Antepartum depression

October 9, 2011 at 6:36 am

Sometimes I feel like God gives me blogpost assignments. This is one of those. I actually had a few other blogpost ideas lined-up, including the follow-up to my “Mate selection” post about smell and bonding. Then, as I sat nursing my baby a few mornings ago, I got the distinct impression that I needed to write more about my experience with depression during my last pregnancy.  Perhaps this is God’s way of answering one of your prayers.  Who knows? But I’ve learned, over the years, to listen to those whispers that come into my mind, prompting me toward some action. I usually only find out why the prompting was important when I choose not to listen and then suffer the consequences. Listen to those voices, friends! I am choosing to take action on this prompting because maybe, just maybe, one of you desperately needs to know you’re not alone.  And I can’t bear the thought of not speaking up and letting you know that I care.

I mentioned in my recent long drawn-out birth account that I experienced a period of darkness and depression in the middle of my pregnancy. I described it this way:

 I’ve always claimed to be happier and more emotionally stable while pregnant than while not pregnant, and in my previous three pregnancies that had been true.  But not this time.  In September, I got on an emotional roller coaster like nothing I had ever seen.  And I wondered multiple times a day whether taking that flying leap off the cliff of surrender had been the stupidest thing we’d ever done.  If it had been right to welcome this baby on God’s timetable, then why on earth was I so ridiculously miserable?  I was bombarded with seemingly incessant waves of darkness and misery.  Some afternoons, when my husband arrived home from work, I fled immediately to my bedroom or closet, locked the door, and let myself weep and writhe and wail without restraint.  To make matters worse, I felt guilty and horrible that the beautiful, special baby growing inside of me could probably feel my dark thoughts and feelings, and I felt even more guilty and horrible that many moments my thoughts were resentful and rejecting toward that special child.

It wasn’t until later that I was able to identify what I had experienced. It was antepartum depression. Postpartum depression is discussed extensively in the medical community and media, but I hadn’t read or thought much about pregnancy depression until I experienced it myself. While the incidence of antepartum depression has been estimated at 12% to 16% of women, there are probably more. Many cases are not reported, in part because women experiencing antepartum depression often see their symptoms as “just pregnancy hormones” and don’t reveal to their care providers or loved ones that they’re struggling to cope. My own depressive symptoms only became apparent to me because I had three previous happy pregnancies to serve as a stark contrast.

For me, antepartum depression felt like hell—like my mind and body had been literally hijacked. I was bombarded with waves of oppressive darkness and misery, but it didn’t make any sense to me. I was attending to my spiritual health, exercising regularly, eating healthier foods than I had ever eaten before, I had an amazing husband and three wonderful children, so why was I so ridiculously miserable? I wrote in my journal a lot during that difficult time. One of those entries reads, “And now I’m losing it—again. I am beginning to wonder whether I’ll ever be able to feel happy again—whether I’ll ever be able to love being a mother again. . . . I don’t know what to do.”

In retrospect, I have been able to identify several factors that were likely contributing toward and compounding my depression.

  1. Stress. For a variety of reasons (hospital bills, less income than typical, etc.), our financial situation wasn’t ideal during this time. I had been reassured by God that everything would work out, but I still struggled to endure and have faith in that promise. Everything did work out, by the way.
  2. Depleted reserves.  Between growing a baby, night-nursing my toddler, and exercising, I had spread myself too thin. I wasn’t consuming enough calories or getting enough sleep to keep my moods afloat.
  3. Loss. As I shared in the last installment of my birth story, it’s likely that I was originally carrying twins and lost one of them very early in the pregnancy.  Though I wasn’t aware of this until afterward, it’s possible that this loss was felt subconsciously and spiritually and that hormonal shifts may have also come into play.
  4. Seasonal Affective Disorder. The time when my depression was at its worst was also the same time of year here in Arizona when I typically start losing my mind from the seemingly endless summer heat.  While most people suffer SAD in winter months, I think I experience a bit of SAD during summer months here. By August/September, I am beyond done with 110 degree weather and likely depleted of vitamin D from being indoors almost constantly for several months straight.

So how did I overcome this dark period of misery?  And how might you, if you’re struggling?

  1. People. I could not have endured this darkness without the people who love me.  I know I would not have made it through my pregnancy depression without the support and prayers of my friends and family.  Sometimes I didn’t find out until afterward that a friend had felt prompted to pray or fast in my behalf.  But those loving acts, many happening from very far away, lifted me out of my darkest moments when I felt incapable of climbing out on my own.  Several times, I received a brief respite from my trial, feeling myself for several hours, with no explanation other than the knowledge that many were praying for me. I also have to thank my midwives who acted as pseudo-therapists during several of my prenatal appointments, listening to me and validating my feelings. If you are struggling, don’t struggle alone.  Tell the people who love you. Most especially talk to God. God hears you, even in those moments when you feel no one is listening and no one cares.
  2. Sleep. After much pondering and prayer, my husband and I decided that my depleted/pregnant self needed sleep more than my toddler needed to nurse at night. So my husband agreed to take over night-time parenting and helping my toddler back to sleep when he woke so that I could get more uninterrupted shut-eye. That man is my hero. It’s amazing what good sleep can do. If you’re not getting enough sleep, brainstorm how you might be able to remedy that.  I can almost guarantee you’ll feel much better if you do.
  3. Higher-quality prenatal vitamins. Prior to my fourth pregnancy, I had never been very good about taking prenatal vitamins. And the ones I did take weren’t very high quality. Some of the women on my facebook page had recommended New Chapter’s organic whole food prenatal vitamins, in part because they contain folate rather than folic acid (an important distinction you can read about here). So I got some and started taking them. I don’t know for sure, but this may have helped me restore some depleted nutrients and get my moods back in order.
  4. Patience. Sometimes you just have to endure. And take things one day at a time, one moment at a time. In the middle of the darkness, it can feel so oppressive and so endless and so hopeless.  But chances are you will soon rise above it. One of the most helpful things a friend of mine said to me during this dark period was this: “Sometimes I think it’s just hanging on until we can look back and see that it was the darkest before the brightest light.” And she was right.

No words could describe the intense light, joy, peace, and love that my fourth baby has brought into my family’s life.  She has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.  Her sweet spirit was more than worth every moment of suffering I endured as I created her body within me. And I would do it all over again for her.

If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Don’t hesitate to email me, if you need someone to talk to. askbusca at gmail dot com.

Additional Resources

So why doesn’t anyone ever tell you about PREpartum depression?
The Pregnancy Taboo: As a mother-to-be, I’m experiencing not unremitting joy but depression. My situation isn’t unique.
Antepartum Depression: Stopping The Tears
The Baby Blues: Part 1 – Antepartum Depression
Depression in Pregnancy?