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.

When PPD Makes It Hard to Bond with Your Baby

Baby's Birth DayIn the delivery room back in 2005, I remember that blissful hour after our son was born when the doctors and nurses left the room to allow my husband and me to bond with our newborn baby boy. I was exhausted, but not in pain, thanks to my epidural. We’d wanted him so much, waited for him for so long, and now he was here. I’d already loved him before he was born, and I loved him even more now that I could see him as a tiny human being. We couldn’t stop touching his little face, his hands, his little baby toes…it was amazing.

A few weeks later, I knew I still loved my son. I was his mother, and he was my child. But I was really grasping at that feeling of overwhelming bliss that I’d felt when he was first born. My love felt more dutiful than anything else. I would have done anything to protect him, but there was a disconnect between my head and my heart. Everything told me I was supposed to be so happy and excited to spend all my time with my new baby – movies, books, even TV commercials were filled with happy new moms who were so in love with their babies. And I could see that in the faces of the other new moms from my Lamaze class that one time we met for lunch with our infant carriers in tow.

I just wasn’t feeling it.

And I was tortured because of it. I wasn’t sleeping. Breastfeeding hadn’t worked out, and no matter how much fenugreek I consumed or how often I tried, I wasn’t pumping enough milk. I cried all the time. On top of that, I had the shame and guilt on my conscience that I didn’t love my son enough, not the way a mother is supposed to love her son. I would pray for him to just fall asleep – he had colic – and dread those piercing cries that meant he was awake again. The constant cycle of feeding, bathing, diapering, and trying to soothe him back to sleep felt like a chore. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Maybe it would have been different if someone had caught on that I had postpartum depression, PPD, if I had been diagnosed while it was happening instead of after the fact. Medication would have helped; I know this, because I’ve been on antidepressants now since 2008, and I am more of a functional human being than I was before. But more than that, knowing that I wasn’t the only mother in the world having these feelings, that I shouldn’t blame myself for the nasty tricks my brain was pulling on me – that would have changed everything.

I’m happy to report that, once I freed myself from trying to force breastmilk when my body clearly wasn’t going to produce it, once the colic phase was over, those loving feelings from the first day he was born rushed back. I was still depressed – no question about that – but the constant state of “crisis” that marked his first few months of life were gone, and I had more physical and mental energy available to me. And with that, I was able to start enjoying my relationship with my baby.

If you’re struggling with feeling like you don’t love your baby “enough,” or if it feels impossible to form that connection or bond with your baby, try not to blame yourself. Remember that “depression lies.” It lies to you and tells you you’re not good enough. It makes you feel ashamed and guilty of not living up to some imaginary standard of how things should be. If you haven’t already talked to a medical professional about how you’re feeling, I strongly encourage you to do so. (And don’t be ashamed about taking medication or going to therapy! They work for so many people!) More than that, know that you’re not alone, that countless other moms have been right where you are now – and we’ve come out the other side. You can find that connection with your baby , even if it takes a little longer than you thought it should. How do I know this? Because you’re concerned enough that you looked for and found this post, that you do care about your relationship with your baby and want to improve it. And because, nine years later, I have a great relationship with my son, who tells me every day that he loves me. You can get there. You just need the support to get you through this hard time – and you’re not alone.

The Importance of Screening and Support : Jenna’s Story, Part 1

pregnancy depressionI’m welcoming a fellow Warrior Mom friend of mine today to share her story with the Postpartum Progress community.  Jenna and I met online through #ppdchat, and we became fast friends.  Since I only experienced postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety with the birth of my youngest, I really wanted the perspective of a mama who had suffered multiple episodes of postpartum depression.  I wanted to showcase the idea that all women should be screened for perinatal mood disorders throughout their pregnancy and all through the first year postpartum.  Thank you so much Jenna for sharing your story.  It is a pleasure to welcome my dear friend.

