I was eighteen weeks into my pregnancy when my doctor told me my baby might not make it. She labeled me high risk, and sent me home with one directive: Lie down and wait. That was it. She offered no other advice. I left her office with one goal: Keep this baby alive.
As the weeks passed, my child continued to thrive. Me? Not so much. I spent five months in bed, every day falling deeper and deeper into darkness. It wasn’t until years later that I came upon the term “antepartum” or “prenatal” depression. With a little research, I discovered that as many as 23% of women experience depression during their pregnancy. But no one warned me this could happen. Unfortunately, most doctors aren’t talking about the emotional aspects of pregnancy with their patients. So, consider this your heads up. Here’s a list of signs and symptoms to watch out for.
You Can’t Get Out of Bed
I’m not talking about the fact that you can’t roll over because you’re in your ninth month and your formally svelte body is the size of a Mack truck. And this isn’t about wanting to stay in bed and binge watch Netflix for a couple of hours. When you have prenatal depression, even an upcoming season of Orange Is the New Black won’t get you pumped. I was bedbound for most of my pregnancy, but instead of finding ways to keep myself entertained, all I wanted to do was sleep. The bed was my safe zone, and the next room seemed so far away it might as well be foreign territory.
Your Anxiety Levels Are Through the Roof
During the day, my mind was like a block of fuzzy Swiss cheese forgotten in the back of the fridge. I couldn’t hold a single thought for more than a few minutes. Not so the nights. Around 3:00 am I’d wake up, my brain on overdrive, thinking about all the ways I and everyone I cared about could die. Nothing was off-limits. Slips in the shower, car accidents, asteroids — you name the carnage, I could create an imaginary apocalypse to rival even the most disturbing dystopian YA novel. Not being able to shut off the chatter in my head should have been a clear sign something was wrong.
You’re Overwhelmed with Guilt
I had wanted a child ever since my grandmother handed me a Holly Hobby doll when I was five years old. So, I couldn’t understand what the heck my problem was. With my baby doing well despite my doctor’s warnings, I was on the verge of getting everything I’d ever wanted. Then why was I still so miserable? I should have been grateful and happy, but I wasn’t. This led to endless amounts of unnecessary guilt and I began to question whether I even deserved this child.
You’ve Lost Your Appetite
Long after the morning sickness subsided, my appetite continued to dwindle. Of course, there’s always a list of foods that are a turnoff when you’re pregnant, but even flourless chocolate cake— my comfort food of choice in any crisis — tasted like sawdust. By the end of my pregnancy, I was living like a squirrel on a diet of cashews, carrots, and a few scraps of cheese. Pregnant women need calories, and as much as I knew that I was doing a disservice to my child, I could not muster the energy to eat a plate of food.
You Don’t Think You’ll Be Able to Care for Your Baby
Spending all that time wading in a pool of fear and guilt gave me plenty of opportunity to question my ability to care for another human being. I could easily waste an entire afternoon imagining a hundred baby-related emergencies — choking, falling, electric shock. Benign pieces of furniture were suddenly weapons of mass destruction. Even my innocent purse strap morphed into a medieval strangulation apparatus. I thumbed through the baby bibles, but none of them prepared me for the sense of inadequacy and downright fear I was experiencing. There was going to be an actual human being that would be completely dependent on me for survival. I could barely take care of myself! For the love of God, what if we ran out of baby wipes in the middle of the night? Could a baby perish from a diaper rash? The mind boggled.
You Shut Out Friends and Family
Friends and family called to check up on me, but the small talk was draining, and let’s face it, nothing worth discussing was happening within the four walls of my bedroom. I was super lonely but I had no desire to chat. Even holding the phone up to my ear was exhausting. Some family members mocked me for being so sad, saying “Cheer up! You get to stay in bed all day.” I put them on my hit list and began screening calls, but eventually I wouldn’t even pick up to talk to my best friends. Luckily, they’re a persistent bunch who never gave up trying to entice me with pastries and care packages.
Prenatal depression goes well beyond crazy hormones and mourning your old lifestyle. It was as though I had been run over by an eighteen-wheeler and couldn’t decide if it was worth getting back up. Despite all the fears and concerns, my baby was born healthy and on his due date. But the feelings I experienced while pregnant didn’t just disappear. Prenatal depression turned into postpartum depression, and that took years to wane. Eventually I sought out a therapist and found the help I needed. If you think you might have the symptoms of prenatal depression, don’t wait as long as I did. Be your own best advocate. Find a doctor who will listen to you and take your concerns seriously. And remember, you’re going to be a great mom.
Check out the American Pregnancy Association to learn more about prenatal depression and how to get help.