Antenatal Depression: Robbed Of the Joy of Pregnancy

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pregnancy depressionWhen my first son was a little over fifteen months old, my husband and I decided to try for another baby. I was terrified; I had just come through a bout of severe PPD, and I was finally feeling good mentally. Others might have questioned my reasoning in choosing to have another child, but we just knew it was the right thing for our family. I can’t fully explain what propelled me to make that decision, but whatever it was, I’m thankful for it today. My second son brought astounding light into so much darkness, and I could never regret choosing him, even when the choice brought me a great deal of pain.

After doing a lot of research on the possible effects of using antidepressants during pregnancy and consulting with my doctor, I decided to wean myself off the antidepressants I was on, knowing full well there was a chance the depression would return once I was unmedicated.

My first pregnancy had been as good as I could have asked for. Although I did have a miscarriage scare early on and was extremely tired during my last trimester, I don’t feel as though I had a lot to complain about. My second trimester was especially good, as I had huge amounts of energy, wasn’t feeling the morning sickness of the first trimester, and didn’t yet have to deal with the fatigue and discomfort of the third trimester. I naively expected things to be at least sort of similar in my second pregnancy.

The first trimester my second time around was as I had expected. I was nauseated all day, but was able to function. I still took my son on playdates and gave him all the love and attention he needed, and I felt all right mentally. I was more tired than I remembered being during my first pregnancy, but I attributed it to the fact that I was a mother this time around. I kept waiting for my first trimester to be over so I’d stop feeling sick and start experiencing the euphoric energy I’d felt the first time.

That energy never came; I only became more and more fatigued as the pregnancy progressed. I started to develop insomnia so bad that I’d only sleep two or three hours a night. The lack of sleep started to get to me; my moods fluctuated wildly, and I had to quit my part-time editing job due to complete apathy towards the work.

Eventually, the exhaustion became so marked I was nearly unable to rouse myself during the day. I’d wake up and feed my son breakfast, then lie down at the foot of my bed and drift in and out of sleep. He would drag his toys into the hallway in front of my room so he could see me as he played. I felt like an utter failure when I would start awake and see my beautiful baby sitting alone in the hallway, chirping happily to his toys.

The last three or four months of my pregnancy were decidedly awful. I felt so disconnected from my life, completely unmoored from reality. I existed solely in my own head, telling myself over and over that I’d been insane to think I could handle being the mother of two children. I felt little attachment to the life growing within me, and I looked to his due date with trepidation.

When he was born, it took me hours to process the fact that I was his mother. I went through the motions of oohing and aahing and nursing him, but I wasn’t really present. I would fall asleep in my hospital bed and wake up bewildered, forgetting for a moment why I was there and what had just happened.

Gradually, I came to love my son so intensely the love scared me with its ferocity. I didn’t come by that love easily, and for that reason I cherish him dearly. I’m still sometimes saddened by the fact that depression stole much of my pregnancy from me, but I cling to the happy ending, my incredible son.

I haven’t spoken much about this to anyone because antepartum depression is still such an unmentionable affliction, at least in our society. A woman is supposed to be joyous and glowing when she’s pregnant; if she’s not, she may feel as though the very thing that makes her a woman is broken. Rationally, I knew I was depressed and that if I could just hold on until the end of my pregnancy, everything would be OK. Emotionally, though, I felt hopeless.

I don’t feel any shame talking about this, because I know who I am and what I am capable of–I know my ideal pregnancy was taken from me by force by depression. I’ve chosen not to write about it up until now because I know it can make other people uncomfortable. It’s a difficult thing to explain, and probably even more difficult to understand.

I write for the woman who does understand, who knows what it is to have her brain taken over by a silent intruder, who cowers in the dark recesses of her own mind, trying to escape the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and doubt. To that woman I say, come out. There is no shame in what you are hiding from.

For more information on antepartum depression, feel free to start by checking out Postpartum Progress’ previous posts on depression during pregnancy.

Alexis Lesa

Note from Katherine:I’m never sure whether to call itdepression during pregnancy, antenatal depression or antepartum depression, but I am sure of one thing: it’s very common. Thank you Alexis for sharing this, because there are so many women out there who need to see they are not alone.

Photo: Fotolia - © Bianca de Blok

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing! My son is now 13 months old. My husband and I are starting to discuss when to try to get pregnant again and it it exciting and terrifying at the same time. Not only did I suffer from PPD, looking back, we realize that I was suffering antenatal depression. In addition, I developed preeclampsia and HELPP syndrome. So the thought of getting pregnant and going through that all again is so scary, but to have that beautiful baby at the end is worth it.
    I struggle with whether or not to be on antidepressants during the next pregancy. We've decided that I will get weened off the meds and try to stay off, but at the first signs of that darkness creeping up, I will go on meds. It's a very personal choice, and I commend you for yours.

