My Struggle with Prenatal Depression

What inspired me for this month’s topic? Well, May is Mental Health Month and May 1st was World Mental Health awareness day. How can awareness be spread if we don’t share our stories? So, this is what I’m doing today, sharing my story with you. And let me tell you, sharing this petrifies me.

Certain areas of the world have as many as 1 in 5 new mothers experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. 

One in five! Think about that next time you’re in line at the grocery store, or in a room with friends. One in five! I am 1 in 5 except I didn’t realize it until 5 years after the fact. I had some mood swings when I was pregnant with my first child. But nothing compared to what I experienced when I was pregnant with my second.

I hesitate to write this blog. I hesitate to put myself out there, online for all to see forever.

I think I’d rather talk about my pelvic health and pee-zing issues. But that will be for another post. So now I wrestle with this fear, this embarrassment. But that’s also why I will hit the publish button. For everyone to see. For that parent who is looking for help, for connection, for someone to say “Yes I’ve been there, it’s terrifying but there is help”. I didn’t know I needed help. I just thought I was going crazy. But you are not going crazy! Your partner is not going crazy! Your adult child is not going crazy! They need to hear that this is common. They need to have a safe environment to unload their thoughts. They need to talk about it, to write it down, without fear of being judged.

Physically, my pregnancies were fine. I was a bit nauseous, but I never had morning sickness. It was the emotional  and mental struggles that got to me. I’m not sure when the depression started.  It’s all a blur now. All I remember is laying for hours and hours in my bed, hoping that it would stop. Not wanting to move. Not wanting to eat. Not wanting to live. Praying that it would stop. This little creature inside of me was driving me mad! I even considered ending the pregnancy at one point. I contemplated suicide. Jumping off an overpass. Just ending the torment in my head. That was, without a doubt, the darkest moment I have ever experienced. The only thing that held me back was my husband. I just couldn’t leave him. Days and weeks passed like this. It finally got a bit better. The last trimester was easier. The birth went great and I pushed those dark memories aside.

I didn’t realize until YEARS later that I had suffered from prenatal depression.

Just like postpartum depression, except during pregnancy. I learned about it while studying for my postpartum doula certification with Doula Canada. Why don’t we hear about this? Why aren’t there posters plastered in the office of every OB, doctor and midwife?

I didn’t mention it to anyone. Not one soul. Not even to my midwives. I was mortified about my feelings. Ashamed. I didn’t tell anyone about my experience. It was only years later that I told my husband. Even then, I didn’t give him all of these details. He’ll read about them when he edits my blog. And you know what? After all these years I am still ASHAMED about my feelings, my depression. Even though on an intellectual level, I know that it wasn’t my fault. Now that I’ve acknowledged my prenatal depression, it’s time for me to heal from it.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, don’t despair! There is help! Some may need professional therapy and medication. Some may just need support. The key is to have a safe environment where women are encouraged to talk about it. To seek help. A great resource is the Pacific Post Partum Support Society.

If you’d like, I ask that you share your story below. One in five women suffer from these disorders. Let’s support them. Let’s support ourselves. Let’s open up the dialogue.

Creating Your Post-Birth Plan

You are a new mother – whether it’s your first child or your fifth!

Most mothers put a lot of thought into their birth plan, but very few think about a post-birth plan. Why have a post-birth plan? In our fast-paced, independent lives, we have forgotten the importance of caring for the new mother. Your body needs time to rest and heal from the 9+ months of pregnancy and from giving birth. You and your new family also need time to bond and rediscover each other.

The idea of a “lying-in” period comes from traditional cultures such as Chinese, Indian and Latin American. The American pioneers even had their own version! This is a time when family and friends come together to help the new mother rest, heal and bond with her new child. A healthy mother equals a healthy baby and a healthy family.

Traditional lying-in periods can last anywhere from 7 to 40 days. While they have their nuances, what they have in common is this:

  • The mother’s only job is to breastfeed and get to know her baby.
  • Warm, nourishing foods are given to the mother such as soups and stews.
  • Raw fruits and vegetables are avoided as well as cold drinks.
  • Family and friends share the task of caring for the new mother and the household chores.

Research (here and here) has proven that supporting the mother in the postpartum period can greatly reduce her chances of postpartum mood disorders. Is it any wonder that the cultures that have a lying-in period show some of the lowest rates of postpartum depression?

While staying in your home for 40 days may seem unconventional, here are some things that you can do for a simplified post-birth plan.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. If you have a partner, will they be taking time off from work? If so, for how long?
  2. Will your mother, or another family member, be staying with you after the birth? If so, for how long?
  3. How much time will you be taking off from work?
  4. What would your ideal stay-cation with your baby look like? Do you like having people around? Or do you prefer quiet and calm?

Things to do:

  1. Write down who in your circle of family and friends is available to help you.
  2. Make a list of everything that will need to get done once the baby is home, including your day to day things: paying the bills, walking the dog, changing diapers, cooking, shoveling the driveway, etc.
  3. Compare both lists and match up people to a chore.
  4. Ask family and friends for help and set clear expectations. Having a list on the fridge door makes it easily accessible to everyone!
    • Which room in the house must be cleaned and organized? The bedroom, the kitchen, the bathroom?
    • Where are the cleaning supplies?
    • How often should the dog be walked? Where is the kitty litter? Where is the mailbox key? Etc.
  5. Organize a meal train! There are many free apps to choose from such as: Meal Train, Take Them a Meal and Meal Baby. For tips on meal trains, I recommend Little Miss Kate’s blog article.
  6. Who can drive you to your appointments? If you have a caesarean section, you may not be able to drive for six weeks.
  7. Make a list of professionals you can contact if you need help: La Leche League group, physiotherapist, pediatrician.

Remember that in the first few weeks, you may want to minimize visitors. This is an important time for you to recover physically and emotionally, to establish your milk supply and to get to know your baby. Having just one person a day in the house may be all you need in the early weeks. If you’re interested in hiring a postpartum doula but the cost is an issue, how about adding a postpartum doula fund to your baby shower registry? Other services that you may want to have on your registry include: lactation consultant or mobile massage therapist.

Why can’t I just depend on my partner? Your partner is also finding their way in becoming a parent. This is a precious time for both parents to bond with the new family unit. Your partner can certainly help with some things, but it really does take a village. If you don’t have family nearby, how about hiring a postpartum doula?

Photo by Oleg Sergeichik on Unsplash