Thankfully, more and more people are learning about the signs, risks, and treatments of postpartum depression. Sadly, however, there's another risk to women's mental health that's not being discussed: prenatal depression. While pregnancy can certainly be a happy time for many, there are others parents-to-be who struggle for the entire 40 weeks (more or less) it takes to have a baby. I know there were ways I wish my partner helped me get through prenatal depression, and I know additional information and continued education surrounding pregnancy and mental health would've made it much easier for him to be there when I needed him most.
I actually suffered through prenatal depression during both of my pregnancies. With my daughter (whom I lost shortly after birth), the depression was extremely dark. I often found myself crying inside my car, wondering if there was a nearby building I could jump off of. It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t want to be pregnant, because no one was forcing me to grow a human inside my body and women in this country have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to be and/or remain pregnant. I just didn’t want to exist. Somehow, I was able to push through it, but not everyone is so lucky. With my son, I already knew I was susceptible to prenatal depression. I was still in the depths of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused from the loss of my first child, who was born premature, so it wasn’t easy. I had a steady job, though, and was able to keep busy, keep enough supportive friends and relatives around me, and hold myself together and in one piece.
What got me through prenatal depression, however, might not work for another woman struggling, too. In fact, it's not uncommon for pregnant women to require medication in order to manage their depression. I can't help but think that I probably would have benefited from some, myself. My husband did his best to be there for me, though, and while I'm grateful of his efforts I know there are certainly more than a few things I wish he would have done. Things like, for example, the following:
Checking In On Me More Frequently
My husband hasn’t always been the best at asking me how my day went. While he’s good about it these days, when I was pregnant it simply didn’t occur to him that I desired to be asked. He assumed that I would simply tell him how I felt on any given day.
If I were struggling again, I would hope he would know to ask me how I'm feeling frequently, because my thoughts and feelings shifted dramatically and on a daily basis when I prenatal depression.
Listening More Often & Actively
This is an easy one. Everyone, regardless of depression, need to feel heard. But when you’re depressed you feel like no one cares, so it’s even more important that the people around you show you that they value your thoughts, feelings, and presence.
Lightening My Load Without Me Having To Ask
Truth be told, I actually didn’t do a ridiculous amount of chores while pregnant. Some laundry, sure, but that’s about it. That said, my partner wasn’t always the best about keeping things tidy, either. I do wish he would have put forth a bit more effort, because a neat house often helps my mental health in spades.
Letting Me Know My Feelings Were Valid
Sometimes, my partner simply wanted me to feel better. He’d ask why I was listening to a sad song or watching a dark film, and request that I stop so I my mood would magically improve. I understand he had the best of intentions, but what I really needed was him to tell me, “Hey, I know how you’re feeling. It’s OK to be down, but just try to remember that it’s also OK to feel good, or to ask for help so you can feel good, too.”
Telling Me To Go Hang Out With Friends
My husband knows I love my friends. He also knows that when things are hard, I need them a lot. He didn’t always remember to remind me of that, though, so I would have appreciated more of this.
Reminding Me That I Was (Or Would Be) A Good Mother
My spouse did actually constantly remind me that I was doing a good job as a mama-to-be, and that I would be a wonderful mom when our baby arrived. Still, I think it's important to include this reminder on this particular list because every single person should be doing this for their pregnant partner, especially if they're depths of prenatal depression.
Finding Me A Counselor Or Therapist
This one is huge. My partner isn’t a huge proponent of therapy, though he understands why I have sought it out myself. I didn’t have the energy to find a therapist that would be capable of helping me, though, and wish he had helped with this process.
Driving Me To A Mental Health Practitioner
Different people have different triggers. When I am depressed I don't like to drive, because I have had intrusive thoughts where I continuously imagine I’ll be in an accident. So I would have appreciated if he would have not only found me a therapist, but made an appointment and taken me to it.
Bringing Up My Mental Health At OB-GYN Appointments
Chances are, my partner had no idea how to even begin seeking mental health help for me (if he even realized how badly I needed it). One tactic he could have used would have been to talk to my OB-GYN. He came to many of my appointments, so it would have been a good chance to bring up the signs I was exhibiting.
Everyone loves a nice surprise. A bouquet of flowers when it isn't Valentine's Day. A mix tape (or CD) with some songs to brighten my day. Tickets to go see a movie or play I wasn’t expecting. An impromptu picnic. Surprise is good. It doesn’t fix depression, to be sure, but it can help to have small, pleasant surprises in your life to make you feel like people care.
Having Even More Patience With Me
More than anything, I wish my partner had been even more patience with me and what I was dealing with. I know he tried his best, but he also didn’t really put much effort in putting himself in my shoes. If your partner is struggling with prenatal depression, empathy is key. Don’t shut them out, or shut yourself out, when things are getting hard. Don’t walk away. Be there, and let them share, because I guarantee you they want to talk to you about it. They’re just afraid if they do, you’ll leave.
If you struggle with depression or feelings of self-harm, please seek professional help or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.