  2. thank you for writing about this. I was shocked and confused when my 3rd trimester hit in my last pregnancy and I was suddenly overcome with overwhelming depression. You hear about depression after pregnancy all the time, but during? I'm just glad I'm not the only one.

  3. Thank you for your braveness to speak out on such a hidden subject. I also suffered depression during pregnancy with my third child but I managed to get through it wasn't until he was about 3 months that it really hit it's bottom. I suddenly realised that I was no longer in control of my life and that an uninvited guest was. It has only been 3 1/2 months but I am finding my process through this stage of my life. I have started blogging on advice from a friend and it also helps to read other people, who are brave enough to speak up, journey. http://www.kiwimumandwife.com

  4. I'm with you on this one. Maybe not to the same extent, but when pregnant with my 2nd I went through a hard time I later realized was a bit (or more) of depression. It didn't last long, it might not have been all that severe, but it was VERY hard for me. I was terrified of having that happen again, but this 3rd pregnancy has been very different that way and I am grateful for that. Good topic.

  5. Thank you. Although I knew that antepartum depression existed, I don't know that I've ever read or heard anyone's experience before.
    I am 31 weeks pregnant with my second child. My 1st just turned one the other day. I was not over my PPD w/ the 1st when I got pregnant. I tried to come off my meds, but in the end, needed to stay on a low dose of anti-depressant. I *should* be on more, but am not willing to go higher b/c of my child.
    So, I suffer. I have no energy for the 1 year old. My husband picks up the slack on everything. Thank GOD for him. Yes, I just feel constantly guilty for being able to do so little to help.
    I am counting the days until I get to meet my baby– AND until I get to go back on my Xanex and up my anti-depressants. I am done with pretending that I'm happy and enjoying my pregnancy. I want to actually FEEL the feelings I've been faking for the last 7 1/2 months.
    I give both children the best I have, but I am not sure that I will ever believe that my best has been good enough this year.

  6. thank you, it is so lonely when you're "supposed" to be living in the most exciting time of your life, and you just want to curl up and sleep. we had our first insemination try this month, which means i have been of all meds for a month and a half now. this is w:o a doubt the hardest thing i've done yet, and i have not lived an easy life. i am exhausted, angry, withdrawn, and physically hurting most of the time. i cry every.single.day. this is what i've been waiting for my whole entire life…becoming a mother is the only thing i've ever really really wanted to do and i'm in the middle of becoming one and i am miserable. and ashamed. these stories are helping me to not be embarrased, not feel freakish. i shared this w: mandy so that she could maybe not feel so alone in loving me through this. thanks again, i'm so thankful we live in an age where we can know we are not alone.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story, and thank you for your courage in stepping forward. As you mentioned, discussing depression during pregnancy is even harder than discussing postpartum depression, although medical experts think the numbers are about the same: 1 in 5 expectant or new mothers will experience depression or anxiety. Many of us working in the postpartum field are including pregnant mothers in the work we do — support groups, telephone support, encouraging therapy and perhaps medication when necessary.
    Karen Kleiman has written a terrific book that I highly recommend called "What Am I Thinking? Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression." It includes many points that other readers have raised, along with some suggestions for how to deal with depression either during or after pregnancy. Worth the investment.

  8. thank you for making me feel sane! i am a partner in a law firm with beautiful 2 year old twins. i waited my whole life to get pregnant. couldn't wait for the experience. did a year of fertility and ended up in an antepartum nightmare. depression. ocd. psychosis. with no history. my story had a happy ending but i was lucky. people didn't think it could happen to me. i didn't think it could happen to me. i live in new york and couldn't find good care. they told me major antepartum disorders didn't exist. let's figure out how to make sure women no longer have to suffer from this dibilitating illness. thank you!!!

  9. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Antepartum disorders didn't exist?!?!?! Goodness gracious, I'm so sorry to hear that Judy. Those people had no idea what they were talking about.
    There is great care in New York. I so wish you had known about it. The Postpartum Resource Center of New York helps women connect to resources regardless of whether they suffer depression or anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum.

  10. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thanks for pointing out Karen's book, Adrienne! Great idea!

  11. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    You are definitely not alone. And if you need help, let us know and visit http://www.postpartum.net for more information on resources where you live. All PSI resources are available for women who suffer depression/anxiety while pregnant too.

  12. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    So glad to hear you're not suffering during this pregnancy. Many blessings to you and your baby!

  13. I forgot to mention in my post that it's important to revisit your feelings and your decision about treatment options often. sometimes, the treatment you choose doesn't work, and you have to be honest about that. it's a good thing that you are monitoring your symptoms and will do anything to stay healthy. your health really is the most important thing for you and your child.

