Admitting that has always come with some amount of guilt, but it’s true. I was twenty-nine years old, happily married, and financially stable having a “normal” and “healthy” pregnancy. There was no reason to be anything other than a glowing and excited soon-to-be mom. Except that I wasn’t. Instead, I was silently suffering from undiagnosed prenatal depression.
For the better part of those nine months, I was stuck in a vicious and isolating cycle of dread, guilt, and shame instead of the joy, excitement, and gratitude I thought I was supposed to be feeling.
“Mental health issues [are] the most common complication associated with pregnancy, far outpacing better-known issues like gestational diabetes, postpartum hemorrhage, premature birth, and pre-eclampsia.”Joel L. Young M.D. via Psychology Today
When my husband and I found out we were pregnant, we weren’t planning to have kids. I was in the midst of a major career change and our lives had never been busier. I was away on a work retreat when I realized my period was late. On the night I returned home, I took a pregnancy test and cried when it turned positive. I knew that there were major sacrifices ahead, and the unknown was terrifying.
When we went in for my first ultrasound, things only got worse. The doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat and my stomach dropped. Had I “willed” this pregnancy away? Logically, I knew that wasn’t a thing, but emotionally, the fear and guilt triggered by that thought were viscerally real. A few weeks and blood tests later, we’d learn that we simply had the date of conception wrong. But even after it was confirmed that everything looked normal, the seeds of doubt had been planted. Was I cut out to be a mother? Did I want to be?
Eventually, those initial mixed emotions turned into an overwhelming sense of dread. It wasn’t there every moment or even every day. Like a transient ship, it would come and go at varying intensities. I desperately tried to find the joy I associated with pregnant women. I tried to come to terms with my new identity as a soon-to-be mom. Despite my best efforts, I kept coming up short. I was battling the fear that it could all go terribly wrong at any moment. What if I lost this baby? What if I lost myself?
I was solidly into my second trimester before widely sharing the news that I was pregnant. I didn’t even tell some of the closest people in my life that we were expecting. It was only when I started showing that I knew it was time to (reluctantly) let in more support. Each time someone shared their excitement for us, my seeds of doubt and shame grew. What was wrong with me?
As our baby started kicking, I desperately tried to connect with the “little miracle” growing inside of me. I tried to appreciate the “magical” things my body was doing. I took the occasional bump picture, and we even hosted a gender reveal party. Surely getting all of our loved ones together for some custom cupcakes would help me fake my excitement into something real, right? But it didn’t.
Over the next few months, I nested…and nested…and nested…and nested. I tried leaning into what I could control with the hope that the more I filled our home with signs of our new reality, the more it would start to feel “right.” But it didn’t.
I grappled with the overwhelming and undeniable amount of change that was happening and still to come. At times, it seemed like it might just make more sense to start over rather than try to fit a new identity into my current life. In those moments, I’d sit alone in our home office searching for a fresh start hundreds or even thousands of miles away thinking.
“It will be you and me against the world, baby,” I would think to myself. In the Lifetime-Esque movie playing out in my head, I’d reinvent my identity via a cross-country move. We’d live in a wonderfully supportive small-town community that would rally around us. Somehow, surrounded by that group of strangers, cut off from everyone I currently knew and loved, everything would be okay.
It isn’t support to be this hard. It’s not supposed to be this scary, I told myself. I would think of the many women out there struggling to get pregnant and imagine them scoffing at me for being anything less than thrilled and grateful.
What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I feel attached to this baby growing inside me? What if I never love this baby the way it deserves? What if I’m not capable of that kind of love?
In those moments, it was clear to me that I wasn’t the right person for the job. Perhaps the best thing I could do for this baby was to give it away. On those days, I’d sit there googling what my options were, especially when it came to adoption.
On my worst days, I’d hold my breath for as long as I could wondering if it would be easier if that next breath just didn’t come.
