Courtesy of Stephanie Baroni Cook

I Have Prenatal Depression, & This Is What It's Like

by Stephanie Baroni Cook

I am pregnant with my second child, and although this should be one of the happiest times in my life, it’s not. I have prenatal depression, but I am OK. When you hear people talk about their pregnancies, all you hear are the good things, the happy things. Finding out the gender, picking out names, painting the nursery — those are all the things people talk about. They don’t talk about the dreams they have of drowning, waking up gasping for breath. They don’t talk about feeling claustrophobic and lonely at the same time. They don’t talk about how overwhelmed they feel just by one simple request from their partner or child. They don’t talk about the fact they feel nothing when they should be feeling such a surplus of happiness.

People don’t talk about prenatal depression. But they should.

An estimated 14-23 percent of pregnant women will suffer symptoms of depression during their pregnancies. Prenatal depression, in particular, is considered to be a mood disorder, like clinical depression, and some symptoms include anxiety, persistent sadness, sleep loss or excessive sleep, loss of interest in your regular activities, and thoughts of suicide or death. Triggers include family or personal histories of depression, infertility treatments, relationship issues, pregnancy complications, and more.

When I found out I was pregnant with our second child, in the moment I was ecstatic. We had struggled to conceive our first child because I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and after many months of tracking periods and ovulation cycles, doctor’s visits, lab tests, and finally three rounds of Clomid — a medication that forces ovulation — we found out I was pregnant. The war against my ovaries had finally been won, and we had our first child. To us, it was a miracle. 

Gwen Hawkins Photography

Fast forward three years later and to my bewilderment, I was staring at a positive pregnancy test again. We hadn’t been trying, yet there they were: two pink lines. Tears and laughter spilled from me simultaneously. How could this be? Did we really get pregnant on our own?

My current pregnancy, much like my first, has been a miracle. I knew it when I saw the lines, and I know it now as I type this. But for the life of me, I’m not happy or excited to be carrying this new life. It kills me to have to say that. I know why I feel this way — the influx of hormones coupled with fact that I suffered from depression years ago leaves me prone to suffering from it now — and I also know what is triggering it — isolation and loneliness — but still, deep down, I feel guilty knowing I’m not happy to be carrying a new, sweet, innocent life.

I also live in Italy, which sounds dreamy, but when you're a stay-at-home parent to a toddler with a partner who travels out of country every few weeks or months for work, it can take a toll on your spirit, let alone your pregnancy. 

Courtesy of Stephanie Baroni Cook

When I found out I was expecting, suddenly the distance and the isolation felt greater than it ever had been before. I consider myself a pretty independent person, but since my pregnancy started, I find it so hard to be alone, especially when my husband is traveling. I feel a panicked anxiety constantly, and it doesn’t matter if I am nursing my daughter or cooking dinner, I will randomly burst into tears and I feel like everything and everyone is going to consume me. 

I feel so guilty when these panic-like attacks happen to me in front of my sweet girl; sometimes she even tries to comfort me by hugging me and giving me kisses. I don’t think I can accurately describe how horrible I feel when she does this because, as a parent, I thought it would be many, many years before she would have to take care of me.

Unlike my last pregnancy, I don’t think about the baby inside of me as often as I did with my first, and when I do, I feel numb. I know having feelings like this is normal, common, and even symptomatic of prenatal depression, and my doctors have assured me these feelings are “normal” even though there isn’t yet concrete research to back up why this is the case. Often times, what reminds me I am pregnant is the morning sickness that shakes me awake. And when someone asks me if I am excited for our soon-to-be baby’s arrival, I have to lie to them, slap on a fake smile, and say, “Oh yes! Totally!”

Like many mental health issues, there is a stigma attached to admitting you are depressed. But if we talked more openly and honestly about depression, we could do more good for women and mothers in need. We could help more women get to the good things, the happy things. We could make them feel supported, encouraged, and remind them that they are not alone and that depression is nothing to be ashamed about. It’s why I’m sharing my story — in hopes that sharing will move women to get the help they need and deserve.

Courtesy of Stephanie Baroni Cook

Everyday is a struggle for me, and from the minute I wake up, to the minute I go to sleep I feel things I don’t want to feel. On the really bad days, when I try to hold it all in, I don’t feel any relief until I confront my feelings and give into them — even if it means I have to close myself in my bedroom and have a good cry. But I try to combat those days with outings, social interaction, and positive thoughts. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but for me I know it’s important to at least try. 

As so many women with kids do, I have a guilt complex, and the guilt has been even worse with the depression. In my moments of clarity, I know I’m not a bad mother and that my depression is in no way a reflection of how I parent or a prediction of how much I will or won’t love my baby. I have prenatal depression, yes, but I am more than this mood disorder. I am a woman, I am a wife, I am a mother, and I am only human.