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"I was aware of the possibility of postpartum depression, but I never thought about being depressed during my pregnancy."
My pregnancy was miserable from the start
I was violently ill and nauseous from the moment a home kit showed that I was pregnant. I booked an appointment with my doctors, but it was weeks before they could see me. In the meanwhile, I just got sicker and sicker.
At that first appointment, they were alarmed at how much weight I had lost – about 20 pounds in a month. Immediately, they gave me IV fluids and anti-nausea medication, and put me on bedrest.
This all happened so quickly, I didn't have any time to plan. One day I was working and going to school, the next I was in bed.
During my first month on bedrest, I was miserable. The medication helped my nausea, but otherwise, I slept a lot to pass the time. I had no friends or family nearby, and my boyfriend worked all day. I felt horrible, and I would basically try to sleep until he got home.
If I was awake, I was usually on my phone, looking at social media – lots of times at people who were pregnant and actually enjoying their pregnancies! It was like self-sabotage. I knew it was making me feel worse, but I couldn't stop.
I have suffered from depression on and off my whole life. And so I was keenly aware of the possibility of postpartum depression (PPD). But I never thought about being depressed during my pregnancy. Even though I was basically doing what a depressed person does – lying around, feeling miserable, sleeping a lot – I didn't connect those behaviors with depression, because I thought it was a result of the nausea and bedrest.
No one on my healthcare team ever screened me for symptoms of depression, and I didn't know that pregnancy complications increase a woman's risk of depression both during and after pregnancy.
Once the nausea was under control and I had gained weight, I figured I could get off bedrest. But at 20 weeks, another ultrasound revealed a short cervix. Worried I might go into premature labor, my doctor recommended I remain on bedrest.
My family was afraid to leave me alone with the baby
I went into labor at 39 weeks. My baby was fine, but I suffered a slipped disc, likely because I was so weak from the bedrest. I had to be transferred to a different hospital for an MRI and was separated from my baby for a whole day.
I felt totally disconnected from my daughter. I hadn’t gotten to experience any of the fun stuff of preparing for having a baby, like a being given a shower or shopping for baby things. When she finally came, I felt embarrassed that I had no idea how to change her diaper, so I just didn't do it. I had no interest in caring for her. I felt no joy.
After a week, we went home. My mother had moved in to help, because it had become clear I couldn't do anything. She realized how bad off I was and tried to get me into new-mom support groups, but she quickly realized that wasn't enough.
When my daughter was only a few weeks old, I went to see my OB. I just walked in, without an appointment, and said, "I need help." He was fantastic. He said I needed to see a therapist and that he would check in with me every day or two until I could find someone.
I met with a therapist a few times, but she said that a couple of hours a week with her weren't enough – she thought I needed more consistent support, and she was worried that I could be a danger to myself or my baby. My family agreed. As incredibly painful as it was for me to hear and accept, none of them wanted to leave me alone with my own daughter.
What helped me when I was depressed
That therapist referred me to a "partial hospitalization" program, where I could undergo therapy in a supportive environment during the day and go home at night to my boyfriend, mom, and daughter. Faced with this sympathetic and supportive scenario, I was finally able to admit that I was deeply depressed and desperately needed help.
In that program, I received intensive therapy and was put on an antidepressant that's safe for breastfeeding. (I pumped at the hospital and nursed at home.) For a long time, I didn't think it was working. And I felt lonely when the others in the program didn’t seem to be in crisis mode anymore.
But I stayed. I talked to the doctors, and they adjusted my program to meet my concerns. The typical length of the program was six weeks. I stayed for five months, because the caring resident experts felt the severity of my PPD continued to make me a high risk. It was only around month four that I slowly started to turn a corner. After I went home, I continued to take meds.
I still have therapy twice a week. But even though it's been a long road, now I can finally say that I have fallen in love with my daughter.
What I wish other moms knew
Women should be screened for depression during pregnancy. But it doesn't happen enough. So you have to look for symptoms while you're pregnant.
We understand a lot about PPD, but it's important to consider the possibility that many women, like me, develop depression before they have the baby. Being treated earlier, while you're pregnant, would help.
Read more moms' stories about depression during pregnancy and moms' stories about PPD.
As many as 1 in 10 pregnant women suffers from depression – and at least 1 in 10 new moms suffers from PPD. But many women don't get help because they're ashamed of how they feel or brush off signs such as fatigue or moodiness as normal.
If you experience symptoms of depression, tell your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Or contact Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773 for free, confidential advice and help finding a therapist or support group in your area.
If you're thinking about harming yourself or your baby and you need to talk to someone right away, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for free, confidential support.