A few days ago, I happened to walk by a house that a good friend of mine used to own. Generally, if we see a building like our old school or address it can bring back positive memories and it helps us to remember things that happened in the past that make us smile, usually.
The house in question was the first home my friend had bought with her partner; and even though I suddenly had happy memories of being inside with our first babies, (they are 4 months apart, teenagers now) the only memory that came into my mind was the day I parked outside her house, walked up the path in a haze, went inside and cried and cried.
I try to make my posts light-hearted and fun if I can, but this one is very serious because the memory of the other evening brought back the pain and anxiety I endured when I was 32 weeks pregnant with my second child, and I had just been diagnosed with ante-natal depression. I never even realised up to that point that I had moderate to severe depression. Anyway, I’ll continue with my story..
The pregnancy and birth of my first child at the age of 31 was quite straightforward. Midwife checks were all ok and there were no issues with the health of myself and the baby. (my blood pressure kept shooting through the roof but I have ‘white coat syndrome’ so that was eventually ignored to a certain extent). The birth ended in an emergency c-section after quite a traumatic experience, but on the whole I was well looked after and cared for by all the medical staff. I came home with my son, and after my 6 week check I was near enough back to normal. I did experience a bit of the baby blues during my pregnancy and afterwards, but it was really nothing too serious.
When I fell pregnant with unexpected baby number 2, fifteen months later, the pregnancy also continued by the book. Morning sickness for about 13 weeks; then once I entered the 2nd trimester, things were proceeding without any hiccups.
At 32 weeks, my world suddenly came crashing down and it was the worst feeling I have ever experienced. I began to have really negative thoughts about the upcoming birth and I became terrified and I couldn’t explain why. I had already booked a c-section, so I was secure with that knowledge, but this black cloud just wouldn’t lift. Depression, I feel, is very difficult to explain to someone that has never experienced it, so I kept it inside and struggled through the days, (this was definitely the worst thing I could have done).
My sleeping patterns were awful. I felt so low throughout the day that I had no motivation to do anything. My mum used to help me with my toddler and I tried to keep positive for him but it was getting harder and harder. I was miserable all day long and I longed to go to sleep in the evening so that I didn’t have to cope with my feelings of desperation during the day. The problem though, was that once I was in bed I couldn’t sleep because I was worrying; so I would be tossing and turning for about 3 hours every evening until I eventually fell asleep. I would then wake at around 4 am every morning, and be up and about worrying all over again. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. I’ll be brutally honest, I just wanted to die, I felt so very ill. I cannot put into words how truly poorly I felt.
My mum knew something was wrong after a few weeks and took me straight to the mid-wife and I was there for a good two hours explaining everything that had been going on and how I felt. That was the turning point from then on; I started to get the help!
Being pregnant is a time when women are said to be ‘blooming’, which means they are radiant, happy and content. The thought of their baby arriving fills them with joy and optimism. But life is never plain sailing. If a woman starts to feel that more of her days are filled with hopelessness and tears, this can make her feel guilty. She is supposed to feel on top of the world and lucky that she can carry a baby; so there can be a tendency to keep the negative thoughts to herself and feel ashamed.
The causes antenatal depression.
Antenatal depression can be caused by an imbalance of hormones during pregnancy. Common concerns can include:
Worries about a life-changing event.
The way you perceive yourself and your body. Weight gain, swollen breasts, tiredness etc.
Your partners support during your pregnancy or being alone.
PTSD: Difficulties with a previous pregnancy and a traumatic birth experience.
Lack of support and money worries.
It is extremely important to let your health care practitioners know if you have a history of previous depression and if you have taken medication for it in the past. There are specialist mid-wives out there who support this condition.
Signs and symptoms of antenatal depression
I have mentioned at the outset the way my ante-natal depression began and developed, however, it can occur at any time during pregnancy. It usually involves having constantly high levels of worry about the impending birth and parenthood. As discussed, symptoms can include, tiredness, insomnia, constant anxiety and panic, tearfulness and a feeling of guilt because of these negative feelings.
What can you do if you think you have antenatal depression?
Speak to your GP and midwife. The support is there and you must ask for it!! Try and find someone to talk to, your partner or a close friend. Your health care providers will put you in contact with the right people who will support you. It is actually more common than I realised as post-natal depression is highlighted a lot more in the media. There are ante-natal classes that you can attend with woman who will be giving birth at around the same time as yourself
Treatment for antenatal depression
Counselling and therapy
Counselling and psychotherapy, offer you the opportunity to look at the reasons that are contributing to your depression, as well as giving you support in changing the way you feel.
Your doctor may prescribe you with anti-depressants throughout your pregnancy and beyond if needed. This is an option to consider. I really felt I needed to take an anti-depressant, but I was by this time 37 weeks pregnant and my doctor informed me that it would take at least 3 to 4 weeks to work; so I had counselling instead.
Did I get better?
Yes, eventually. Looking back though, I really regret not getting the help sooner. As soon as my GP knew about my concerns things began to get a little easier. As I mentioned, I couldn’t take medication and if I had discussed this earlier that would have been an option. Anyway, I was referred to a psychiatrist at the maternity department in the hospital where I was booked to have my baby. I had regular meetings with this doctor and specialist nurses who really helped me through the last weeks before the birth. They were truly wonderful. I was allocated a specialist nurse who came to visit me every other day at my home and was with me on the morning in the hospital when I went to have my baby. I received on-going support afterwards from these wonderful people until I felt ready to go it alone, as it were.
Experiencing any form of depression – particularly during pregnancy – can make you feel alone, frightened, guilty and inadequate. Please don’t ever feel this way. I know how it feels, I sympathise and totally understand the feelings of desperation that you may be feeling. You are not alone!! Get the help early on because in this way you will feel the benefits of the support that is available to you and you will feel a measure of relief. It may not take the feelings away, but to have someone at the end of a telephone and to call on you and offer a listening ear can really ease your fears.
I hope this article has helped x
The National Childbirth Trust (0300 330 0700) will put you in touch with a support group in your area.
The charity Mind (0300 123 3393) offers information, help and advice about mental health.
Pandas Foundation, 0843 289 8401, www.pandasfoundation.org.uk
A support group network for men whose wives or partners are suffering from ante or post natal depression.
www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk, support to all women who have had a traumatic birth experience.
Information and advice concerning depression in pregnancy.