When we talk about mothers and depression, our conversations tend to focus on postpartum depression. This form of depression, which occurs sometime after childbirth, can result in mothers becoming withdrawn from their babies, strong and/or frequent mood swings, and feelings of guilt and hopelessness. However, there’s another condition that is just as important to talk about: prenatal depression. I’ve experienced varying degrees depression during all my pregnancies, and can attest to how incredibly difficult it can be. That’s why I’d like to share some of the things every woman with prenatal depression needs you to know.
According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), approximately 14-23 percent of women will struggle with symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Common prenatal depression symptoms include persistent sadness, difficulty concentrating, sleeping too little or too much, anxiety, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and loss of interests in activities you normally enjoy, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
The first time I was pregnant, I didn’t understand what was happening to me. One moment I felt excitement, and the next moment I’d find myself crying uncontrollably in my car, not wanting to drive for fear of crashing on purpose and for no reason. While I normally live with anxiety, my prenatal depression caused me to feel extremely anxious all the time. Other women around me seemed at peace with their pregnancies, so it was heartbreaking to feel so terrible and alone all the time. If you know someone exhibiting signs of prenatal depression, read this list of things they probably wish you knew about how they feel. It just might help.
Prenatal Depression Is Real
This isn't some "made up" affliction or a dramatic cry for help. According to the American Pregnancy Association, prenatal depression is caused by hormone changes, that "can affect the chemicals in your brain, which are directly related to depression and anxiety."
It’s Not Our Fault
First of all, prenatal depression is a very real condition. It can affect up to 23 percent of women, according to the American Pregnancy Association and The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). There is nothing us pregnant people do to “make ourselves” depressed. It’s not something that happens because you watch a sad movie or listen to a sad song. It's completely out of our control.
We Don’t Want To Feel This Way
On more than one occasion, I’ve been blamed for indulging and even enjoying my “misery” when I’ve experienced depression. Please.
If anyone thinking that people experiencing depression want to feel that way, they are sorely mistaken. I would have wanted nothing more than to be a glowing, happy pregnant woman and not a big bundle of nerves and sadness.
It Makes It Hard To Bond With Our Pregnancy...
Prenatal depression doesn’t always allow you to connect with your pregnancy the way you might otherwise. While some moms looked happily toward their futures, I often felt broken and trapped. These feelings subsided more later in the pregnancy, but the first trimester was especially difficult.
...But That Doesn’t Mean We Hate Being Pregnant
Some folks don’t understand that not feeling connected to your pregnancy doesn’t you'll automatically hate your future baby. It doesn’t make you cold or unfeeling, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be a bad mother. It just means your hormones and your brain are messing with you, causing you to have some really strong and difficult thoughts and feelings.
It Feels Incredibly Isolating
During my first pregnancy, I didn’t have many friends that I could confide in. Almost none of them had kids, and the one who did seemed so happy all the time I couldn’t see how she could possibly relate to me. As such, I didn’t really talk to anyone about how utterly awful I felt.
We’re Scared To Tell Anyone
People don’t mention their prenatal depression for the same reasons people don’t mention their depression. Not everyone feels comfortable disclosing their mental illness. Sadly, there are still people who will joke or judge those who are honest about their mental health issues, too, only making it harder for us to come forward and be honest.
This is not OK.
Being Told To Cheer Up Or Think About The Baby Does Not Help
The few times I mentioned my depression to anyone, I was usually told I should just change my outlook. Telling a person with prenatal depression to focus on her baby shower or on cute baby clothes or whatever else you think will help, is proof positive that you don't understand how suffocating it can all feel. While things like exercise and good nutrition can certainly help improve symptoms for some, you can’t just cardio your way out of depression.
We Feel Like We’re Constantly Being Judged
I was scared of making any decisions during my pregnancy for fear of being judged. I don’t know why, but I felt like I was constantly under a microscope. It doesn’t really matter if it was true or not because, in the end, prenatal depression doesn’t care.
We Put Tremendous Pressure On Ourselves
Between my anxiety and my fear of judgement, I often put a lot of pressure on myself for absolutely no reason. I worried about eating properly, or about getting enough exercise (which, for me. was prenatal yoga). I worried that I wouldn’t have things ready in time for when the baby arrived. I worried constantly about my baby’s health. I forced myself to read everything I could about pregnancy and motherhood. The stress was unbelievable.
We Wish People Would Ask Us How We’re Doing More Often...
When you have prenatal depression, it can feel like no one cares. However, if folks would just take the time to ask us how we’re doing, how we’re feeling, and then ask us again, it could help. Everyone seems pretty comfortable making small talk, but when you're frequently checking in with someone who is at risk of prenatal depression, it can make a difference when someone close to you finally seems to take a stronger interest in how we are.
...And Would Volunteer To Help Us Find Help
If we happen to confide in you how we are feeling, or if it’s fairly obvious to you, consider reaching out with some resources for us. We may or may not recognize that we have prenatal depression, so it’s important we get help either way. Find us support groups on or offline. Help us find an affordable, local therapist or counselor. It all helps.