On our way out of her office, my midwife told me, “You WILL get through this and feel like yourself again, I promise.” I nearly burst into tears right there because, after suffering through my entire first trimester with harrowing depression, I simply couldn’t see how that could be possible. Of all of the things I anticipated being difficult about pregnancy, I never thought prenatal depression and anxiety would be one of them.
Four long weeks before that appointment with my midwife, I remember having an especially difficult day. I was going on my twelfth week of pregnancy, and I wanted so badly to be excited, but I hadn’t been able to muster any excitement or joy about my pregnancy since my sixth week. It had been a long six weeks of debilitating prenatal depression and anxiety. On that day in particular, I remember anxiety rearing its ugly head and coming at me with a vengeance.
It was 3 p.m. on a Thursday and I had yet to be able to find the energy to get out of bed. I knew that my husband would be home from work soon, and my anxiety-ridden mind did nothing but try its hardest to convince me that he was going to be so incredibly frustrated to find me still in bed…yet again. The tiny bit of logic that I was still managing to grasp onto tried to remind me that he had never once expressed frustration with me for what I was experiencing, but my anxiety was beating that logic to a pulp. My mind was also telling me that if I didn’t at least get myself cleaned up for the day, then that day would be the day that my husband would finally reach his boiling point with me.
I laid in bed for another 30 minutes trying to convince myself to just stand up and walk to the bathroom. Finally, I felt my legs move to the side of the bed and the rest of my body followed. I felt the carpet underneath my feet and I knew that I had to keep going with this tiny bit of energy that I had pulled out of myself or I would never make it to the shower. I slowly stood up and grabbed a towel and change of clothes on my way to the bathroom. Each step was slow and heavy, but I kept going.
As I showered, I caught a glimpse of normalcy, a glimpse of what my life used to be. I felt like I might actually feel better after getting out of the shower. I might actually start feeling like myself again! But then I turned the water off, and the heaviness that I had felt throughout my whole body for the last 6 weeks began to return. I dried myself off, got dressed, and slowly made my way back to my safe, unjudging bed. I didn’t even bother combing my hair, since it was already a ratted mess from weeks of not combing through it. But hey, at least it was clean.
After a while, I heard my husband come through the front door and my heart sank. Again, my mind began screaming at me that he was going to be so angry with me and even embarrassed of me because what kind of grown woman lays in bed all day long, day after day? My heart started to race and I felt my throat tighten as I tried to fight back tears. Right then, my husband walked through our bedroom door, but the look on his face wasn’t one of frustration or anger. It was one of deep concern and pure love. He greeted me with a kiss and a “how are you today”, and then the logical part of my brain started to come alive again. I was able to think clearly if only for a few moments and remember that my spouse was actually exceptionally kind and understanding, and he would never dream of judging me.
I’d love to be able to say that logic always won out over anxiety in the days that followed this experience, but that wasn’t the case. Most days, anxiety proved to be nothing but an overpowering bully that stopped at nothing to convince me that the worst of the worst was going to happen or was already happening. It was a hellish experience, to say the least, and definitely not what I imagined pregnancy to be like. It wasn’t until my midwife suggested I try a care plan that included prescription medication that things started to turn around for me in my pregnancy. I started taking the medication the very same day that it was prescribed to me, and within two weeks the fog had all but completely lifted. I finally felt like a functioning human being who could feel joyful about the life I was carrying inside of me.
This is prenatal depression and anxiety. We hear a lot about postpartum depression and anxiety, and while that is SO important, it’s also important that we acknowledge prenatal depression and anxiety. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, one in seven to ten pregnant women develop a depressive disorder DURING pregnancy, which is more than a half million women each year. But too many of us suffer in silence because of shame, misunderstanding, or just lack of knowledge about this condition. There are so many tools and options that can be utilized to help treat prenatal mood disorders, such as medication, talk therapy, diet changes, exercise, meditation, etc., but the first step is to recognize it and ask for help. You are not alone and you do not need to suffer alone.