I have gone to write this post three times now, and each time I cannot seem to find the tone with which to write it in. I don’t want this to sound sad or as though I am a victim. Instead, I want this post to be informative and hopeful and above all, I want it to help people. I have always been adamant that strength lies in honesty and vulnerability, openness and transparency, and what I am about to write may make all the difference to someone out there. Writing this will also help me understand what I am going through on a far deeper level; writing has always gifted me with insight and details that I had previously missed.
Like I have mentioned in a previous post, everything that I have read up on about the stages of pregnancy says that the second trimester is the easiest of the three. Women report higher libidos, more energy, a big surge of happy hormones and a whole other range of wonderful findings. To all those women who experience that, I take my hat off to you and could not be happier for you. I, however, have had a very different experience. I have felt far more depleted of energy than I did in the first trimester, I have had no increase in my libido (I would actually go as far as saying that it has decreased on account of said exhaustion) and I have not had the promised influx of happy hormones. I remember the first few weeks of this trimester where I felt ecstatic and happy and energetic, but it was short-lived and empty; it almost felt like the high you get from adrenaline – intense and fleeting.
I think what made it worse was that, from everything that I had read I found that I had expectations of what these last few months should have been like and what I should have felt like. I felt guilty. I felt like a failure. Why aren’t I feeling all those good things? I found myself questioning daily. I kept waiting to feel ecstatic and glowy. I was eating all the right foods, I was happy at work and making friends, and Pete and I successfully set up a whole new life for ourselves. Everything was brilliant and shiny and wonderful. Everything except me. I became increasingly irritable that I was feeling sad. The guilt of feeling sad ate away at me slowly, so slowly that I didn’t realise it was even happening. Every time bub kicked I still found myself smiling and excited, and yet I could’t ignore feeling removed from those emotions. I lit up every time my active little karate kid moved around, but I also felt completely numb. It was a strange and scary feeling. It was weird because I could see the happiness I felt as though it were outside of me; being pregnant has still been – and continues to be – the most uplifting, joyous, incredible and positive experience in my life so far. Why then, I wondered, could I not feel those emotions to their fullest?
And then I started asking one of the most dangerous questions of all: What is wrong with me?
In the lead up to the long weekend, I had already noticed that my anxiety levels had started to pick up and I found myself constantly worrying about insignificant things. I became noticeably irritable and exceedingly emotional. I put it down to hormones, but I knew that there was something more going on. My mental health declined rapidly and it took all my strength to try and mask it – though it was unsuccessful. I felt feelings of jealousy and anger, resentment and fear. Negative thoughts were playing on a loop in my mind all day and well into the night. The long weekend at the property completely broke me and I knew that things were going to get worse before they were able to get better. In the week after we got home, I cried every night and left work early most days. I completely removed myself from people at work and was all but silent at home; I completely retreated into myself and started to believe that those around me would be better off without me.
I got home from work early one afternoon, walked outside to the deck where Pete was working and broke down (again). After I sobbed and cried out everything that I could, I had a shower and sat on the lounge feeling a lot calmer (although in hindsight, I probably just exhausted myself to the point of complacency). Pete came inside and we started having the conversation that I had felt coming for weeks. He was struggling with my moods, felt like he was constantly walking on eggshells and told me that there have been things he has been scared of saying and doing because my reactions have been so unpredictable. It completely broke my heart. He has been nothing but patient, understanding and supportive and yet I had been asking more of him without realising. I had inadvertently been upsetting our relationship. Pete put it down to hormones and said that he was okay and that we will get through it, but the last thing that I wanted is four our first experience of pregnancy to be tainted with such darkness; a darkness that, although will be hard, is able to be controlled.
I sat with our conversation for the rest of the day and into the next. The feelings of guilt didn’t abate but, looking down at my belly, I knew that I couldn’t dwell on what I felt were serious shortcomings. Our child presented me with the most unexpected gift that afternoon; a catalyst to finally acknowledge the pain of my past, the state of my mental health and my deep desire to actually do the work required to pull myself up and out of the shadows. I have never felt such hope before.
