Pre-Natal Depression Is Quite Common, But We Aren't Talking About It

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Wendy Wisner

You’re not supposed to feel like you’re grieving when you’re pregnant.

Your pregnancy is not supposed to make you feel anxious and paranoid.

What kind of person wants more than anything to get pregnant — and then, once it happens, they feel nothing but resentment and fear?

I was that person. And those were the sorts of thoughts and questions that spread like wildfire through my mind when I found myself pregnant with my second child.

I hadn’t experienced anything of the sort when I was pregnant with my first. He’d been conceived after 18 months of trying — after a fertility doctor told my husband and me that our only chance of conceiving was IVF, which we could not afford.

He was our miracle baby — and although I was sick as a dog during that first trimester, and felt my fair share of pre-baby jitters as his due date came closer — I didn’t experience anything akin to depression or anxiety then.

So I didn’t understand why I was experiencing these when I became pregnant with my second baby — and the truth was, I don’t think I fully understood what was happening while I was in it.

Wendy Wisner

I remember lying on my bed, about three weeks after I’d gotten the positive pregnancy test. I was nauseous and had eaten nothing but bread and oranges that day, the only foods I could stomach at that point. I could feel my hip bones jutting out of my side; I had weighed myself that morning and I’d lost a few pounds due to my low appetite and nausea.

And that’s when the bad thoughts started…

You’re going to kill the baby, the one you don’t deserve and will never love.

You had one healthy baby; why should you be allowed to have another?

The thoughts were gloomy and jarring and I felt so tired, so helpless to control them. They were coming without my consent, and I wasn’t able to talk myself out of them.

And then there was the “dentist incident” – the thing that would haunt my pregnancy for its entire duration.

I’d visited the dentist for a check up at around the time that this baby was conceived. I told the dentist I might be pregnant, and he told me that wearing an apron over my belly during the x-rays would be sufficient to protect my potential baby during the exam.

But no matter what he said and whatever assurance I found online, I believed in my heart that I had somehow harmed the baby by allowing the x-ray. I even found myself questioning whether the apron had sufficiently covered my belly. I pictured it slipping a few centimeters, my belly exposed and vulnerable, the baby getting fried by the x-rays.

Maybe I’d moved a bit and let the x-rays in.

Maybe the dentist hadn’t been careful enough.

Maybe we’re going to find out in a few years that dental aprons really do nothing to protect developing embryos.

Why hadn’t I done a better job standing up for my rights as a pregnant mom? See, I’m already failing my baby. It’s my fault, mine…

I became obsessed, thinking about the “dentist incident” anytime I was alone, anytime that dark feeling seemed to wash over me.

Luckily, things got a little better after the first trimester, and my hormones leveled out a bit. But my entire pregnancy was darker. It felt haunted, like any minute, if I didn’t stop myself, I could go there, deep into those bad thoughts.

Wendy Wisner

The fog lifted significantly once my baby arrived. He was perfect and healthy and the relief of that brought me such joy. I didn’t experience postpartum depression or anxiety, like I’d had with my first son. I was so grateful this baby was fine and I fell instantly in love with him.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized how incredibly awful my mental health had been while I was pregnant with him, and that what I had experienced was a thing, had a name, and was actually really freaking common.

Wendy Wisner

Apparently pregnancy depression, or perinatal depression, is quite common. About 10-15 percent of women experience it, according to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), and it can have serious consequences for moms and babies if left untreated.

And the thing is that 50% of cases go untreated, according to the AAP.

“When left untreated, perinatal depression can hinder bonding and healthy attachment, distort perception of the infant’s behavior and impair the mother’s attention to and judgment concerning safety,” the AAP writes.

For me, it was some damn miracle that my perinatal depression lifted once my baby was born, and didn’t seem to have many lingering effects for me. But I know that isn’t the case for every mom out there.

I also know that although almost everyone has heard of postpartum depression and anxiety, most people don’t know that maternal mood disorder are just as common during pregnancy.

We need to talk about these things. Doctors need to screen women for depression during pregnancy. Women need to know that having a few “pre-baby jitters” is normal, but when your feelings become extreme, and when you begin to have excessive worries or paranoid thoughts, this is not normal — and most of all, you deserve compassionate help so that you can feel better.

For me, I was able to open up to my husband about my feelings, but that was only after the worst of them passed. I was also able to discuss my feelings with a therapist, but that was much later, after my baby was born. I think that if I’d been in therapy and gotten a diagnosis during my pregnancy, it would have made things much easier.

I really wish I had known what was happening while it was happening, that what I was feeling was a real thing, and that it was nothing to be ashamed of. I felt such guilt and shame over how I was feeling that I mostly kept it private. Except the more I held it inside, the worse I felt. And the more I shamed myself for the feelings I was having, the more intense the feelings became. It was a vicious cycle.

If you are experiencing depression during pregnancy, please know that you are not alone. And please, please, reach out to a friend, your doctor, or a counselor to talk about your feelings. Help is out there and you deserve to feel better.

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