10 Things A Woman With Prenatal Depression Needs To Hear From Her Doctor
Until my diagnosis, I had never heard of prenatal depression. People don't really talk about mental health in our culture, and there's so much stigma surrounding it, that I guess it's not surprising. Pregnancy is romanticized, too, so the last thing you want to admit is that you aren't happy while you're pregnant. When I became depressed I didn’t know what to do, who to tell, or if there was anything I could do. Then, at a prenatal appointment, my OB-GYN asked me how I was feeling and said the things a person with prenatal depression needs to hear from their doctor, starting with the always-important, "You can talk to me."
So, I did. In fact, I let it all out. I sobbed when I told her how depressed I had been and how hopeless I felt. I was scared and vulnerable; so sure she was going to say that I was just going to have to tough it out until after my baby was born. Thankfully, she didn't. Instead, she told me that I had prenatal depression and there are actually quite a few treatment options that are safe during pregnancy.
I realized that I didn't have to suffer alone. We discussed options, including therapy and medications, and created a treatment plan that we thought would work with my lifestyle. It took a couple of weeks for my glorious anti-depressant to really kick in, but when it did I seriously started to feel better. It was like a dark cloud lifted from my life and I was finally able to enjoy my pregnancy (well, as much as anyone really enjoys pregnancy). I am so glad I told my OB-GYN what was going on, and listened to her advice that day. She really did say so many important things, including but certainly not limited to the following:
"Talk To Me"
I had trouble talking about my depression period, so I had absolutely no idea how to bring it up with my OB-GYN. I also feared that I would learn that there was nothing anyone could to do help, and I would be forced to live this way for nine months. When she asked, "How are you?" I must have hesitated, because, she followed up with, "You can tell me." So I did.
I am so glad I told her.
"I'm Worried About You"
At first I didn't want to be a bother, so I kind of minimized how sad I was. She said, "I'm pretty worried about you, and I think I can help." It was exactly what I needed to hear in order to have the courage to talk openly about how I really felt.
"You Need To Take Care Of Yourself First"
It's hard to learn that self care is important, especially when you're pregnant. When you have prenatal depression, not only do you start to think you don't matter, but you feel guilty for being depressed when you are told you're supposed to be happy. My doctor reminded me that if I didn't put on my own oxygen mask first, I would not be able to assist others. Treatment for prenatal depression would make me a better mom.
"It's Nothing To Be Ashamed Of"
I was constantly worried about what others think, and felt like people would seriously judge me if they knew exactly how I was feeling or that I was diagnosed with prenatal depression. My doctor reminded me that depression is not anything to be ashamed of, and not something I could just get over without help.
"Here Are Your Options"
Even though I have a great experience taking antidepressants in the past, when I experienced postpartum depression I was terrified that any kind of medication would harm my baby. I was also terrified that they wouldn't work and, as a result, I would be left with no options.
My OB-GYN put my mind at ease and told me about treatment options available. Turns out, I had lots of options.
"Lots Of Pregnant People Have Prenatal Depression"
I felt so alone and so weird, but then my OB-GYN told me that prenatal depression is pretty common. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 14-23 percent of people will struggle with depression during pregnancy. It was comforting to realize that I wasn't alone.
"Many Antidepressants Are Safe"
I, like a lot of pregnant people, was really afraid to take medications while pregnant. To make matters worse, there are a ton of older studies that show taking antidepressants during pregnancy can be dangerous for your baby.
Last year the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did a comprehensive study and found that many antidepressants are safe, and in fact might be safer than not treating your depression at all, for you and your baby. My doctor put my mind at ease and made a recommendation for one of the safest antidepressants available.
"Try Not To Worry"
Every pregnant mom worries about her baby. For me, and other moms with prenatal depression, that anxiety becomes so much worse and, at times, overwhelming. I worried that my OB-GYN's office is going to think I'm stupid or that there's something wrong with me, even though they assure me that it's OK to call them about anything.
"It's Not Your Fault"
I seriously thought it was my fault I was depressed, as if there was something I did or didn't do that contributed to my feelings. To make matters worse, I was so sick with hyperemesis that I couldn't do any of the things that normally made me feel better, like go for a run, have some chocolate, or pour myself a glass of wine. My hormones were out of control and my depression was a lying b*tch. My doctor told me that it wasn't my fault, pregnancy sometimes triggers a chemical or hormone imbalance that leads to depression, and that it can also exacerbate existing mental health conditions.
"I'm Here For You"
The most important thing I heard from my doctor that day was that she was there for me, and she would continue to monitor my mental health. Not only would my physical health be a priority throughout my pregnancy, but so would every other aspect of my wellbeing. She would make adjustments when needed and helping me prepare for childbirth and postpartum recovery.
I am so grateful she started a conversation with me that day, because she said all of the things I needed to hear and enabled me to get the help I needed.