When I was pregnant with my third child I suffered from very severe depression. I’ve never spoken about this publicly and feel little bit nervous opening up about it.
I didn’t even realize how severe it was until after I had given birth. But the further I got away from that pregnancy the more I realized how disconnected from reality that I really was.
Looking back it was downright scary. And I know that there’s others out there that have felt similar and have felt too much shame to be able to talk about it. But you see, as one if my new heroes, Brenè Brown talks about, shame cannot survive with words wrapped around it so I wanted to share my story so others could relate and hopefully experience healing as well.
We should be joyful when pregnant. And we should be thankful and blissful. At least that’s what the world tells us. And a whole lot of other “shoulds” … But I’ve made a policy in my life now to recognize when I’m being “shoulded” all over and to see what is real about it and what is not.
I’ve thought a great deal about what it was that contributed to my depression being so bad. Partially it was having a toddler that slept terribly and never let me get more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep in a row. They were only 17 months apart and I breastfed throughout my entire pregnancy, too. I wasn’t trying to be super mom or anything, I just couldn’t bring myself to wean him at 8 months when I saw those two pink lines and, well, it just never happened throughout the pregnancy either.
My nutrition was also abhorrent and I craved things like donuts, cake, cookies, dry cereal and really anything that was sugary or full of carbs. My pregnancy right before that I craved broccoli and green beans and fruit smoothies and felt and looked amazing. Not this time. I believe now that my body was starving for quality fats, which is only supported by my experience of finding and taking a quality fish oil in the third trimester and felt stable and like I could handle life for the first time during that pregnancy. And it was nearly overnight that I felt that way after consistently getting them in.
While this may not be common to everyone, during this pregnancy I also experienced some abrupt social isolation from my normal friend group.
Sometimes the heaviest of emotions and burdens are so heavy because they are not our sorrow, not our guilt and not our pain. They are other people’s pain that are projected at us. We take them on, energetically, trying to help others. Not consciously, but we feel it nonetheless. Due to the drastic shift in my friendships, I felt so stuck and broken.
While the birth story for my sweet son went viral, most people don’t know much about the pregnancy itself. The labor and birth was a very powerful experience for me. And easy to share about. I’m happy to share it and have received countless emails from when that it has helped.
But one of the most amazing things about his birth story that I didn’t share in the original story was that, emotionally, I felt dramatically better almost immediately after giving birth. Which to me was a miracle since most women who suffer from antepartum depression experience even more severe postpartum depression. It is almost as though during the pregnancy I was so much more open and vulnerable.
I’m so grateful that postpartum depression has received so much awareness. Enough so that the shame surrounding it has been greatly diminished. But I do not believe that we’ve achieved that same impact when it comes to experiencing depression during the pregnancy. Nobody really wants to talk to a woman who is pregnant and sad. What could she have to possibly be sad about? She’s about to bring life into the world. To give birth… to give LIFE. That is powerful and amazing and yes it is all true but having so many chemicals run through your body being so exhausted and drained nutritionally physically mentally emotionally spiritually…. It takes a serious toll and manifest differently in different people.
Yet, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression in pregnancy, so it’s not nearly as uncommon as it is unspoken. Further, approximately 10 percent of women undergo serious, major depression. And the ease of getting pregnant or not does not seem to be a factor that increases or decreases the likelihood. Meaning it can happen to just about anyone.
I think perhaps the other reason why I feel ready to talk about this now is because I’ve had a pregnancy since then. I can admit out loud now that I was downright terrified to get pregnant again. I didn’t know if I could survive another pregnancy like that. I was moody and irrational and difficult and our marriage was still fairly young at that point — we had only been married a couple of years when we got pregnant, and already had an infant to care for, too. There’s still so much that we didn’t know about each other. We had also recently started a business together that was wildly successfully and then quickly had some serious brick walls appear. Those blocks are so normal in a new business, but these struck right at my emotional core – they were not all entirely “new business inevitables.” I am immensely and forever grateful for every lesson that I’ve learned through this process but it was still very, very hard.
The little amount of research that is done out there indicated that I had at least an 80% chance of that happening again. We knew we wanted a big family but felt that this was something that really did compromise my health and we were ready to limit how many children we brought into this world biologically, should that monster appear again.
Even though my last pregnancy only went to 22 weeks it was very comforting that I did not experience the depression even to a fraction of a degree that I did with my third child. I was very physically exhausted and drained through most of the pregnancy but even still I did not feel emotionally unstable like I did before. I was still very emotional, but felt more like I was riding waves of emotions as they came, rather than drowning underneath of them. Of course I was taking precautions and improving my nutrition as well as faithfully taking my supplements, but I did not feel like I needed medication or like I was out of control. Even though that pregnancy did not result in a live birth, it was such a gift if only to tell me that I could have normal pregnancy without having so much fear.
