In 2001 I was 30 years of age, had an interesting job, a husband that loved me, we had no financial worries and were having a baby that we had planned. I should have been over the moon, but I wasn’t. Instead I spent a lot of the 9 months of that pregnancy thinking about killing myself.
No one knew how bad I felt. Perhaps I wasn’t as tolerant as usual at work, I was definitely moodier with my husband but when I was alone I cried and cried. I was always tired and I felt so alone. All my other pregnant friends were happy and excited but all I felt was sad and frightened. I was obviously a freak, so tried to hide my low mood behind a list of ‘normal pregnancy’ excuses; I didn’t get much sleep, I was feeling sick, it was just my hormones. And I hardly thought about the baby growing inside me, apart from worrying that I wouldn’t know how to look after it, and feeling a faint sense of resentment towards it. I used to drive down the road and think about the best way to crash the car so I would most likely kill myself and not hurt anyone else.
Anyone with any experience of depression who is reading this post will probably instantly recognise the symptoms I’ve listed above. I was depressed.
I had AND or Antenatal Depression, often known as Prenatal depression. Everyone knows about its big brother, Post Natal Depression, and even 12 years ago we were warned about the depression that affects many women after their babies arrive. But no one ever mentioned that pregnant women can, and do, get depressed as well.
Antenatal Depression is not uncommon, one in ten women will suffer from it during their pregnancies. Like all depression, the severity can differ between individuals and also during pregnancies.
In my case, I think the causes were hormonal and emotional. My own childhood had left me doubting that I had what it took to be a ‘good’ mother and I was also concerned about what would happen to the career I’d worked so hard for once I had a child. I had also had a history of mild depression during my teenage years. I considered it likely that I would suffer from Postnatal Depression as well, and part of me thought that I’d least I would get some help then. But in reality only one out of every three women with AND remain depressed once they’ve given birth. I was one of the lucky ones and my low mood lifted perceptibly as I held my newborn daughter. I had a mild case of the baby blues a few days later but then basically forgot how miserable my first pregnancy had been until 9 months later, when I found out I was pregnant again.
By the time I was 12 weeks pregnant with DD2, I was a mess. I was working part time, but the most important thing to me was my first daughter. I knew I couldn’t leave it until I was contemplating suicide this time around, so I took myself to the Health Visitor, who very unhelpfully told me I should consider a termination. Unwilling to even think about this, I saw my GP and finally got the help I needed. She took my mental status very seriously and monitored me carefully. I did try and do without Antidepressants but about half way through my pregnancy I had what can only be described as a breakdown, so started taking Prozac. These helped me limp through the rest of the pregnancy in a manageable frame of mind, and although I had a traumatic birth, things were relatively back to normal again once DD2 was born.
By the time I was pregnant for the third time, we had moved and I had a different, less interested doctor. But I knew what I needed and after an initial reaction to Prozac, I was prescribed citalopram instead. It did the trick and I finally had the chance to experience a relatively calm pregnancy.
And interestingly enough, when I was pregnant for a 4th time, this time with a boy, I had no signs of AND at all although I kept an eagle eye out for them.
Antidepressants helped me with my second and third pregnancies, but I also had some counselling which bought up some interesting points. DH was supportive and we had some childcare help with the older kids. And things were much better once I had told people how I was really feeling. Just knowing that what I was feeling wasn’t ‘normal;’ and wouldn’t go on forever helped.
Antenatal Depression is still not as widely discussed as the Postnatal variety, but there is help out there if you are suffering. If you are pregnant and feel down, anxious or hopeless most of the time, then please speak to someone. Speak to your partner, your GP, your Midwife or you can contact PANDAS on their Help Line at 0843 28 98 401.
Pregnancy is not meant to be Depressing.
I was moved to write this post after reading of the deaths of a heavily pregnant woman and her three children in Lowestoft, yesterday. There have been no official statements about the reasons behind this tragedy, but some of the information that has come to light suggests that the mother was having a tough time. Things must have seemed awfully hopeless for her to contemplate what is probably the most obvious explanation for these deaths, and I remember that feeling so clearly still, after so many years, that I just want people to know that it’s not normal, and there is help available.