There is a lot of information out there regarding post-natal depression which is fantastic because as we create awareness, we can help the many mothers out there who suffer from this mental illness.
But we do not hear much about depression or anxiety during pregnancy even though it is thought up to 10 per cent of pregnant women actually have antenatal depression. Is it because we are scared to admit that even though we are told it’s meant to be the happiest time in our lives, sometimes it’s just not?
For me this was the case.
I suffered pretty badly with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) when I was pregnant which eventually led to me being diagnosed with antenatal depression and anxiety.
My sickness started from before I even knew I was pregnant at only three weeks. From then on, it got worse and worse with many, many trips to the hospital and weeks and months on end in bed. There were days where I was so deliriously sick that I couldn’t walk and would sleep on the toilet floor for hours until my partner would come home from work and carry me back to bed. I think this is where the depression started as I never really got to experience the “joy” of finding out I was pregnant and getting excited about the future.
In the first 12 weeks I lost nearly 10kg from not being able to eat and then throwing up anything I did consume .
My body got a short break from the intensity of HG when between 20 weeks to 24 weeks when I travelled overseas. And by a break, I mean I would only throw up three to five times a day instead of five to 15 times.
However, at around 28 weeks the HG worsened again and I was then diagnosed with antental depression – even though now I can see it was there long before this – and was prescribed pregnancy safe anti-depressant medication. I eventually stopped working all together and started become disconnected from the world.
Due to my severe HG I had weekly OB appointments, and every appointment I would cry and beg my OB to help me. By week 36 after yet another hospital visit, he could see in my eyes and body that I couldn’t cope any more and decided it was time at 37 weeks to perform my planned c-section.
Anxiety and depression were nothing new to me. I have suffered with both in the past but this was different.
Pregnancy was meant to be the most happy, exciting time of my life and a time where I was meant to be connecting with my unborn baby. But for me it wasn’t. Here are some of the truths of what it was like for me to experience this type of depression and anxiety:
In my first trimester I actually found it hard to want to connect with my baby partly because I wasn’t sure if my body could or would cope with what it was going through. I was worried that I could loose the baby so I didn’t want to get attache, but also, part of me was angry that I felt this sick and ruined.
Although it is very hard for me to admit now when I look at my beautiful daughter (I still feel guilty about it, so no judgement please), but there were times when I thought about termination during the first trimester purely because I just wasn’t sure I could cope with the sickness that felt like it could be never ending. Later in my pregnancy the thought that I even had these thoughts made me feel very guilty and disappointed with myself which led to further depressing thoughts and anxieties.
For as long as I can remember I have had body image issues so when I was pregnant these issues were brought to the surface with the thought of my stomach getting larger, my body changing and stretching, not being able to stay my usual fit strong self and people focusing so much on my belly and appearance. I would do everything I could to hide my growing belly so no one would comment but it didn’t stop them. Every second person would tell me I was my belly was “too small”, I was “too thin” or ask me if I was eating. I constantly felt I was having to explain myself to people, and even though it was about being too small rather than my old fears of being too large, it was still so much attention on my appearance and it would cause me so much anxiety.
The pregnancy felt never ending because everyday I would wake up hoping to feel better and every day was a disappointment. So instead of relaxing and enjoying the pregnancy journey all I did was wish it away.
Heading in to my third trimester when the HG really worsened again I can remember disconnecting from everything. It was like I was on auto-pilot: wake up (if I could sleep), eat, throw up, sleep, wake up, eat, throw up, sleep on and on and on. People would mention my sickness or my throwing up and it was like I became so numb to it that I lost all emotion toward everything. I would lay in bed for days on end, sometimes I wouldn’t get up until 6pm.
I never truly felt like I had connected with the baby in my belly and would often get anxiety over whether I would be able to connect and love her once she was born.
Even now sitting here writing this I can tell you that I don’t think I will ever forget the way I felt during my pregnancy. I was confused, disconnected, tired and sick – really sick, but I can also tell you that I would do it all again for my daughter. She has changed my life, my partner’s life and made me a much better person. Although I was depressed during my pregnancy Millie has helped me over come so many more demons in my life.
For any mother out there suffering from depression or anxiety during their pregnancy I just want you to know that you are not alone. You have that beautiful baby in your belly – you are everything to him/her. I don’t know how bad your situation is but I can tell you that I had many doubts over the type of mother I could be, I doubted if I could love, care or nurture my child enough but as soon as I held her in my hands for the first time the love I felt was like no other. I finally knew who I was and what I wanted.
On a final note, I just want anyone who is feeling down whether you are pregnant or not that it is OK to feel these feelings. You should never feel ashamed or guilty. Try not to disconnect yourself but ask friends, family or others for help. If you need to go and seek professional help. During my pregnancy I not only saw my usual psychologist but also a psychiatrist and I believe it helped not just me but my unborn baby a lot.
If you are pregnant or a new mummy and need to chat always feel free to contact me. I’m not a professional but I do know what it feels like and what guilt comes along with feeling this way when you’re told you are meant to feel overwhelming joy and happiness.
If you – or anyone you know – might be struggling with depression or anxiety while pregnant or as a new parent, call PANDA’s free National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline (1300 726 306). The helpline operates Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm EST and offers counselling, information and referral services with ongoing telephone support for families throughout Australia. Visit www.panda.org.au for more
The stats on Perinatal depression and anxiety are confronting and make you realise how many people are feeling this way and that something needs to be done to help support these parents feeling this way:
- 1 in 7 new mums and 1 in 10 new dads suffer from perinatal anxiety and depression every year in Australia.
- 1 in 10 pregnant women will also suffer from depression and many of us aren’t aware of the warning signs or symptoms
- 1 in 4 of us has suffered or is suffering with PNDA or knows someone who is.
- Nearly 60 per cent of callers to PANDA‘s National Helpline report a lowered mood, with symptoms including hopelessness, lacking motivation and loss of joy, while over 65 per cent report feeling anxious, panicked, agitated, angry and irritable.
- Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week is November 13-19. Let’s break down the stigma new parents feel about suffering with these conditions.
- Over 100,000 Australian families struggle with PNDA every year