Dear new mom:
I remember seeing the blue plus sign on the pregnancy test. It was positive. I waited for the happiness. It didn’t come. Instead of happy tears I had a panic attack right there in the bathroom. The sting from the guilt that I felt in that moment has never really gone away.
My first son had just turned one. I had just quit my job two days before. I was on birth control! We wanted another child but the timing. Oh, the timing. Why couldn’t it have happened later when things were more settled? When we were ready? When we could celebrate it and not be riddled with worry about our finances and future?
I will never have those answers. I didn’t choose my son. But that’s okay. He chose me. I know that now.
If you are one of those soon-to-be-moms who stands in the bathroom holding a positive pregnancy test wondering how in the hell you and your tiny impending bundle are going to get through this, let me be the first to tell you … you will.
As a woman who has faced severe depressive episodes due to bipolar II disorder for all of her adult life, I often wondered if the pregnancy hormones and then postpartum depression would push me into my worst mood episode yet.
So I was pleasantly surprised with how truly happy I was during my first pregnancy. Comfortable? No. But happy? Yes, gloriously so.
With my second, I waited for those happy feelings. The first trimester went by and my anxiety grew. The second trimester came and the worries and depressed thoughts took over my brain like flies swarm over food in the heat.
I tried to force happiness. When you’re pregnant and your belly reaches the point where it’s obvious to everyone else that a baby will be coming out of you, that’s when everyone starts talking to you about it.
“When are you due?”
“Is it a boy or a girl?”
“Any names in mind?”
I would fake a smile, rub my round belly in that natural motherly way, and answer all their questions. It was my hope that as I heard my own voice it would conjure up that nervous and excitable anticipation that all mothers are supposed to feel. But what came was nothing of the sort.
What all those strangers and friends alike didn’t know was that I was terrified. Terrified of this baby. Terrified of another traumatic birth experience like the one with my first. Terrified by a future that was uncertain for many reasons. Job and income loss. House sitting stale on the market. Husband working six days a week so we didn’t lose everything.
It was all too much. I was mentally and physically exhausted. And not the normal type of pregnancy exhaustion. I wanted to pull the covers over my head and sleep. Sleep through the first, second and third trimester. Sleep through the birth. Sleep through the first month and while we’re at it, maybe the first year.
That’s when I realized … I am not just pregnant. I am pregnant and depressed.
True depression. Sadness. Hopelessness. The things no mother-to-be should feel. That was me. I was so ashamed. I kept thinking to myself, Do you know how many women would do anything to be pregnant like you are? Snap out of it!
But now I realize that a pregnant woman who is suffering with depression can no more “snap out of it” than someone who isn’t pregnant and suffering with depression.
That’s when I high-tailed it to my OB’s office and proceeded to break down in tears, unable to muster the courage to talk. The shame of what I was saying enveloped my own words.
“I want to be happy,” I sobbed. “I love my baby and I want so much not to feel like this anymore.”
My doctor looked at me with caring eyes and explained that I am not the first pregnant woman to be depressed. “I see cases of antenatal depression all the time,” she said.
There it was. A miserable diagnosis at a miserable time.
I had been keeping this dirty secret all to myself so as not to offend other people, and come to find out there are other depressed pregnant women out there! All this time I had felt so alone. All this time I had hidden my sadness and there was no reason for it.
My doctor prescribed a very low dosage of medication and talked me through her experience with this drug as it relates to pregnancy and birth. She had seen excellent results in mothers and I trusted her word.
Within three weeks of taking the medication as well as starting up weekly therapy again I started to feel better. I started talking about my baby, thinking about my baby, preparing for the birth. A funny thing happened on the way to wellness and stability. I finally fell in love with the little baby boy inside of me. It’s not that I didn’t love him all along. It just took me awhile to accurately feel those feelings because they were weighed down by depression.
My second son, Brigham Douglas, was born on May 2nd, nearly one year ago as I write this letter. I will never forget the instantaneous bond we shared as our eyes first met. There he was, only seconds old. But he had already taught me more about patience and trust than anyone living on this earth.
If you are pregnant and think you might be depressed, please know you are not alone. Talk to your doctor and trust your instincts. Your baby’s birth day can be joyful too.
Molly Shalzis a working mama to two beautiful boys born 21 months apart. Trying to manage a busy life with two kids under the age of three while also struggling with bipolar disorder. Married to a man made of glue who helps her hold it together. Writer. Traveler. Dreamer. Trying not to trip over tonka trucks. Her blog is called A Day In Mollywood.