Guest post: antenatal depression – my journey to diagnosis

Guest post: antenatal depression – my journey to diagnosis

Welcome back to the Mums and Mental Health post series. This addition is the last and by far not the least. Little Pickle’s Mom kindly shares her experience with what it is like to have antenatal depression. If you want to read the other posts, click here. And you can find her on Twitter @littlepicklemom and on her blog Little Pickle’s Mom. Now, for the final time, please welcome our last guest post in the series. 

“I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but never really known how to start or not quite felt brave enough so a big thank you to Mumsy Midwife for this mental health series and giving me the motivation to open up. It feels like a huge thing to admit to, and even though I’m much more at ‘ease’ with the diagnosis now than I was to start with, I’m still so worried about those who will judge me or criticise. But the simple truth of the matter is this: at 31 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with antenatal depression.

I definitely misjudged pregnancy. I honestly didn’t imagine I’d find it as hard as I have, which is silly really because relatively speaking, I’ve had a very smooth, problem-free pregnancy. I figured I was fit, young and healthy and I’ve seen how wonderfully my body has coped with other physical challenges I’ve thrown upon it so how hard could it be? When LPD (Little Pickle’s Dad) and I made the decision to start trying for our first baby, I was calm, confident and excited for the journey ahead. And that’s how I continued to feel for the first few months – trying to learn what I could and couldn’t eat or do, getting used to some strange and interesting bodily changes whilst feeling like I was protecting the most special secret I’d ever had. But at some point during the second trimester, things started to change. It’s fair to say that we had a run of bad luck. Everything that could go wrong, seemed to be going wrong and it felt like we were stuck in a doom-filled vortex. We suffered a family bereavement, our cat got really poorly, my husband went on a skiing trip and broke his shoulder, our cat very sadly passed away, both of our Dads weren’t well and had been in and out of hospital, we were having a daily battle with the estate agents about getting our old rental deposit back meaning money was definitely tight… And my job was becoming increasingly more stressful, busy and difficult. I lost track of how many times I would get into my car at the end of the day to drive home and just cry the whole journey. I genuinely felt there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t know what we had to look forward to, everything felt so bleak. Poor LPD didn’t know what to do with me! He was the sweetest and loveliest, but I don’t think he could quite get his head around what was upsetting me every day. And neither, really, could I.

Ironically, of course, we actually had a LOT to look forward to! The upcoming and ever increasingly imminent arrival of our little baby surely should have had me leaping for joy at every possible moment. I knew we were privileged to be on the road to parenthood, especially as our journey hadn’t been long or arduous and I knew that there would be couples out there so envious of our pregnancy which made me feel even more terrible about how miserable I was feeling. Weirdly, I felt like the arrival of the baby would signify a huge change, a relief almost. I’ve since read that antenatal depression is often triggered by a mother’s anxiety about having a baby and coping as a mother, but oddly, it was dealing with my time being pregnant that I was struggling with. If I could have taken a pill that would have enabled me to fall asleep and skip out the rest of pregnancy until I went into labour – I’d have had no hesitation is taking in it.

Deep down, I knew I felt happy about having a baby, but I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so despondent and hopeless in the meantime. I kept putting it down to having had a ‘busy’ day or an upcoming event at work, thinking that once that was over, things would settle down. Apart from, work didn’t settle down. At all. If anything, it kept ramping and ramping up with increasing pressure and no matter how hard I was working or how many early starts and late finishes I subjected myself to… I never felt like I was on top. It was the feeling of guilt that made me book a doctor’s appointment. I know I don’t deal with stress very well physically and there had been many days where I’d not eaten anything at all as my appetite had completely left me, nights where I felt like I’d had only one or two interrupted hours of sleep and the strain on my body was beginning to show. Except, it wasn’t just a strain on my body, was it?

It was a strain on the poor baby too. I already felt like I was failing as a mother – why was I unable to do the only thing I really needed to do and put the health of my baby first? I knew something needed to change, and I knew I needed help. With tears in my eyes, I headed to the health centre and anxiously awaited my appointment. My name was called, I entered the Doctor’s office, I said ‘I’d like to talk to you about my mental health’ and then burst into tears as I sat down. I don’t think I stopped crying for the remainder of the 40 minutes that the wonderfully patient Doctor spent with me. He was absolutely incredible. As someone who usually actively avoids going to see health professionals (for fear of being made to feel like I’m ‘wasting’ their time), I couldn’t be more grateful for his time and effort. Luckily for me, his wife was also currently pregnant with their third child so I think he took extra care with me! I’d sat in the car beforehand with a notebook and written down notes on how I was feeling and the things I wanted to address to make sure I didn’t miss anything out and he listened thoroughly before saying that it sounded like I had all the classic symptoms of antenatal depression. He took me through some tests to assess the severity of the condition and I was inconsolable at his diagnosis of ‘moderately severe’. He prescribed me a small dosage of ‘pregnancy-safe’ antidepressants, Sertraline, and made a referral to the perinatal mental health team. He offered to sign me off sick from work, which I declined. I already felt like I was a failure and didn’t want the added stigma of being classified as ‘unfit’ for work. However, I also knew that work was the very last place that was good for me so promised I would speak to my employer about beginning my maternity leave early and potentially using up some of my holiday as well.

I cried as I picked up my prescription and felt so conflicted about taking the medication. Even though the Doctor had reassured me that the risk of not taking the medication far outweighed the risk of being on them, I felt horrified and a complete and utter failure. How could I essentially subject my baby to drugs and not feel bad about it? I messaged my midwife to ask for her advice, and again, she was amazing. She called me straight away and talked me into taking them but I still felt ashamed, embarrassed and angry. I was angry at myself for letting it get this far. Why hadn’t I done something sooner? Why had I let things get so bad before admitting it and seeking help?

My husband was incredible. When he came home that night, I was lying in bed having a cry and he came straight up and said ‘Well, this is good news sweet.’ I think I looked at him with a horrified expression – how could he possibly think this was good news? He elaborated and said that he was glad I’d been able to get the help I needed and that things would start to get better. His simple positive outlook on the whole thing was just exactly what I needed to hear. He didn’t think I was a failure and he certainly didn’t think any less of me. I will always remember that moment. In one simple sentence, he made me feel so loved and accepted. It was such a contrast to how I’d been treating myself and I immediately knew that with LPD by my side, I could conquer this. It’s been only 8 weeks since my diagnosis and I am happy to report that I’m incredibly proud of how I’ve turned things around. I think I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m already off the Sertraline and with the help, support and encouragement of my most wonderful friends and family, I’m confident that the dark cloud of depression is behind me. The words of my Doctor stuck with me: ‘Sertraline isn’t a magic solution. It merely opens a door. It’s up to you to walk through it.’ I took those words to heart and did everything I could think that would enable me to do just that. Now that I’ve begun to tell my story, I hope to write in more detail on my blog about my experience and the things that helped me but in the meantime, let me say this: antenatal depression is scarily common and often goes undiagnosed. Many women suffer in silence, afraid or embarrassed to admit how they’re feeling, but I’m here to tell you – it is okay. Please, please, please seek help if you need it because it feels SO much better when you do. You’ll be amazed at the support that is available and the understanding of not only medical professionals but your family and friends too.

You are not alone. And you can do this.”

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