It is estimated that 14%-23% of pregnant women experience depression during pregnancy, and 5%-25% experience depression postpartum.American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology
During my prenatal appointments, I shared just enough of what I was feeling with my OB to receive a list of resources I never used. We would brainstorm things I could still do during pregnancy that would help me feel like me. We drew up a game plan for how we would treat my seemingly inevitable postpartum depression when the time came. The only problem was, I wasn’t taking care of what I was already experiencing. What I really needed was support for what I presently had: prenatal depression.
We don’t talk about our mental health enough in the United States. There are harmful stigmas, misconceptions, and limited awareness across the nation. When it comes to mental health disorders in new and expecting moms, we’re starting to hear more all the time about postpartum depression, but prenatal (also known as antepartum or perinatal) depression along with many other pregnancy-related mental health disorders aren’t often talked about though they should be.
I was ashamed that I was feeling overwhelming depression instead of unbridled happiness, but regardless of how it felt, I was not alone. If you’re experiencing the crushing weight of prenatal depression, you are not alone either. After all, prenatal depression affects as many as one in seven women, an estimated 14 – 23%.
Becoming a parent is new and scary territory. For starters, parenthood comes with a whole new level of responsibility. On top of that, you’re navigating a tremendous amount of physical change as a birthing parent. Your body is going through massive hormone fluctuations, your sleep is disrupted, and your exercise and eating habits have likely changed. It’s honestly a wonder more women don’t experience at least a little bit of depression or anxiety during pregnancy. There is nothing wrong with feeling nervous, afraid, anxious, or depressed. There is no shame in needing help navigating this journey and processing these big emotions.
During my third trimester, when I finally admitted to my mom just how much I was struggling, she boarded the next flight out to spend the weekend with me. Opening up and being honest with how I was feeling allowed me to finally admit I needed help. Shortly after my mom arrived, I connected with a wonderful mental health specialist through the Maven Clinic. My new therapist was able to validate my experience and help me feel heard.
Keeping my struggles to myself kept me trapped in a very isolated mental state. The more I opened up, the more I was reminded of an important truth: when you let people in, they tend to show up. Sure, not everyone will, but when it really counts, when you really need them, your people will show up for you if you let them.
It’s still hard for me now to think back to my pregnancy, to relive those feelings, and write the words “I had prenatal depression.” I actually cried a few times while writing my story for the first time. It’s been almost five years, and I can still feel the scars from those wounds. I wish I could step into a time machine, give my pregnant self a hug, and say, “It’s going to be okay. Just ask for help. I promise it gets better.”
These days, I am so grateful that I didn’t cheat myself out of this experience. The deep love I feel for my son is unreal. It is truly a blessing to be his mom, even on hard and messy days. It’s overwhelming at times, and life is definitely different. My values, priorities, responsibilities, and even my career have radically changed. There’s hardly a piece of my life that hasn’t changed. But fortunately more for me, it’s largely been for the better.
Over the years, I have gotten so much joy from watching my husband become a dad. Our current reality is so much better than the very unrealistic Lifetime movie that once played in my head. In fact, I even went on to get pregnant again…a planned pregnancy this time. And while I still mostly hated being pregnant, the experience of being a mom to two little ones is somehow even sweeter.
If you are in the midst of your own battle with prenatal depression right now, I promise it gets better. Maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not even immediately after your baby arrives. Eventually though–little by little–it will get better, especially if you ask for help. Hang in there. You are brave, strong, and worthy of love and support. And you are not alone.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, there are options available to help you cope. Call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Alternatively, for confidential support, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741, or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
If you’d like the support of one of our coaches to help guide you as you become a parent, we’d love to talk to you! Email us at hello@FromPregnantToParent.com to ask questions, including how to find local resources and get connected to a therapist, counselor, or support group. Or, click here to talk to one of our coaches
Looking for resources to help you or someone you know navigate a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder? Check out these incredible organizations:
Richelle’s passion is supporting growing families through the unpredictable and transformative journey of pregnancy and the first years of parenthood. In 2019, she set out with a vision to create a modern-day parenting village: From Pregnant to Parent. In addition to being our founder, she is a certified doula, childbirth and lactation educator, sleep coach, and RETAIN parental leave coach. When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two kiddos around their home in Marin County (San Francisco Bay Area).
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