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Richelle on trying and failing to will her prenatal depression away

pregnant woman standing at a pier - essay on prenatal depression

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

Being pregnant was not my favorite experience in the world. 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 prenatal depression. For the better part of those nine months, I was stuck in a vicious cycle of dread, guilt and shame instead of the joy I thought I was supposed to be feeling. It was isolating.

When we couldn’t find a heartbeat during my first ultrasound, I was terrified by the possibility that I had “willed” this pregnancy away. That’s not a thing, but it didn’t make the fear and guilt any less real. As it turns out, we had the date of conception wrong, but those feelings didn’t go away after we discovered the truth a few weeks and blood tests later.

Related: Prenatal depression is the most under-diagnosed pregnancy complication in the U.S.

Eventually, those initial mixed emotions turned into an overwhelming sense of dread. It wasn’t there every moment or even every day. It would come and go at varying intensities. I mostly kept my struggles to myself as I continued searching for joy, trying to come to terms with my new identity, and battling the fear that it could all go terribly wrong at any moment. I waited until I was solidly in my second trimester before telling some of the closest people in my life that I was even pregnant. When I started showing, I knew it was time to reluctantly let in more support.

As our baby started kicking, I tried desperately to connect with this little miracle and appreciate the “magical” things my body was doing.

I took bump pictures and hosted a gender reveal party that I was certain would help me fake the excitement and turn it into something real. It didn’t.

I nested…and nested…and nested…and nested leaning into what I could control in the hopes that the more I filled our home with signs of our new reality, the more it would start the feel “right.”

As I grappled with the undeniable, overwhelming amount of change that was happening and still to come, there were times when it just made sense to start over. I would move to a new state, get a new job, reinvent my identity and disconnect myself from everything and everyone I knew, including my husband.

We didn’t both have to share this burden. I’d sit alone in our office searching for jobs hundreds or even thousands of miles away thinking, “It will be you and me against the world, baby.” In the Lifetime movie playing out in my head, we’d end up in a wonderful, supportive community that would rally around us. We’d somehow be OK.

Related: Spotting postpartum depression can be difficult. Here’s why you should enlist your partner’s help

Other days, I’d sit there googling what my options were when it came to adoption. After all, it wasn’t supposed to be this hard. It wasn’t supposed to be this scary. Wasn’t I supposed to be glowing and excited about my pregnancy? There are so many women out there struggling to get pregnant who would scoff at me for being anything less than thrilled, right?

What was wrong with me that I didn’t feel attached to this baby growing inside me? What if I never loved this baby the way it deserved? Clearly, I wasn’t the right person for the job. Perhaps the best thing I could do for this baby was give it away.

On my worst days, I’d hold my breath for as long as I could wondering if it’d just be easier if that next breath just didn’t come.

Related: At my 6-week postpartum checkup, I lied to my doctor about my postpartum depression

I shared some of what I was feeling with my OB. Just enough for a list of resources I never used, to brainstorm things I could still do that would help me feel like me, and to have a game plan ready for how we would treat my postpartum depression. The only problem was, I wasn’t taking care of what I was already experiencing. I had prenatal depression.

We don’t talk about our mental health enough. There are still stigmas, misconceptions, and limited awareness within most societies. When it comes to mental health disorders in pregnancy and new moms, we’re starting to hear more all the time about postpartum depression, but prenatal (also known as perinatal or antepartum) depression and many other pregnancy-related mental health disorders aren’t often talked about though they should be. Prenatal depression affects as many as one in seven women.

I was ashamed that I was struggling with depression instead of experiencing pure joy, but I was not alone. You are not alone, and there is nothing shameful about it.

There is a lot of change that comes with being a parent. It’s a new and scary territory that comes with a lot of added responsibility. On top of that, you’re experiencing an insane amount of physical changes, your body is going through some massive hormone fluctuations, and you’re likely struggling with some amount of insomnia and changes in your exercise and eating habits. It’s no wonder more women don’t experience some amount of depression or anxiety. There is nothing wrong about feeling this way. There is nothing wrong with needing help.

We all go in and drink that sickeningly sweet solution to test for gestational diabetes. There’s no shame in that, and there shouldn’t be any shame in getting screened for a mental health disorder. If you’re struggling with feeling anything less than your best, know that’s it’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to ask for help.

When I finally admitted just how bad things were in my third trimester, my mom was on the next flight out. Shortly after, I connected with a wonderful counselor who validated what I was going through and helped me feel heard. When you let people in, they tend to show up.

Related: How to find the best therapist for you (and what to expect)

It’s hard for me now to think back to my pregnancy, relive those feelings, and put the words “I had prenatal depression” in writing. I actually cried a few times working on this post. I wish I could hop in a time machine to go give myself a hug and say, “It’s OK to need help. I promise, it gets better.”

The love I feel for my son. The blessing it is to be his mom. The joy I get from watching my husband be a dad. I’m so grateful I didn’t cheat myself of these experiences. My current reality is much better than that very unrealistic Lifetime movie that played in my head ever could have been.

If you’re going through it right now, I promise, it gets better. Maybe not right now, maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not even right after baby comes. Eventually though, it will get better. Hang in there, momma. You are brave. You are strong. You are worthy of love and support. And you are not alone.