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Before I was pregnant, I wasn't under a doctor's care for depression, nor was I on any medication. My depression snuck up on me when I was about 3 months pregnant and then followed me like a shadow for the rest of my pregnancy. But my brain kept telling me I should be happier – for so long, all I wanted was this baby.
Until this happened to me, I misunderstood the realities of depression. I didn't even know what it was, really. I thought it made people cry all the time and listen to Adele albums on repeat. But when it happened to me, I didn't sob once. I maintained the outer shell of a normal human being who exists in the world; I simply felt hollow.
I remember driving down the street one day when a Third Eye Blind song came on the radio. It was a terrible song, one I've never liked, but it reminded me of college. That alone sent me reeling to the point where I had to pull over. This wasn't everyday nostalgia. I rested my head on the steering wheel and thought, "Do I remember what it was like to have potential? What does it feel like to have hope? What is the future?"
I searched the Internet looking for other women who felt this way, and I was relieved to discover that pregnancy depression isn't uncommon. I wasn't alone. That part was a relief. But when I brought it up with my OB at one of my routine checkups, she didn't take me seriously.
"Just think happy thoughts!" she chirped.
Her response only made me wonder if there really was something wrong with me: Why wasn't my positive thinking enough?
Pregnancy is a time of emotional sensitivity as it is. Hormones pinged through my body like lasers in a video game (zing! zap! pow!). I developed anxiety about things that no rational human should ever be concerned about (what if I give birth to a dolphin?) while the most inconsequential things suddenly seemed extremely important (yes, I need the organic cotton spit-up cloths or my child will never go to Harvard). Depression made all those things worse.
My OB's dismissal of what I knew to be true about my own health was incredibly isolating at a time when no woman should feel isolated. It set off a downward spiral that made my depression deeper and more profound. I believed I should be able to will myself to get happier – because that's what my doctor believed – but I lacked the tools to do that.
Thankfully, my depression never reached a point where I would have called myself suicidal, but that day in the car, I thought my future child would be better off without me as a mom. It wasn't that I wanted to die, and I never doubted that I should have a baby. My thought was very specific: My child shouldn't have me as a mother.
Even then, I didn't turn to a doctor or therapist for help. I spoke to a trusted friend who is well-acquainted with depression, and she was my support system through the remainder of my pregnancy. But after my son was born and the depression was even deeper, and more endless, that's when I sought help in earnest. That's when I began to heal.
In retrospect, I wish I had pushed back harder when my doctor said I should think happy thoughts. I wish I had said more, revealed more of my distressing feelings. In the not pushing, I suppressed and held on to incredible guilt, and that's when my thoughts spun out of control. It made me wonder, if I couldn't be a strong advocate for my own health, what kind of mother would I be?
Still, my experience with depression wasn't entirely negative. It taught me a lot about the nature of depression and how it manifests differently in different people. It sent me in search of answers, and in the process of reading books, finding online communities, and researching depression, I learned a lot about mental health.
I actively sought out other doctors, including one for mental health. I haven't found a therapist who is a great match yet, but I'm working on that, and I understand it's a process.
I also discovered some alternative therapies that work well for me. I try to meditate every day (something I discounted for years), and that has become an essential part of my overall well-being. I have trusted friends I can talk to about my feelings and problems. And I know that whenever I feel too overwhelmed or anxious, I need to spend some time in nature.
Now that I understand more about depression, I also see that it has been part of my fabric all along, and it will probably always be there to some degree. Only now I do, finally, have the tools to manage it.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.