Not sure if I have mentioned this before, but I suffer from depression. I have had it pretty much my entire life. I spent most of my teen years verging on suicidal, until in college I finally saw a psychiatrist and got medicated. Medication stopped working around the time I was 26 (conveniently, right as I was getting divorced), I was put on different medication, which didn’t work, and was eventually put back on the original medication (Prozac, if you care) at a slightly higher dosage (20 mg, up from 10mg) and have been managing my depression effectively ever since.
The reason I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this or not is because I make absolutely no secret about my struggles with mental health. My depression is both a medical condition – a disease – that is managed through medication, just like diabetes or asthma, and a large part of who I am. Since I cannot control having a disease, and I wouldn’t change who I am, by and large, I see no reason whatsoever to be ashamed of my depression or make a secret of it.
On my doctor’s recommendation, I continued to take my Prozac throughout my first pregnancy. Although I was not particularly enthusiastic about the actual pregnancy part of being pregnant, I was mentally stable and thrilled to be having a child, so it all worked out just fine.
So, I’m not ashamed of my depression, and I’m not embarrassed to admit I am medicated. Then why am I so afraid to admit that my depression during this pregnancy has deepened, and I am feeling rather low?
It’s true. I am now at nearly 15 weeks, and I feel… deflated. I am not as hooked in to this pregnancy as I was with my first. I sometimes forget altogether that I am pregnant, and then when I remember, feel vaguely morose. I have all the classic symptoms of depression – loss of interest in activities, loss of appetite, withdrawing from friends and social activities, insomnia, irritability. Yet I am afraid to tell anyone. I have confided fully in only one friend, as well as my husband. I also revealed to my family some of the extent of what I was going through when I was home. And my family’s reaction was, in some ways, exactly what I feared: Be grateful. Cheer up. This isn’t good for the baby.
I do not think of myself as either stupid or selfish, nor do I consider myself oblivious to others’ emotions. I am aware of the facts, as it were. I have a healthy child. I am having a (physically) healthy pregnancy. Many women try and fail for many years to get pregnant. We wanted more than one child, and now we will have that. We have the means and love for not just two children, but for as many as we want. For these reasons and many others, I should be happy. I should be grateful. And I should be excited. But I am not. I have tried, and I have failed.
When people learn I am pregnant, they have one of two reactions: gushing excitement or mild surprise at the rapidity with which we got pregnant again. The first leaves me speechless, as I am having a hard time mustering any enthusiasm whatsoever, and I have absolutely no idea how to reply honestly to, “You must be SO excited!” The second leaves me feeling ashamed – of what, I am not sure. Our fertility? Our sex life? Our bad planning? Neither reaction gives me an opening to say, “I am having a really tough time, actually. I’m not ready and I am scared.”
The more I try to “cheer up,” “look on the bright side,” and “be grateful,” the more inadequate and ashamed I feel. I fully realize depression is selfish, yet I am as powerless to stop it as a woman who cannot conceive is to get pregnant. Logically I know you would never say to someone with a disease that s/he should just “get over it,” yet that is what I feel like I need to do with this dark cloud. So, the harder I try to overcome it, the more I fail, and the guiltier I feel – both about my emotions, as well as the effect they are having on my unborn child.
When I had a difficult time after having my son, I was sternly chided by some (I am sure) well-meaning friends about how I was overreacting, how I was lucky to be alive and have a healthy, beautiful child, and how I should focus on the positive. I was actually eventually diagnosed with mild PTSD and underwent treatment to resolve the grief and depression associated with my birth trauma. The diagnosis and treatment in some ways validated my feelings, but the reactions from my friends dissuaded me from speaking publicly again about any less-than-happy emotions I had regarding pregnancy and/or childbirth. And that, I guess, is at the crux of what keeps me – and many other women – silent about prenatal depression. Shame, guilt, and fear that we will be judged and be found lacking – as mothers, as women, as people.
I recently read an article that said up to a third of pregnant women suffer prenatal depression, but only 10 – 20% seek help. That means 1 in 10 pregnant women are struggling silently, hating themselves and afraid to talk to anyone about what they are going through. That number is simply too high. I’m not going to be silent anymore.
I am having a hard time with this pregnancy. No, I’m not particularly excited. I am nervous, scared, and anxious. I worry all the time. Sometimes I wish something would happen to me. I am not a bad person. I am not a bad mother. I am not selfish or ungrateful. I AM DEPRESSED, AND IT’S NOT MY FAULT. And I am going to talk to my OB about it next time I see her, because I don’t deserve to feel both depressed and ashamed. That’s not fair to me or the child I am carrying.
If you or someone you love is suffering from prenatal depression, you don’t have to stay silent either. There are resources to help you. Consider talking to your doctor, therapist, OB, or midwife. If that is too daunting, you can call the PSI Warmline at 800-944-4773, option 1, or simply google “perinatal depression support” or “prenatal depression support” for a list of organizations that offer no cost, anonymous support for women going through what we are.
I am going to get over this, and I am going to have another fantastic baby and a terrific 2014. Thanks for reading, and I wish you the happiest of New Years.