I’m crying now as I write this because this was such a relief to me. It helped me so much to know that I didn’t have to be a statistic. That I truly did have control over my situation and my mind and my body. I had done so much mental and emotional strengthening and healing in between the two pregnancies as well. Many, many books read, lots of prayer, different forms of therapies and learning even more about myself all contributed in different ways and at different times to my journey of more self-love and acceptance.
So if you’re currently struggling with Antepartum Depression, or know someone who is, here are a few things to look at or try — most or all of these will fall in the “can’t hurt might help” category:
(NOTE: If you are experincing depression, talk with your care provider. They will be able to help you through this as well. Just because I didn’t go with medication, does not mean that it is not the best route for you at this time. You need to do what is best for YOU. I only share my experience as it is my experience and hope it will help others as they gather their own information from many sources and experts in their journey.)
GET MORE SLEEP. Very few pregnant women are well-rested enough. Move around your schedule, ask for help and clear off your plate if there’s additional responsibilities or tasks you’re doing that are simply not truly necessary, or maybe can be put on hold for good 6+ months. Also BEING asleep by about 10 or 10:30pm every night will have more of a positive impact on your health than just “getting enough sleep” alone. There are chemical processes that you miss out on that are essential for your rejuvenation and replenishment that happen best during those that time.
LOOK AT YOUR NUTRITION. Chart what you’re eating for a week or two … write EVERYTHING down. You may not be getting ENOUGH calories, or good fats or protein. It may not be so much that what you’re eating is inherently unhealthy (or maybe that’s just it) but perhaps getting an overview may bring to light a LACK that needs to be dealt with
- Coconut oil (pure and cold-pressed)
- Olive oil, but only if it’s truly pure, which most olive oils made outside of the US are not even though they say they are, and many in the US are even deceptive. (I buy the “California” brand only because I believe I can trust it)
- Whole, raw milk/dairy
- Raw nuts (make sure you soak them so they don’t retain the mineral blockers and prevent your body from absorbing essential minerals in other foods)
- Eggs, especially if they are pasture-raised as their omega content will be much higher from eating the pasture and the bugs and cooked over-easy rather than having the yoke cooked all the way through is better.
- Fatty fish (never farm raised)
- Animal fats from 100% natural, pasture raised and finished animals. Any other kind of animal has the “bad” fat profile, actually
- Flax seed, but not pre-ground as you lose the nutrients quickly so you want to grind it yourself, or I add the whole seeds to my smoothies and blend
- Butter, especially if from all natural cows
For the “bad fats” I just want to say to avoid anything fried, especially from a restaurant because the oil is used over and over and over again making it exponentially worse. Also never eat margarine.
Along with nutrition, BE ACTIVE ENOUGH. This looks different for everyone, but taking a walk out in the sunshine can make a huge difference. Just walking 30 minutes per day has been shown to help reduce depression symptoms significantly. The first 20 minutes or so of walking will burn sugars and then from there the health benefits only increase. This will help stabilize your glucose levels and give more balance to your already-physically-strained body.
Make sure you have someone that can offer you GOOD EMOTIONAL SUPPORT. This may be your partner, or a good friend, but not having this kind of support can create an enormous level of problems. Some of us thrive when we have lots of social connections (like me) and others just need one or maybe two really great friends to be completely fulfilled. Neither is right or wrong, but it’s good to know which kind you are and make sure those needs are met.
READ GOOD BOOKS. And many of them. Get an audible.com account if you commute or are in the car a lot. Or while walking. I know as a busy mom it’s not always easy to find the time to sit down and really read. Listening to quality books and podcasts has been immensely helpful for me. A few sources that I read that made major impact for me personally were Remembering Wholeness by Carol Tuttle, Miracle Thought Podcast by Marianne Williamson and even Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant was very emotionally supportive to me as an Entrepreneur.
For me, it also made a big difference to learn a lot more MENTAL SELF CONTROL. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I didn’t really “get” the concept of not having to think and feel every thought and feeling that popped into my head. It was amazing when I realized I could literally just CHOOSE to not feel or think something that I didn’t want to! What a concept! I know there’s people out there what come to this Earth hard-wired to know how to do that, and it’s a gift. I was not born with that gift. I have always had a tendency to be easily influenced by my surrounds which I believe is also a gift, but like any natural gift comes with drawbacks. Learning and gaining confidence in my own mental control was probably the #1 thing that has helped me with depression. Because I could get “ahead” of it easier by dismissing thoughts that I knew were not serving my highest and best good. Then they never spun out of control, pulling me down to where it was much harder to get out of.
I hope that this post helped you in some way, or may help someone you know. Please share below what you did that worked or struggles you may have be having…