Antenatal Depression: Robbed of the Joy of Pregnancy

When my first son was a little over fifteen months old, my husband and I decided to try for another baby. I was terrified; I had just come through a bout of severe PPD, and I was finally feeling good mentally. Others might have questioned my reasoning in choosing to have another child, but we just knew it was the right thing for our family. I can’t fully explain what propelled me to make that decision, but whatever it was, I’m thankful for it today. My second son brought astounding light into so much darkness, and I could never regret choosing him, even when the choice brought me a great deal of pain.

After doing a lot of research on the possible effects of using antidepressants during pregnancy and consulting with my doctor, I decided to wean myself off the antidepressants I was on, knowing full well there was a chance the depression would return once I was unmedicated.

My first pregnancy had been as good as I could have asked for. Although I did have a miscarriage scare early on and was extremely tired during my last trimester, I don’t feel as though I had a lot to complain about. My second trimester was especially good, as I had huge amounts of energy, wasn’t feeling the morning sickness of the first trimester, and didn’t yet have to deal with the fatigue and discomfort of the third trimester. I naively expected things to be at least sort of similar in my second pregnancy.

The first trimester my second time around was as I had expected. I was nauseated all day, but was able to function. I still took my son on playdates and gave him all the love and attention he needed, and I felt all right mentally. I was more tired than I remembered being during my first pregnancy, but I attributed it to the fact that I was a mother this time around. I kept waiting for my first trimester to be over so I’d stop feeling sick and start experiencing the euphoric energy I’d felt the first time.

That energy never came; I only became more and more fatigued as the pregnancy progressed. I started to develop insomnia so bad that I’d only sleep two or three hours a night. The lack of sleep started to get to me; my moods fluctuated wildly, and I had to quit my part-time editing job due to complete apathy towards the work.

Eventually, the exhaustion became so marked I was nearly unable to rouse myself during the day. I’d wake up and feed my son breakfast, then lie down at the foot of my bed and drift in and out of sleep. He would drag his toys into the hallway in front of my room so he could see me as he played. I felt like an utter failure when I would start awake and see my beautiful baby sitting alone in the hallway, chirping happily to his toys.

The last three or four months of my pregnancy were decidedly awful. I felt so disconnected from my life, completely unmoored from reality. I existed solely in my own head, telling myself over and over that I’d been insane to think I could handle being the mother of two children. I felt little attachment to the life growing within me, and I looked to his due date with trepidation.

When he was born, it took me hours to process the fact that I was his mother. I went through the motions of oohing and aahing and nursing him, but I wasn’t really present. I would fall asleep in my hospital bed and wake up bewildered, forgetting for a moment why I was there and what had just happened.

Gradually, I came to love my son so intensely the love scared me with its ferocity. I didn’t come by that love easily, and for that reason I cherish him dearly. I’m still sometimes saddened by the fact that depression stole much of my pregnancy from me, but I cling to the happy ending, my incredible son.

I haven’t spoken much about this to anyone because antepartum depression is still such an unmentionable affliction, at least in our society. A woman is supposed to be joyous and glowing when she’s pregnant; if she’s not, she may feel as though the very thing that makes her a woman is broken. Rationally, I knew I was depressed and that if I could just hold on until the end of my pregnancy, everything would be okay. Emotionally, though, I felt hopeless.

I don’t feel any shame talking about this, because I know who I am and what I am capable of—I know my ideal pregnancy was taken from me by force by depression. I’ve chosen not to write about it up until now because I know it can make other people uncomfortable. It’s a difficult thing to explain, and probably even more difficult to understand.

I write for the woman who does understand, who knows what it is to have her brain taken over by a silent intruder, who cowers in the dark recesses of her own mind, trying to escape the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and doubt. To that woman I say, come out. There is no shame in what you are hiding from.

For more information on antepartum depression, feel free to start by checking out Postpartum Progress’ previous posts on depression during pregnancy.

Alexis Lesa

Note from Katherine: I’m never sure whether to call it depression during pregnancy, antenatal depression or antepartum depression, but I am sure of one thing: It’s very common. Thank you Alexis for sharing this, because there are so many women out there who need to see they are not alone.