Like many women out there, I suffered through depression during my pregnancy and after the arrival of my little boy. But I will say, I got through it even though I was certain that I would never feel like my old self again.
I always wanted to be a mom. It was always in my plans. So when I got pregnant with our first child after only one month of trying, my husband and I were thrilled. What we didn’t plan for was a bout of prenatal and postpartum depression. Sure, I had read about this kind of thing happening, but I never thought it would happen to me.
The first signs of depression started in my second trimester. In fact, I was aware of them earlier but tried to dismiss them, telling myself they were probably just normal pregnancy feelings and hoped they would go away. In some ways they did go away, but things got a lot worse a month later. I found myself easily irritated, and one time I got so upset that I cried hysterically. I knew it wasn’t a normal response to my situation. I knew I was overreacting, but I still felt really down. I resolved in my mind that it was an isolated incident, had a good discussion with the family member that I was upset with, and figured that everything would be fine. After all, I was pregnant—a baby was on the way! I had so much to be happy about, nothing to be sad or down about.
Nearing my seventh month of pregnancy my moods became worse. I had stopped working at this point, and the transition was harder than I imagined. I felt isolated and trapped in the house. I hadn’t realized how much I had attached my sense of self to my work. Without my job, I didn’t feel like myself. I felt lost. I cried a lot, multiple times a day, and blamed myself for the way I was feeling. It started to overtake me. I began to lose enjoyment in things that I had once loved doing. In essence, I felt as if someone was pulling the covers over my head into a deep darkness. I was upset with myself for not being able to be stronger for my baby. I worried and wondered what all the stress would do to the baby, which only added to my guilt over the situation. I continued to hope that I could make it to the end of the pregnancy without taking an antidepressant.
My parents had arrived for a two-week visit as we were living abroad, an ocean away from them. My husband and I had planned for a special trip together, and we did enjoy our time together in many ways, but I still struggled to enjoy things to the fullest. I wanted to be full of excitement but always felt something was holding me back. Fear and negativity soon took over. I became angry with myself that this was happening, and upset that it wasn’t going away as I neared the end of my pregnancy. The pressure was on. The due date was getting closer. I didn’t feel comfortable taking an antidepressant during my pregnancy for fear of what it might do to our baby.
The day after my parents returned home, I experienced a panic attack. It was the first one I had ever experienced and it scared me to death. I felt like I was dying and couldn’t breathe. My husband rushed me to the hospital. As it turned out, the panic attack had ended by the time we arrived and the baby was fine. The doctors gave me a small antianxiety pill that I struggled to take, in fear that it would harm the baby. In the end, after listening to the medical staff, I gave in and took it. I knew then that I’d have to consider getting on an antidepressant. Taking this kind of medicine during my pregnancy created much fear and anxiety in me. I began to struggle even more with feelings of guilt, which only deepened my depression.
It was a huge struggle in a foreign land to find a psychiatrist/therapist—one who spoke English, one I felt comfortable with, and one who understood postpartum depression. I managed to finally locate a psychiatrist to prescribe me the needed dose of the antidepressant, but finding a therapist with whom I could talk things through took months. With the help of my mother, I came upon Dr. Shoshana Bennett, who knew firsthand about the pain of PPD. Despite a nine-hour time difference between us, we made it work. Dr. Shosh was accessible via Skype and it was a blessing that we found her.
With the combination of an antidepressant, talk therapy, and getting myself involved in activities even when I didn’t feel like it, I began the steady climb out of my depression. I started seeing solutions and understanding that I was not alone in what I was going through. I felt some control come back into my life and was determined to emerge from PPD a better person than I was before. Slowly my enjoyment came back. I laughed for the first time in a long time while watching the movie The Hangover with family at Christmastime. It was a definite turning point. My depression fully lifted after about three months of therapy—twice a week via Skype in combination with the antidepressant.
I can’t tell you enough how great life is again. I am truly enjoying being a mother, and my time with my son is wonderful. People tell us all the time that my son is the most smiley baby they have ever seen. He is strong, healthy, and happy. We are truly blessed. I know I did the right thing by going on an antidepressant during my pregnancy. The therapy sessions gave me so much insight into the understanding of postpartum depression and also made me understand myself better.
I am grateful for all the people who helped me recover—my loving and supportive husband, my devoted parents, extended family members, friends, therapist, and most important, my faith.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
Kristin, like many moms and moms-to-be, was afraid to take medication during her pregnancy. While it’s true that medication is often unnecessary for a full recovery, it’s also true that each individual woman has different needs. As this story illustrates, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and depression is not a weakness. As you recover from PPD, remember these nuggets:
— Work with a therapist who has extensive expertise with perinatal mood and anxiety problems. The therapist will help design a specific wellness plan for you.
— Depression is just as common during pregnancy as it is after delivery. If you need medication to recover, please don’t ever make yourself feel guilty about it.
— Take the necessary steps—whatever they might be for you—to get yourself back to wellness, and to a place of even better functioning and fulfillment than before.
Image credit: Anne Worner