National Adoption Month: Addressing Depression During Pregnancy

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National Adoption Month: Addressing Depression During Pregnancy

To say I felt depressed during my first pregnancy is an understatement. To say that my depression went untreated is also an understatement. However, considering I presented a number of risk factors for depression during pregnancy, the fact that my depression was basically ignored by those around me feels a bit like a failure of services.

As for risk factors, I could have been a poster child for Depression During Pregnancy.

  • A personal history of depression or another mental illness – Check!
  • A family history of depression or another mental illness – Check!
  • A lack of support from family and friends – Check!
  • Anxiety or negative feelings about the pregnancy – Check!
  • Problems with a previous pregnancy or birth – This was my first pregnancy, so no check!
  • Marriage or money problems – No marriage, no money: double check!
  • Stressful life events – Check!
  • Young age – Check!
  • Substance abuse – No check!

Six out of eight, and add in a side of extreme pregnancy complications due to my own health, and well, it’s easy to see that I was at least at risk for antenatal depression. Yet, not one doctor or nurse ever asked me, “Are you feeling okay? Do you need to talk to someone?” The woman parading as a counselor for the adoption facilitator I began talking to never once asked, “Would you like to talk to some other mothers who also had these same fears during their pregnancies?” No one in my family sat me down and said, “Listen, Jenna. I think you’re depressed and I think it’s affecting your decision making skills regarding this pregnancy.”

Because it did.

After surgery to place a stent in my kidney at 18 weeks, my doctor placed me on Level III bed rest. I had to quit my job as I could only get out of bed to shower. I began to panic not only about my financial situation but about my perceived inabilities as a mother.

I chastised myself all day long in my bed or on the couch watching movies on VHS tapes sent by an online friend as I couldn’t afford cable. “What kind of mother cries when she finds out she’s pregnant? A bad one, that’s the kind. You can’t do this. Look at you: You can’t even do pregnancy right. You’re biologically horrible at pregnancy, so why wouldn’t you be biologically horrible at motherhood? You’re going to fail this baby. You’re going to be a failure as a mother.” The voices in my head taunted me all day long.

So I listened.

I contacted the first adoption facilitator I found in the back of a magazine. I filled out their medical history forms to the best of my knowledge, including that I had previously been on antidepressants. Still, not one person I had contact with at their office ever asked, “Have you considered that your beliefs about your lack of ability to be a mother are signs of depression?” Instead, they preyed on my anxiety, my depressed state, my lack of support, my financial problems, and my age to help me paint a negative self-portrait—one who couldn’t be a mother.

Years later, when I found myself in therapy for postpartum depression after the birth of my second child, a son, I felt anger. I felt angry not only for the young mother who slipped through the cracks, but at myself for not being able to see; not being able to see through the anxiety or depression, not being able to see through the lies and half-truths, not being able to see my child as my own. I held on to that personal anger, the anger directed at myself, for years, much longer than I held on to the anger directed at the adoption facilitator. After all, as so many willing to dismiss birth mothers and their grief say, I “signed those papers, so it’s my decision, my fault.”

It wasn’t until sometime in the past year that I’ve been able to see that young mother with a sense of compassion. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. If you ask any person who suffered from depression, they will tell you that a period of time existed during which they simply didn’t know they were depressed. I simply thought I couldn’t be a good mother, that these thoughts were proof that I lacked maternal instinct, that maybe I’d never be the motherly type.

I’ve cried many tears for the young mother that I was in the process of healing, and yes, forgiving myself. I’m still working on the forgiving part, but I now fully understand how and why I ended up on the path of adoption and eventually relinquishing my child. I firmly believe if we offered mothers considering adoption access to legitimate mental health care resources, we’d see an improvement in the numbers of mothers who both choose to parent and, should they choose to place, feel as though it was an informed decision, not coerced by people seeking to gain from their loss.

However, while we’ve made great strides in acknowledging and providing resources for mothers and families fighting postpartum depression, ethical reform in adoption remains a slow-moving process. If we admit that mothers who are single, who maybe don’t feel worthy of being a mother are worthy of being mothers, then for-profit newborn adoption begins to make less sense. And there’s the rub.

For now, I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone, in offering hope and support to other scared mothers, and in continuing the work of forgiving myself. Maybe someday I’ll get there.

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Anxiety Doesn’t Own Me: How I Beat Pregnancy Anxiety

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Note: Today’s guest post is written by warrior mom Andrea Bates from Good Girl Gone Redneck, addressing the often overlooked issue of pregnancy and anxiety.

