Coping with Prenatal Depression
To me, prenatal depression felt like being lost in a long, dark maze with occasional monsters jumping out at me and few candles to light the way. I would wake happy for a moment, but then the emotions would crash in upon me: fear, guilt and simple unhappiness. By evening, I was in a downward spiral which could only be ended by going to bed and waiting for the cycle to start again. I didn’t know what was happening to me and the bewilderment only made things worse.
Prenatal depression was once thought impossible. Doctors assumed that all the hormones surging through a pregnant woman’s body eliminated the possibility of depression. Postpartum depression has long been acknowledged, but prenatal depression is just beginning to be studied and understood.
Do you have prenatal depression? It’s estimated by some that up to 70 percent of pregnant women deal with some form of the disorder. Emotional detachment, extreme anxiety and insecurity, fatigue, trouble eating and sleeping, and any number of overwhelming negative emotions can all indicate possible depression. Of course, many of these are also symptoms of pregnancy, so their presence doesn’t necessarily evidence depression.
If you think you may have prenatal depression, it is a good idea to consult your physician. But not all cases are severe, nor do they always merit medical intervention. You may simply find yourself trying to cope with mild prenatal depression on a daily basis, as I did.
Rest whenever you can, even if you have to let a few other things go for a while. I’ve never been a nap-taker, but now that I’m pregnant, I find sleep just creeps up on me and knocks me out! If you can’t take naps, do try to at least lie down once in a while, and sit whenever you can rather than stand. Your body is building a person! Give it the rest it needs.
Eat whenever you’re hungry, but don’t stress about it if you can’t keep anything down. I lost weight when I got pregnant and didn’t gain it back until the fifth month, because I could hardly eat anything due to terrible nausea. My caregiver assures me that I’m carrying a very healthy baby. Just try to eat nutritious food when you can, not junk food, so that what you and the baby get nourishes rather than depletes you.
Journal. I’ve got some nearly unreadable journal entries from my first trimester. I knew I couldn’t take out my anger and frustration on the people who surrounded me, so I’d sit and write my thoughts down. It really helps me, and may help you, to put into words some of what is whirling in your head.
Give yourself space—from others, if necessary, and from yourself, if you can. Put on a movie and zone out (I finished watching every Buffy the Vampire Slayer rerun in my first trimester), focus on a project or write someone a letter. Your emotions will still be there when you revisit them.
Communicate with your loved ones so they know what’s going on. My poor husband couldn’t understand why I was so impossible to live with, and neither could I, until I realized that I was dealing with prenatal depression. After that, our lives improved drastically! If your family knows that certain subjects bother you right now, they may be able to understand your reactions better.
Sometimes there’s just no help for it! There are days when you may simply feel terrible but have to function as normal. If all else fails, a quick trip to the bathroom to wipe tears can help. Don’t despair—things will improve!
Depression is not something that can be easily labeled. Prenatal depression in any form is not to be lightly dismissed or ignored. It can, however, be lived with, and usually goes away by the second trimester. Try to be kind to yourself and communicative with your loved ones, and you will find that you can cope with depressive symptoms in this volatile time of your life. You may even find yourself deepening in self-awareness and acceptance, always a worthy endeavor.
Emily McIntyre is a Kansas City-based freelance writer and harpist. She and her husband are expecting their first child in February. When not writing she enjoys reading, cooking, and making music under a variety of conditions.