  14. You know, Tina, I kind of suspected that something wasn't quite right with you during your second pregnancy. I even considered bringing it up to you, but I didn't want to make your life harder. I wish now I had spoken up, because maybe I could have provided at least a little support for you. Hindsight is 20/20, I guess. :(

  15. I'm really sorry to hear that you're suffering. It is an awful thing to go through, but it sounds like you are at least aware of what's going on and are optimistic about what lies ahead. That's really important. And you know what? I really think that the best you can give is good enough, whether you think so or not. Thank you for sharing your story, and I hope the next few weeks bring happiness for you.

  16. Alisha, I'm really sorry to hear about what you're going through. I knew that you were doing fertility treatments, and I've heard they can be extremely difficult. Just remember that the real you, the one before all the hormones and the pain and so on, the real you wants this baby and knows that you'll be a wonderful mother. Hold on to that memory and call it forward when you're feeling down. Even though it's a poor substitute for the real emotions, for the actual happiness, that's what got me through a lot of my worst episodes when I was pregnant. Let me know if I can help in any way. xo

  17. Thank you for this story. I have spent hours scouring the internet for any information I could find about getting pregnant after experiencing severe PPA, but little is out there. My son is now 18 months old, and I feel much better, and am now ready to explore the possibility of getting pregnant again. My desire to have another child is great, but I am absolutely terrified to fall down that dark hole again. I wholeheartedly believe that medication saved my life and now wonder whether I can get by without it. Your story has given me some much needed insight into my plight.

  18. Angie, I'm so glad you found this post and were able to get something out of it. There is no way to know how you will feel during your next pregnancy, and there's a chance you won't be depressed at all. But I completely understand the overwhelming fear that you will have to go through that again. And there are so many options for treatment during pregnancy, you don't have to do it alone or without help.
    Thanks for your comment, and please email if you'd like to talk or whatever. Good luck in whatever the future brings you.

  19. Thank you for sharing your story. I experienced pre-natal depression, but my story did not have a happy ending. Because I was so distraught, anxious, depressed, and ultimately suicidal, I ended the pregnancy. I have a lot of regrets now and wish that I could have been able to find the help I needed at the time. Not that I didn't try. I tried talking with three different doctors about it (not psychiatrists – one RE, and two high risk OBs, both women), but either got ignored, shunned, or had no follow up. The psychologists I saw were not much better. We seriously need more education on this issue.
    When I tried to TTC later, I tried to find a psychiatrist who was covered on my insurance plan that knew how to treat pre-natal depression. I sort of found one after calling NINE psychiatrists. She has since decided to leave the psychiatry profession.
    Why is it so hard to find help for this kind of affliction if it is so common? I wonder how many more women there are like me who have ended a pregnancy because of pre-natal depression who didn't really want to do it, but felt they had no other choice, baring psychosis and/or a mental breakdown.

  20. I am so saddened to hear of your loss. There is no need for you to have to live with that regret; it is terrible that you were left to suffer alone. There is no excuse for that, and hearing stories like yours makes me even more determined to speak out about depression.
    I truly hope you are able to find the resources you need to help you have a successful pregnancy. It is possible, and there are people who are both qualified and willing to help women in your situation.
    Please email me if you need help finding those resources.

  21. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I do know of other woman this has happened to, as well as women who have given up their children for adoption because their antenatal depression made them feel they didn't want to be mothers. Some later regretted that decision.
    It should not be hard at all to find someone to help. I so wish that you had received better care. I just hope that because you are speaking out, and because so many others are speaking openly of their experience, other women will not have the same experience.

  22. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    You are not alone Angie, and I hope you can see that you don't have to suffer. There are healthcare providers who can help you through another pregnancy, should you choose to have another child.

  23. Thank you for posting this link. Even though I survived PPD after the birth of my twins, I'd never found this group. I'm currently in my first trimester and suffering with severe anxiety. I've now contacted my local PPD group with hopes that their support group will be helpful to me. Thank you!

  24. Thank you Alexis.
    The first part of your story might as well be my own. I'm still early in my second pregnancy, and I am scared. My doctors just took me off all meds (the withdrawal was horrible). I am terrified, actually, that this is going to last or get worse throughout my pregnancy, and I'll never get better, never be the mom to my second that I want to be.
    I feel a little glimmer of hope that others have been here, so it certainly seems like if I fight hard enough, I might just pull my way out. I'm just so exhausted…and not sure how to fight…

  25. I know this is an old post now, but I’m so grateful it was written and I found it. I’ve just recently started my third trimester (1st pregnancy), and it’s like a switch has been flipped. I’m so sad and unmotivated, and I seem to dwell on negative things. I don’t have much support from my partner and my family is very far away (I’m in NZ; they are in US). I keep thinking I’ll bounce out of it, but I haven’t. I’m scared I’m not going to bond with my baby when he’s born. I completely relate to knowing rationally that everything will be ok, yet still feeling emotionally overwhelmed. It is comforting to read that this is normal and won’t last forever. Thank you.