How I Beat Pregnancy Anxiety

When I found out I was pregnant, I was over the moon excited. Beyond thrilled. And, if I’m being honest, a little bit shocked.

As someone submerged in the mental health field, I was on the ball. I knew what to look for. I knew what could happen.

I knew about postpartum depression. I knew about maternal mental health. I knew from anxiety. I experienced it in my regular life.

Pre-motherhood. Regular. You know? The basic days of work and school, caring for pets, becoming a wife. Moving across several states. Away from friends and family.

I knew anxiety. I knew it could hit me. I was ready.

But I never knew how hard it would hit.

My experience was during pregnancy. People focus on postpartum mental health a lot. Many mamas don’t know that they can experience this during pregnancy, as well.

I’m here to tell you it happens.

Even when you’re armed with information.

Even when you think you know what you’re looking for.

You know so much, and yet—when it hits you? You’re never quite ready.

I had no idea the thoughts would come so quickly.

Would race—unstoppable—through my head.

I didn’t know my heart would pound. The tears would fall.

I didn’t know my fears would escalate.

I didn’t know I’d fear for my baby’s life for no reason.

For. No. Reason.

Nothing was wrong. Pregnant women have fears. For certain. These were beyond the “norm.” These were intense.

I rationalized with myself. I told myself the doctors would tell me if something was wrong with my baby.

I knew they would. Of course they would!

Realistically I knew that.

But it didn’t matter.

I tossed and turned in bed as my husband slept blissfully beside me.

How could he just SLEEP? Didn’t he know how terrifying this was? Wasn’t he worried about our baby?

I reached a point where it was time.

I spoke with my doctor and started medication.

I have no shame.

Medication helped me remain calm. Helped me get through pregnancy with restful nights.

Turned off those racing voices.

Prepped me for motherhood in some ways, as I truly believe that addressing my anxiety during pregnancy helped me to avoid experiencing more intense postpartum anxiety. Keeping the lines of communication with my doctors wide open ensured that I was being watched and helped right away.

I was fortunate to have this help early on. My anxiety after my daughter was born was certainly there. It shifted through stages as she grew and changed. There were days I felt it like a brick on my chest. But I made it. I found my way through. I shifted the brick. Tossed it to the side.

I confess, it still shows up every now and then. My daughter is eight. I still get anxious. I still feel moments where things are out of my hands and my mind jumps ahead. But I talk myself through it. I turn to friends. I find the support and reminders I need that things will be okay. I will be okay.

After all, look at what I’ve already survived. Look at what I’ve made it through. I’ll be fine.


Original image credit: mateusd.

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The Power of the Warrior Mom Community

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Our small but might COTD!

Our small but mighty COTD!

On our way down, at the Climb Out of the Darkness, a miracle happened: I forgave myself for my prenatal anxiety. The power of the Warrior Mom community, right there in person, surprised me; I’m used to participating in our online community. As we walked, the other moms compared experiences, and each noted that she could mark the darkest time as the weeks she could hardly remember. For one Warrior Mom, pregnancy was a blur of anxiety, and she felt better “the minute she gave birth.” For another, pregnancy was a dream, but anxiety and depression had obliterated her memory of her baby’s first months. Then, a thoughtful pause allowed me to realize that there was a shadow over my memory, too. Next came a wave of understanding, as I forgave myself for taking so few pictures of my giant belly, never finishing that expensive and involved knitting project, and everything I can’t recall.

I remember few moments from my third trimester of pregnancy, and I need help from my husband to put those moments in any sort of chronological narrative. I have struggled with anxiety all my life, and it has always been at its worst during times of anticipation. In other words, I hate waiting. Waiting for my grades in junior and senior high, as well as college, gave me panic, anxiety, stomach aches, even bouts of depression. I had a fantastic pregnancy, right up until the HypnoBirthing course ended, the major baby growth milestones slowed, and the real waiting began. I needed to remain on my anxiety and depression meds while I was pregnant, so I wasn’t just waiting to meet my baby. I was waiting for his birth to reveal whether or not he had experienced “defects” that wouldn’t show up on any prenatal testing. I was waiting to find out whether I would experience the worst-case postpartum mental health crises that I could not stop imagining. I knew that I had may risk factors, but I had finished the work of educating myself and my loved ones. I had to “wait and see,” a phrase I loathe. Did I mention that I hate waiting?

