This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any symptoms.  If you feel this is something you are dealing with, it’s very important that you talk to your doctor or midwife about it as soon as possible.

Typically when women find out they are pregnant, there is excitement and anticipation for their upcoming bundle of joy.

But what happens when those feelings of excitement are masked by feelings of overwhelmedness, anxiety and depression?

My Experience

I found myself in that situation recently when my husband and I learned we were expecting our third child.  I suspected I was pregnant fairly early – at about 4 weeks.  Not too long after that, I started noticing that I was far more impatient and irritable than usual and that I just didn’t feel like my usual self.  These feelings seemed above and beyond the typical changes that happen during pregnancy.

I didn’t feel like doing things that I usually really enjoy.  Writing and blogging, for example, became suddenly very difficult and more of a chore than a hobby.

I found myself withdrawing from my friends and even my husband.  I realized that I preferred to be alone most of the time which is pretty atypical for me.  And I felt so anxious!  Anxious about the baby’s development, anxious about the delivery, anxious about the months following the delivery.  You name it and I probably worried and fretted about it

The worst came when I realized, upon waking in the mornings, that I was discouraged before even getting out of bed.  I dreaded that I had to face another day of morning sickness and sad, anxious feelings.  Day after day I wanted to pull the covers up over my head and sleep – sleep until this whole mess was over and I could be “normal” once again.  That’s when I knew that I needed help.

Having these anxious and depressed feelings doesn’t mean that I don’t want my baby. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  I am excited about holding my sweet little one, seeing what he or she will look like and getting to know that new little personality.

But, discouragingly, I find it difficult to enjoy those joyful feelings with all the other negative thoughts swirling around in my head.  And all of that in addition to the typical discomforts of early pregnancy. I find myself being discouraged that I can’t just be happy, and that creates a cycle of guilt and negative feelings which is difficult to defeat.

I also realized that I had to overcome the stigma of depression, especially in my own mind.  Even though it is more widely known and understood than ever before, I still struggle with these feelings because I feel like it is a weakness that I should be able to easily “fix”.

Even now, I feel embarrassed and ashamed to admit, even to myself, that I’m having these feelings and emotions. I don’t want to be depressed, but the more I tried to ignore it, the more depressed I became.

Depression during pregnancy?

Most people are familiar with post-partum depression, which is a type of depression which affects new mothers in the year following the birth of their baby.  Doctors and midwives take great care in asking their patients, who have recently delivered, whether they are noticing any symptoms of post-partum depression brought on by the sudden change in hormones after delivering.

Depression during pregnancy, called antenatal depression, is much less well known. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew there was such a thing until it happened to me.

Now as I look back, I can see signs of some depression and anxiety during each of my pregnancies.  I also struggled with post-partum depression but didn’t realize that until after the birth of my second child.  My symptoms and the effect of the depression seem to be getting worse with each pregnancy, perhaps because it went unnoticed and untreated for so long.

Image by ::coco Rina::

Symptoms of antenatal depression:

In addition to the normal effects of pregnancy such as fatigue and needing to sleep more, you may be suffering from depression if you have some of these symptoms as well:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and other favorite activities
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Persistent feelings of anxiety and anxious thoughts
  • More irritable and impatient than usual
  • Anxiety about the pregnancy and delivery
  • A sense that nothing seems enjoyable or fun anymore, including the pregnancy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

What causes antenatal depression?

Similar to post-partum depression, antenatal depression is thought to be triggered by sudden and intense hormonal changes.

Other factors that might contribute to antenatal depression are: a personal or family history of depression, relationship difficulties, stressful life events and problems or complications with your pregnancy. However, there is still much that is unknown and needs to be researched in this area.

Image by dizznbonn

Treatment for antenatal depression

Whatever the cause, the important part to focus on is the treatment of antenatal depression. Even while pregnant there is much that can be done, with the help of qualified doctors and midwives, to ease the symptoms and have you feeling back to your normal self again… well, your normal pregnant self.  :)

Simply knowing what you are dealing with is often half the battle.

