Every June: A Story of Depression During Pregnancy

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes to us from a Warrior Mom in Kenya. It’s a beautiful, hard, and tiny bit scary look at an unplanned pregnancy, depression during pregnancy, and postpartum depression. We know other moms have felt this way, thought these thoughts. You are never alone. -Jenna]

Every June: A Story of Depression During Pregnancy

Every June, I have a silent anniversary of sorts.

This June was no different.

It doesn’t help much the fact that this blurry anniversary coincides with my birthday.

* * *

I have vivid memories of that day back in June 2011. In the months that had passed, I lived in a bubble of sorts; reality still hadn’t dawned on me. How’d I been drinking Famous Grouse & Malibu all along without knowing it. It never crossed my mind, at least not at 22. I had these lofty dreams, my career was on an upward trajectory, and there were all the signs of a well-heeled lifestyle. The realization that life as I knew it was going to change had me floating in a palpable fog.

I’d had nightmares every so often since I saw those two lines—piercing screams in the dead of the night, a bloodied mess on my hands, an obsessive worry-packed train of thought that seemed to amplify my incapability to transcend life’s hurdles, and the very nagging thought that I probably wouldn’t pull through alive. I was scared. With every new day that drew me closer to one of my life’s most changing turning points, I grieved at the life I had left behind yet couldn’t embrace with gusto what lay ahead.

It was a yo-yo of sorts. I was going to be a mom—totally unprepared, and completely flustered by life as I knew it. As the days whizzed by, I felt like a puppet in life’s hands; going through the motions, pretending to be unfazed, but really squirming on the inside.

* * *

That Wednesday morning began like any other: a stark indecisiveness in reporting for work (I had some inexplicable fatigue and some cravings that can only be likened to those of a one year pregnant elephant). (Funny how none of these cravings were costly, you know. No croissant cravings, or gelato, or pizza or something. Just #teamavocado, peanuts, copious amounts of tea, occasionally steak… and beans, of all things! I digress…)

In the background, the hustle and bustle of the working class drowned in a cacophony of blaring matatu (public buses) horns, kids giggling excitedly as they boarded their school vans and the unmistakable rumble of heavy road work machinery on the then unfinished Super Highway a few meters from my apartment. The smell of fresh mandazi by the roadside wafted into the air. Yet amidst this entire normalcy, something felt terribly off. And it was not just because I was growing one year older. I’d find out soon.

The urgency of bathroom breaks when one is pregnant is as amusing as it is annoying. I trudged sleepily to the toilet, and that is when the horror of all the queasy feelings unraveled. There it was, a bright red blob right staring back at me. For a moment, my world stopped. All the sounds of normalcy faded into a distant horizon. Tears welled in my eyes. I knew something was wrong immediately I saw the blood because, two months along, I was not meant to be bleeding.

I remember sitting down and breaking down—heavy mucus-filled crying, ugly crying only punctuated by a rumbling stomach. I needed to eat, but how could I when it was evident I was almost losing my baby? How could this be happening? Was it because I still imbibed (unknowingly) a few weeks into my pregnancy? Or was it because, a few days before, I had tripped and fallen by the roadside? Wasn’t I good enough a mom-to-be? Oh no, dear God!!

All I could think of was: I am losing my baby. This emotional turmoil I cannot quite capture in words. I was scared; scared and alone. Alone because, for the most part, I had only disclosed the news to my unborn’s dad (and I use the term dad very loosely) and a few friends. I had to muster courage and go to hospital, immediately. But my feet felt like they had been cemented to the cold apartment floor that dusty dry morning.

In between getting dressed, making a few phone calls, and arriving at the hospital, all that remains of these memories is pretty hazy. I checked into hospital, glad to be in the company of my heavily pregnant friend (forever thankful for her support in the days that followed). It made for solace, really. Tests, scans, physical examination, questioning. In the end, the report read: threatened abortion. The moment I read those words, a hard lump knotted in my throat.

Part of me kept thinking: You are to blame. Loud, audacious voices in my head, placing the blame squarely on my inability to be more receptive of the journey I was on. I couldn’t hold back my tears, sitting in the doctor’s room, trying to wrap my thoughts about the report he had placed on my hands. Prescription medication and mandatory bed rest to ensure that I had a viable pregnancy were provided. I went home, still dazed.

My thoughts swirled around the fact that there was a possibility I would lose my baby. There was some silent grief of sorts, but mostly a cloud of guilt hanging above me. For not doing enough for my unborn child, for making the wrong decisions, for the inability to be excited I was going to bring forth new life into this world, for the fact that I would be facing this alone.

* * *

While the rest of my pregnancy went seamlessly, the guilt of it all continued to haunt me. Looking back, this was one of the triggers for the postpartum depression that would later ravage my life. Coupled with the trauma of labor and childbirth, this guilt plunged me into the miasma of confusion, scary anger, intrusive thoughts, and the intense hatred for motherhood that I could not seem to shake free. Postpartum depression had a vice-like hold on me, a position which often felt like the infamous choke-hold, always feeling like I was peering through chlorinated water in the glare of the midday sun, suffocating, flapping my hands to survive to no avail.

In my son’s first year, I got help online from Postpartum progress. I have always been encouraged to do what Katherine Stone has done with this organization, because I know it gave me a lifeline, for which I am eternally grateful. I hope to do something in this regard here in Kenya.

~Samoina Wangui
PPD Island

Having Another Baby, Meds During Pregnancy, & How to Be Selfish

During week’s Facebook Live chat with Katherine, we talked about everything from the decision to have another baby to medication during pregnancy to what a mom should do to find care if she doesn’t have insurance.

Watch for yourself.