As we completed our small but mighty Climb Out of the Darkness, swapping stories with ease and without judgment, moments of silent understanding reached the deep reservoir of guilt I had held onto for almost three years. These amazing, strong Warriors inspired me, of course, but they also allowed me to see myself from an outside perspective. Did I not deserve the kindness, empathy, and understanding that I felt for them? Of course I did! I deserved their empathy, too. I soaked it in. It may have rained that day, but I let some warmth and light into a cold, dark place inside that I had hidden away.

I am writing to you from the train, on my wait to Boston for the Warrior Mom Conference, and it just so happens that I have this chance, at this time, to reflect on the power of being together as survivors. Leaving my house, choosing what I will wear, anticipating having to talk to people in person at a hotel or a conference–these things trigger huge anxiety for me. But I know that I will find so much healing in this community. This time, excitement outweighs anxiety as I anticipate soaking up the power of all these Warrior Moms, together, in one place.

Note: if you are not coming to Boston, check our the Warrior Mom Conference Facebook page for updates on how you can still participate, follow our live tweets at #WarriorMomCon, look out for a giveaway post, and get together with a friend! Coincidentally, I lucked out and booked myself on the same train that Lauren Hale is riding–community can even find you, sometimes!

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Antenatal depression and antenatal anxiety: Jen’s story

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antidepressants pregnancyI struggled with undiagnosed antenatal depression and antenatal anxiety.  I felt like such a fraud.  My husband and I had planned for this baby.  I should have been overjoyed and glowing.  Instead I walked around in a fog of self-hatred, irritability, and unrelenting worry.  My internal monologue consisted of, “I should be happy, dammit!” Why couldn’t I enjoy this pregnancy?  It was my final pregnancy, and we were giving our nearly three-year old daughter a sibling.  Where was my pregnancy glow?  Why did I feel like all I did was complain, vent and whine?

Why couldn’t  I relax?  I felt so much pressure to get my oldest potty trained before the new baby arrived.  I felt like all loose ends needed to be tied up.  I had to finish my toddler’s baby book before the new baby arrived.  I had to make sure I was exercising daily.  I had to maintain a tight control on my blood sugar.  I had gestational diabetes with my first pregnancy, so I spent my final pregnancy watching my food intake.  Every time I heard a comment about “eating for two”, I wanted to rage.  I did not have that luxury of eating whatever I wanted.  The meal plan made me miserable.  If my numbers weren’t within the expected range, I immediately panicked.  I was terrified that my daughter would struggle with complications from my gestational diabetes.  Not even the ultrasound showing a healthy twenty week baby girl diminished those fears.  I felt like I had no right to complain or worry.  I knew what to expect.  I needed to just suck it up and deal with it.

Like postpartum depression, antenatal depression looks different for each mama.  My lovely friend Susan describes her antenatal depression like this.  “I just remember feeling a crushing weight and numbness. I wanted to not be pregnant anymore and had thoughts of throwing myself down the stairs. That’s what sent me to a perinatal psychiatrist. All my joy left like I was in a vacuum – and I was suddenly convinced a new baby was the end of everything as I knew it.”

My experience of antenatal depression differed from Susan’s.  My depression manifested itself in extreme irritability, bordering on rage.  I had no patience for anything – traffic, my husband, my daughter, my parents and my sister, my friends, and my co-workers. One of the triggers for my rage was my daughter’s refusal to take naps on the weekends.  I could barely control my reaction.  I would yell and scream at my husband.  I would need to leave the house to give myself an adult timeout.  I still cringe when I remember an epic tantrum that occurred during my seventh month of pregnancy.  I was at a concert at an outdoor venue.  I cut in front of everyone waiting in line for the bathroom and for water, simply because I was pregnant.  I was rude to everyone that day. I took out my rage on anyone in my path.  This irritability and rage manifested itself in full-blown postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety after my youngest was born.  I wish I had recognized these signs sooner.  I could have treated this during my pregnancy when my initial struggle began.

Antenatal depression and antenatal anxiety are not as widely known as the other perinatal mood disorders.  We do moms a disservice when we fail to screen for depression and anxiety during pregnancy.  We need to focus on both the needs of the mother and the needs of the baby.  Mothers are vulnerable during both pregnancy and the postpartum period.  Ask the pregnant mom how she is doing and really listen.  I read this amazing piece that Andrew Solomon wrote regarding depression in pregnancy.  Thank you Andrew for speaking up for both the mothers and the babies.  If you are feeling fragile, do not read Andrew’s piece.

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