Once I finally acknowledged that something was wrong and I talked to my doctor, I felt better.  I knew what I was up against, I had a treatment plan and so I felt better, if only because I felt that I was being proactive. Wallowing in depression will only drag you further down.  But facing and fighting it head on will help you to keep moving, even on the most difficult days.

Establish a strong support system.

With the help of my husband, my mom, my sisters and some close friends, I have a strong support system of people I can call upon when I’m feeling low.  Talking through my thoughts and feelings always helps and often it’s just nice to talk about something other than the difficulties and depression.  Surround yourself with people who love you, support you and those you can make you laugh. Laughter is very good medicine!

Try therapy or counseling.

Since I recognized these feelings somewhat from my earlier pregnancies and post-partum experiences, I knew they were severe enough this time that I needed some help.  I found an excellent counselor who practices not far from my house.  The first time I went to visit with her, I was nervous.  What if I didn’t like her?  What if she didn’t like me?  What if she told me I was making all this up?

Of course I had nothing to worry about and I left her office that first day feeling 10 pounds lighter.  I’ve found it nice to have a professional opinion about all those negative thoughts swirling in my mind and she has some excellent suggestions for me on how to deal with those thoughts. I feel that I’m building up a tool belt of ideas that I can use to address the anxious and depressed feelings I find myself having.

If worse comes to worse, there’s medication that can help.

Honestly, I really struggled with this decision and it weighed heavily on my mind for some time.  My doctor felt that my depression was severe enough to benefit from the help of some anti-depressants.  But during my previous pregnancies, I rarely even took so much as Tylenol so I felt really guilty for considering anti-depressant medication.

After much prayer and discussion with my husband, we decided that the benefits outweighed the risks.  For one thing, stress hormones are not good for you or for your baby and I was certainly generating more than my share of those.  In addition, I did not feel I was being a good mother to my other children in my depressed and anxious state.

For these reasons we decided it was best for me to take the anti-depressant medication and my doctor recommended one that has been proven safe to use during pregnancy.  It’s a very personal decision that must be made with the help of qualified doctors or midwives and also with much thought and prayer. What’s right for one isn’t right for all but it’s nice to know that there are options should the depression and anxiety be severe enough to warrant it.

Some Additional Thoughts

  • Don’t be ashamed if you are suffering from depression.  Unfortunately, depression itself can often cause you to feel that you are weak or that you should be able to control your feelings better.  This may result in comparing yourself to those who do not suffer depression and assume that they are doing it right while you are doing it wrong.  These things are false.  Depression is real and it is not your fault.  The first step to feeling better is not being ashamed to do something about it.
  • Don’t be afraid of therapy. Unfortunately there is also a stigma in our culture surrounding therapists.  But I can tell you from experience that they can bring a huge sense of relief and help both to give you the tools to help you deal with depression as well as help you to realize that your problems are normal so that you can stop blaming yourself.  Do a little homework to find a therapist that will be able to help you in a way with which you’re comfortable and then get help!
  • Don’t blame yourself. As I mentioned earlier, it is common to have feelings like “this is all my fault”, or “Other people can handle this situation, what’s wrong with me?”.  Toss these feelings out.  One of the things I’ve learned from my therapist is that, just because I feel a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s reality.  If you give yourself a break and stop beating yourself up, you will find a hidden reservoir of time and energy and peace.

I’m now over 11 weeks pregnant and the weeks leading up to this point have definitely been a roller coaster.  I do wish that I could have a glowing, happy, anxiety-free pregnancy.  But for one reason or another, it’s just not that way for me.

I’m learning that it’s best for me to look forward and remind myself that although these times are difficult, they won’t last forever.

Have you been depressed while you were pregnant?  What are some things that helped you to cope during that difficult period?

Stephanie’s note: I am so glad that Stacey has written this post and I definitely encouraged her to share what I think is a very important, and yet very vulnerable, topic. As always, I’m leaving the comments open for anyone, but I just wanted to ask that as this is a more sensitive topic to many, please be gentle and thoughtful in how you word your comments. Thanks so much!

Top Image by karindalziel