When Skies Are Gray: My Struggle With Antenatal Depression

It’s taken 34 hours to dilate 7 cm. Light-headed and sleep-deprived, I lie in a nearly catatonic state in the hospital bed. My body feels like it is being tied into a knot; my torso twisting counter-clockwise over and over, getting tighter by the minute. My husband squeezes my hand and leans toward me.

In a shaky voice I tell him what’s been repeating in my mind for the last several hours, “She’s not coming out…she’s afraid of me.”

I considered adding a second child to our family for a long time. My husband always wanted a second child, but I wasn’t so sure until a while after we had our first child. She brought intense joy and gratitude into my life, and I began to relish in the idea of adding another to our family.  By the time my first daughter turned one, I had packed away infant and maternity clothes hoping to use them again. I filled a Pinterest board with nursery décor and secretly chose second baby names.

Unfortunately, the odds were against us. Conception had not happened immediately for us the first time, and I’d also experienced a miscarriage. The 26-hour labor with my first daughter had ended in an emergency c-section, making me at-risk for labor complications in the future. To add to the “strikes” against us, I was about to turn 36, which meant I was the dreaded “Advanced Maternal Age.”

To prepare for potentially adding a second child to the family, my husband and I prophylactically saw a therapist. We were no strangers to the power of therapy and wanted to create space for communication and support through an anticipated long road to conception. After a few sessions, our therapist encouraged us to start trying. I was hesitant, recalling the heartbreak before we had our daughter, but armed with an industrial-sized box of ovulation predictor kits and a prayer, I made a leap of faith.

Two weeks later, I was pregnant…

The shock of an immediate conception made me dazed and numb. After I told my husband the news, we didn’t talk about it again for another month. During that time, I swiftly fell into an abyss of darkness and confusion. Morning sickness hit me violently. The nausea was so unrelenting that I barely ate anything, and if I turned my head too quickly, I would vomit. My belly swelled, acne covered my face and back, and my hair fell out in chunks. I fixated on my changing body, and I resented every flat-bellied woman I saw.

I became more and more anxious thinking about how I was going to manage my time as a working mother to two children. I couldn’t sleep at night, and I cried every time I was alone. I started to believe I was abandoning my daughter and my marriage because I felt there would be no room for them with a second baby. I hated my life more each day. I withdrew from friends and family and longed for an alternate reality where I wasn’t pregnant.

In brief moments of clarity, though, I knew that this was not an appropriate response to a planned pregnancy. I was supposed to be over the moon, but instead I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. My husband did not know what to do, but he wanted to understand.

One night I said to him, “I hope I die during childbirth.”

Hoping to get support and perspective, we returned to our therapist. Through tears I muttered, “I don’t want to be pregnant.”  My words hung the air, punctuated by the silence that followed.  There was so much more I wanted to say, but I couldn’t find the words. I felt like I was being sucked into a black hole, and I blamed my unborn baby. Our therapist quickly launched into a rant about the evils of abortion while we sat silent and stunned. We never went back to see her.

At 10 weeks of pregnancy, we visited my OB/GYN. I was already sobbing when my doctor walked into the exam room. I pleaded with my husband and the doctor saying, “I can’t be pregnant!” My doctor gave me a brochure for a women’s health clinic (a clinic that performs abortions) and encouraged me to see a counselor there.

I scheduled an appointment at the crowded women’s health clinic and sat in the waiting room for nearly two hours. Watching people pass through, I wondered how many of them felt like I did. Once I was in front of the counselor, I explained in detail my pregnancy experiences and what I was feeling. I didn’t know what a counseling session like this was supposed to be like, but I had imagined it would consist of weighing the options of whether to keep my pregnancy or not. As it turns out, the abortion counselor practically read a script directly from state-mandated documents about abortion alternatives and told me that if I couldn’t afford pregnancy healthcare, I might qualify for medical assistance. I bolted out of the clinic in hysteria. I sped out of the parking lot, barely able to see through tears. At that very moment, a concerned friend called me because she hadn’t seen me lately. With absolutely no filter, I told her what had been going on…

She patiently listened to me and then said, “You’re fucking crazy. You need to be medicated.”

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with antidepressants. Prior to getting pregnant, I had tapered off an antidepressant that was prescribed to me after my daughter was born. My doctor did not officially diagnose me with postpartum depression, but I was so petrified to return to work after maternity leave that medication was prescribed. After transitioning back to work, I decided I didn’t need the medication anymore so I stopped. However, knowing what I was going through with my second pregnancy, a close friend suggested that perhaps my pregnancy was causing my depression. With her words and advice in the back of my mind, I found the half-used prescription bottle the antidepressant and started taking it again.

As the weeks went on, I stopped throwing up. I went to the gym. I cleaned the house. I started to reside in reality again, and we announced our pregnancy.  A sonogram showed we were expecting a healthy baby girl, and relief finally flooded over me. The medication got me moving again, and the gym is where I really centered myself. Maybe it was the endorphins, but there was something about lifting weights, breaking a sweat, punching the bag, and pushing myself. I re-discovered my strength, my power, and my spirit. I worked out every day to hold on to that feeling. I was at the gym on New Year’s Day, my due date, and even the day I went into labor. Once I started to feel normal again, I realized just how much the depression had immobilized me.

I learned of the term “antenatal depression” from Google, which revealed it affects one in eight pregnant women. It is a form of clinical depression, and it can be a precursor to postpartum depression if untreated. The physical and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy usually cause antenatal depression, though other factors can contribute to it, such as such as financial stress, history of infertility, previous pregnancy loss, pregnancy complications, relationship problems, or a history of depression. An article posted by BabyCenter states: “For years, experts mistakenly believed that pregnancy hormones protected against depression, leaving women more vulnerable to the illness after the baby was born and their hormone levels plunged.”

By my third trimester, I was truly excited about my pregnancy. My labor took 36 hours, and I spent a lot of that time recounting the weeks of hell that my baby and I had endured. I felt ashamed that I had not immediately connected to my baby when I became pregnant. I questioned my ability to be a mother and wondered whether my baby would fear me. Those fears were put to rest the moment she entered the world.

When the nurse placed her in my arms, I felt a surge of love and contentment. I knew she felt the same way.

 

If you are suffering from depression, please talk to someone. You are not alone. For more information on antenatal depression click here or here.