My longest lasting episode of depression began during my pregnancy with my second oldest child. It was marked by anxiety and irritation, and a loose cannon rage that would come out of nowhere over both big and little things. I was ashamed of my lack of ability to control my anger, and that I’d become a parent who yelled often. I attributed it to being pregnant and hormonal and having a high need 2 year old, but I didn’t connect it with depression at all. I didn’t make that connection because I wasn’t sad, tearful, lethargic, or unmotivated. How could it be depression if there were no tears?

After my baby was born, things only got worse. She had colic for 3 months, screaming from 11 pm to 2 am most nights, while I walked a groove into the living room floor. Once the colic abated, she was a terrible sleeper. She woke as many as half a dozen times a night for the first two years of her life, and I was the primary caregiver. Due to the chronic sleep deprivation, I was detached, full of rage, and anxious.  I also began having intrusive thoughts and paranoia, most often involving fear of home invasion or replaying the worst parenting moments of my day. Some were worse and more vivid than that.

I mentioned my anger and detachment to my ex (who I was still married to at the time) when she was about 10 months old, and he told me, “If you had a closer relationship with God, you would not be in despair.”  Medication and therapy would be a waste of money, he said, because the problem was in my head and was rooted in sin.  I was devastated and felt even more shame as I internalized this possibility.

When you’re already feeling worthless and ashamed, it’s easy to believe unkind words about why you feel the way you do. Because of his reaction and invalidation, I never told anyone about how I was feeling. I didn’t have the courage to admit to the intrusive thoughts and paranoia once he told me that I was the problem. But I knew my feelings were real, and I knew they weren’t normal.  I didn’t know I could look for support or help because I didn’t really know what to call my emotional state other than angry, detached, and overwhelmed. It didn’t seem like any depression I had ever heard of.

… tune in tomorrow for part 2 of Jenna’s story …

Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders News & Research Roundup

postpartum depression newsThere are so many great posts and news stories about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders out there that it’s high time I did a news roundup.

Warrior Mom Stories

Prenatal Depression Nearly Drove Amanda Lee To Suicide — The Star   A great post on depression during pregnancy, also called antenatal depression or prenatal depression.

Mother’s Little Helper — What the Flicka Betsy Shaw writes about how she has fought against taking medication and tried to handle her depression on her own.

It’s Time to Speak Up: Postpartum Depression In African American Women — Black And Married With Kids Briana Myricks writes about the fact that women in the African American culture are resistant to speak up about PPD.

The $11 A Month That Changed My Life — Eat Pray Read Love Kelli writes about the fear of getting treated for PPD because of her Christian faith.

Not Always A Walk in the Park — Mikal & Josh This mom talks about the trauma of having a baby in the NICU and how it led to postpartum PTSD and anxiety.

Postpartum Depression — The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking Kelly writes about not recognizing she had PPD.

Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder Research

The Best Behavioral Therapy for OCD – NIMH  New research finds a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy to be very effective for OCD.

Pregnancy Loss Increases the Risk of Postpartum Psychiatric Illness – MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health  Another study confirming the fact that women who experience miscarriage or stillbirth are more likely to have postpartum psychiatric illness after subsequent pregnancies.

Depressed Moms, Depressed Offspring – Los Angeles Times A British study finds that children who are born to moms with depression during pregnancy (antenatal depression) are more likely to experience depression in adolescence. “The findings, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, underscore the importance of treating depression in pregnant women, the authors wrote.”

Postpartum Diagnostic Switches Likely In Depressed Women – MedWire Research indicates that women with a history of major depression who show signs of hypomania after childbirth may actually have switched from depression to bipolar II in the postpartum period.


Why Maternal Mental Health Should Be A Priority — PLOS I found myself cheering as I read this piece. I’ve always found it shocking how little maternal mental health has been included, if at all, in conversations about global health and maternal health.

Is It The Baby Blues or Something More? — Psych Central 

Should Severe Premenstrual Symptoms be a Psychiatric Disorder? — NPR This story from NPR (you can scroll past the audio player to read the text version) takes a look at premenstrual dysphoric disorder and women who are affected by it.