I booked in to see the doctor the very next morning, not wanting to waste another moment not being elated and ecstatic and happy in my pregnancy, in my relationship and in my life. I knew the diagnosis was coming the moment I started talking to the doctor. I have perinatal depression. Although I was expecting those words and that diagnosis, I wasn’t at all prepared for it. I felt like I had already failed as a mother, I was scared that I was going to start judging myself, I felt so many things in those moments following. But then it passed; I straightened myself up in the chair, wiped my eyes and asked her where we go from here. Being able to put a label on something has always helped me be able to deal with it. Hearing the term perinatal depression, I was actually able to remove myself from it and come up with a plan, a solution. I was able to reassure myself (somewhat shakily) that, “Okay, there is nothing wrong with you, but there are things that you need to address.” It’s as if now I can attack this from a logical place as opposed to an emotional one (even though it’s totally emotional); now I can say this is the issue and these are the steps I am going to take to reach this solution. I can be pragmatic and productive about it. I am a woman with a plan, people.
I was prescribed medication, given a referral to a psychologist and was booked in to see the doctor again in the fortnight to check on my progress. The doctor went through the prescription and assured me that it was safe to be on whilst pregnant, and we talked about dosage and how we were going to manage this as a whole, together. Medication has worked for me in the past, what hasn’t worked is the fact that as soon as I start to feel the (positive) effects, I declare, “I’M CURED” and stop taking them. The same goes for psychology appointments. Certain psychologists have really helped me, but it’s the cost that deters me from ever sticking to it. The doctor took care of that for me too; I was given a referral to a psychologist that bulk bills (HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF SUCH MAGIC?!). My first appointment is tomorrow.
I have all the tools and support around me to finally dedicate the time, care and effort that is required and that I deserve to really look after myself, not just for myself but for my partner and for my child (I almost let the gender slip out then!). My main goal in the near future is to be the strongest, fiercest, most honest and loving version of myself that I can be. I want to be emotionally stable and settled so that I can support my family and my beautiful baby.
This has been a really big lesson in the troublesome act of comparing, and further goes to prove what I have always said: each and every pregnancy is different. Though the comparison in this case is specific to pregnancy, it has permeated every other aspect of my life in a really gentle, beautiful way. I have really been able to catch myself when I start comparing my life, my success, my experiences and my person to those around me. Instead of seeing the diagnosis as a failure, I am choosing to see it for the wonderful gift and opportunity it is.
I started taking the medication last Friday, so I have been on them for a week now and already I feel more myself. My mind has quietened down, I am a lot calmer (even just driving to work is more pleasurable and less rage-filled) and when unexpected things are thrown my way I have been able to deal with them from a place of strength rather than fear (but I am still working on this one). Bub had the hiccups for the first time that I have been able to feel in the middle of the night a few days ago, and I was able to fully immerse myself in the sheer joy that it brought me. I didn’t feel numb or removed, I smiled and laughed and pressed my hand deep into my belly and savoured how freaking adorable it felt (poor thing had the hiccups for almost an hour). I am more focused on work and I am more relaxed at home. The edginess and paranoia that tainted my days seems to have evaporated already, and I am hopeful and excited that this is only the beginning.
I thought that this post would be easier to write as I have never been one to shy away from discussion about mental health, nor have I ever thought twice about writing down all of my experiences throughout this pregnancy. But the truth is is that I really struggled to get this one out of my brain and into the world – even now, having written it I feel exposed and vulnerable. In my opinion there is still a stigma held around mental health and medication in particular, and I guess that that is why I think it is so important that we have these conversations. I felt so alone before I went to the doctor. I felt like I was the worst mother in the world. I was surprised by how I was feeling. No one around me, or ever in my life, has gone through something like this. But now, with the information I have and the professional and personal support network that I have around me, I don’t feel alone at all. I don’t feel ashamed that this is something that I am going through, because I can already see the positives to this experience. Sure, I was worried that I was letting those around me down (and I still have moments where I feel snippets of that) but I am excited to break through absolutely everything that has held me back or been the source of upset and sadness for me in the past.
The idea that any woman has felt as I did, saddens me. It is a really painful place to be, but again, that is why I am here. I want to be brave for those you do not have the strength to be. I want to reassure any woman, man, mother, father, or mama-to-be out there that if this is something you are experiencing, there is nothing wrong with you. Some of you may have a predisposition to depression and anxiety, others may have developed it circumstantially, and some of you may have had no previous experience with mental health and all of a sudden, THIS. Whatever the case, it’s okay, and it will be okay.
Everything I do from hereon in, is for my child – our wonderful, active, hiccuping, long-legged (so we are told), full-lipped (so we are also told), loving child.
And also for all of you out there who needed this post too.