Here are all of the links we shared during the broadcast:

We started off on the topic of having another baby as that’s where we got cut off last week when our hour ran out. We acknowledge that not all moms who have experienced PPD need or have to have other children. Those moms’ voices and experiences are valid and we encourage the sharing of those stories because there are other moms who don’t want more children and need to feel less alone. Katherine shared her story of having another child while others shared their experiences in the comments.

The discussion morphed into the topic of taking medication while pregnant, which a few in the chat didn’t even know was a possibility. It IS. If your doctor tells you no, get another opinion. There are safe medications and safe ways to take medication during pregnancy, but you do need to speak with doctors who know what they’re doing. Additionally, you can do other things, like attend therapy, while pregnant to either help medication or to avoid it.

At one point we were discussing advocating for yourself and the care that you need. Katherine said to “be selfish.”

Be Selfish -postpartumprogress.com

What we mean by that is that it’s not selfish to ask for help, to seek help, to take some time out of every single day for you. It’s necessary. It just feels selfish because for too long we’ve been taught we need to be good, quiet, not create a ruckus. Nope. Be selfish. Do what you need for you to get better. You deserve to feel better, to be better.

We talked about Climb Out of the Darkness for a little bit. It’s the largest event in the world promoting awareness about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. There’s still time to register OR form your own team. Find a team today! We also discussed that nervous/anxious feeling some (many!) get about attending their first (or fifth) Climb. It’s normal. It’s okay. Just show up and be you. The connection you’ll feel with other Warrior Moms is amazing!

We then opened it up to questions. We received a personal message question about what to do if you don’t have insurance. Katherine listed off a number of things you can do, including asking the doctor if they have a sliding scale, while others listed a bunch of other resources in the comments. Warrior Moms looking out for Warrior Moms.

We’ll be back Live on Facebook next Wednesday at noon. If you have questions, please let us know!

Bed Rest and Depression

Bed Rest and Depression -postpartumprogress.com

Last month the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a list of “Five More Things Physicians and Patients Should Question” when it comes to OBGYN procedures. It’s an addition to their Choose Wisely campaign which started with “Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question.” In all, there are now ten recommendations ACOG makes for physicians and patients to question.

Four of the ten recommendations specifically address pregnant women, and one of them caught my eye for a number of reasons. Julia West at Mothering addressed it as such:

This research shows many side-effects of bed rest during pregnancy including: “muscle atrophy, bone loss, maternal weight loss and decreased infant birthweight in singleton gestations, and psychosocial problems including depression, anxiety, stress, family disruption and financial burden.” ACOG states plainly that “information to date does not show an improvement in birth outcome with the use of bed rest or activity restriction.”

I just wish you could have seen the look on my face as I read that paragraph the first time. And the second. And the third. And then when I clicked over to read the research. Jaw-dropping doesn’t begin to describe it.

I’m not your typical pregnant patient. I have chronic unilateral hydronephrosis; the ureter out of my right kidney isn’t big enough and a growing uterus pinches it off, causing a host of problems. I experienced two surgeries during my first pregnancy as they tried to insert a stent which they eventually removed because it only made things worse.

They placed me on Level III bed rest at 18 weeks gestation. Financial burden? Anxiety? Stress? Depression? Oh yeah. I ended up placing my baby for adoption because I couldn’t see past the crisis mode that I was in at the time. You can also tick off “maternal weight loss,” too. I gained a total of 19 pounds. I wasn’t proud of it; I looked sick because I was sick.

I was also alone for almost all of that time. I spent hours in my apartment, staring at the ceiling of my bedroom, or when I dared, the ceiling in the living room. The isolation only exacerbated the depression and anxiety. It was a dark, scary, and very lonely time.

I expected, with better health care and a planned pregnancy, my subsequent pregnancies wouldn’t be quite so isolating and debilitating. I was wrong, of course. Level III bed rest came later on than it did during my first pregnancy—28 and 32 weeks—but I still found myself stuck on the couch or in bed. Living in a new state with no real friends yet, I didn’t really have any visitors other than my beloved mother-in-law. My husband worked 24 hour shifts, leaving me alone with our toddler during my third pregnancy. Parenting from the couch isn’t easy, let me tell you.

Was I depressed during these episodes of bed rest? You betcha, though I worked hard at hiding it. These were pregnancies I was supposed to be happy about; these were the babies the adoption agency told me I would someday have, when I was “ready” for “my own” children. I plastered a smile on my face and made jokes about how losing 11 pounds during pregnancy meant that my figure would bounce back so much more quickly. (Of note, it did not.)

I also stressed about the financial burden my bed rest placed on our growing family. While my husband’s job as a firefighter provided well for us, I felt an overwhelming need to provide something since I couldn’t during my first pregnancy.

My anxiety continued to sky-rocket. While I was actively seeing a therapist when I got pregnant with our second son, I couldn’t visit her once placed on bed rest, and from that point on, things were kind of touch and go when it came to intrusive thoughts, fear, depression, and panic attacks.

Part of me understands that I was a special case, that bed rest kept the constant contractions from turning into progressive contractions and pre-term labor. I was lucky and carried all three babies to 38 weeks. But this new news out of ACOG makes me wonder if they would have done something differently with my case(s) over a decade ago. If I had been allowed to keep working with my daughter, would I have parented? If I had been able to continue attending therapy during the final trimester of my pregnancy with our youngest, would my relapse of postpartum depression and anxiety have been caught sooner?

I don’t know. But I do hope these new recommendations will help expectant moms avoid unnecessary stays in bed and that it helps them avoid antenatal and, perhaps, postpartum depression and anxiety. Placing moms in isolating situations doesn’t seem conducive to positive mental health.

Were you on bed rest? How did it affect your mental health?

National Adoption Month: Addressing Depression During Pregnancy

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.