I was ecstatic about my first pregnancy from the moment I saw those two lines on the home test. There were a couple weeks of mild disappointment when I found out he wouldn't be a she; it took a moment to adjust my dreams of having a daughter as a first child. But the overarching theme of my pregnancy with my son, even at my most tired moments, was anticipation for his arrival and excitement about seeing this little person my husband and I had created. Once my son was here, I was in awe of everything about him. Those feelings have given me the strength to crawl through the challenging times we're facing now that he's 2.
When my son was 6 months old, we began talking about when to give him a sibling, and we started trying to get pregnant again shortly thereafter. After my son's first and second birthdays came and went and he was still an only child, I worried that I wouldn't be able to have another one, and I felt stressed and disappointed. Those doubts were erased in April, though, when I took a pregnancy test and saw those familiar lines.
Yet something felt different with this pregnancy.
I'd been mentally preparing for this baby for nearly two years and couldn't understand why I didn't feel happy. When the aches and nausea of pregnancy came, I felt worse. I was exhausted, sad and somewhat resentful. I starting longing for what I was losing. "Why couldn't you be content with your three-person family," I wondered. "Now you can hardly function." Within a week, I went from defeat to apathy and depression.
I felt alone in my despair, but it turns out I wasn't. Prenatal depression affects between 14 percent and 23 percent of pregnant women, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
"People rarely speak out about prenatal depression in the same way that they talk about PPD," says Juli Fraga, a psychologist specializing in prenatal and postpartum depression. "However, doctors are beginning to screen women for depression during pregnancy, which is positive. Research shows that untreated prenatal depression often becomes PPD."
This research reinforces a conversation that I've had many times in my head but have been afraid to share aloud. Perhaps the reason my second pregnancy scared me was that I remembered the loneliness, physical discomfort and challenges I experienced the first time. Thinking of the potential for breastfeeding struggles and how I will manage my workload plus home responsibilities is daunting. My husband often travels for work for long periods.
These types of loneliness and stress are well-known symptoms of the more-often-discussed postpartum depression, according to the American Psychological Association.
By the time I was six weeks along, I could hardly persuade myself to get out of bed for anything other than a trip to the bathroom, and I didn't have the energy to eat. The longer I laid there, the worse I felt. I was angry at myself for wanting this change and at the baby for being the source of my pain. I desperately searched online for stories like mine.
The lack of information about prenatal depression has left me, and others like me, feeling ostracized and alone, and struggling to make sense of these feelings. A few celebrities, including Jillian Harris and Amanda Seyfried, have spoken up about depression during pregnancy, but otherwise the conversation has been largely overlooked in the mainstream dialogue. I started to wonder whether I was the problem and everything was in my head.
Above everything else, I was afraid of backlash if I tried to tell anyone how I was feeling. A baby is a blessing. You'll get over this, and things will feel better was the response many of my loved ones offered. But I couldn't imagine anything other than the pain I was experiencing. I didn't attempt suicide, but I started thinking about how death would end my physical and emotional discomfort.
My husband did his best to understand, but he couldn't. Society has conditioned men to expect pregnancy to be full of discomfort and pain. Naturally he offered verbal support, but he simply wanted me to push through. I felt emotionally and physically alone as he prepared to embark on a month-long work trip. I decided to take our son to visit my hometown so I wouldn't have to battle this alone.
Things didn't feel right there, either. I was a shell of my former self, and plenty of my friends asked whether it would be best to leave me alone. I was grumpy and felt sick most of the time, but I didn't want to be alone. My friends and family tried to find activities to take my mind off my husband's absence and my depression. But it was my mom's love that rejuvenated me.
My mom isn't one to dwell on the negative, so instead of getting me to talk about how bad I was feeling, she helped with my son. She fed me and encouraged me to get some clothes and have my hair done so I didn't have to look the way I felt. She joined me on the nearly 14-hour drive back home. And when I came back to a house in complete disarray, she cleaned it in the couple of days she was there. Her help reminded me of two things. The first was the importance of action over lingering. The second was the power of a mother's love. Seeing how my mom, despite battling health conditions, refused to let anything keep her down reminded me that, with help, I could overcome this.
The day after my mother left, I had an appointment with my OB-GYN. Within minutes, I broke down and told her everything I was feeling. She listened to me and prescribed antidepressants in the event I needed them. But most of the healing was in no longer hiding my pain. I left that appointment with hope.
Seeking support is a great way to help manage symptoms of prenatal depression, Fraga says. "Talk to a therapist, join a support group, exercise, get enough sleep, modify responsibilities and manage stress, begin a mindfulness practice, and if symptoms don't improve, see a psychiatrist or doctor to discuss medication," she says.
Fraga also says being a resource, like my mom was, instead of passing judgment is a great way to help moms-to-be: "Offer to make appointments or care for the child if it isn't her first pregnancy. Don't judge or blame - ask how you can help."
I'm 19 weeks along now, and I still haven't connected with the baby much. Most days, I forget why my pants don't fit. But I've made progress. I haven't used the antidepressants, but I will if I need to. Right now, I find healing in being honest with myself and others about the emotional conflicts that can accompany pregnancy, and I'm hoping that honesty can help women like me.
- - -
Meadows-Fernandez is a diversity content specialist whose work can be seen in The Washington Post, Pacific Standard, the Root and other places.Comments
Special to The Washington Post