Hey y’all, Tiffany here.
I’m about to start sharing something extremely personal with you. This was a difficult post to write, but I felt like it was important.
For most women, pregnancy is a wonderful, joyous time. They feel the wonder and awe of a new life growing inside of them.
For some women, pregnancy is great, but it is also full of morning sickness, fatigue, and kinship with an elephant (especially around the ankles!).
For 20% of women, however, pregnancy is a time of anxiety, fear, and depression that far outweighs what should be expected from these hormone changes.
So often we hear of postpartum depression, but we rarely hear of another equally-severe diagnosis: antepartum depression.
The Beginning of Antepartum Depression
When I became pregnant with my first child, I started feeling some anxiety. I would envision myself on a walk after she was born, and then someone would come steal the stroller from me. Or I would be driving down the road, and suddenly I could clearly “see” myself in a horrific car accident that would cause too much damage to my abdomen for the pregnancy to be saved.
It’s typical for first-time moms to be nervous about when the babe comes, so I thought I was just normal. I mentioned it once or twice to friends (and even my mom), and they all assured me that they had the same thing happen to them.
But then the nightmares began.
Living a Nightmare
When I was pregnant with my first child, I started having nightmares from antepartum depression. These weren’t regular nightmares; these were real. Starting at about 5 months, I would have extremely realistic dreams that my husband was having an affair because I was getting too fat.
While I knew in my head this was ludicrous, I couldn’t shake the feeling.
I would wake up each morning, dreading when my husband would leave for the day because it meant I could no longer reassure myself that he wasn’t cheating since he wasn’t in my sight.
I had these nightmares every single night. For weeks. They got more and more real, and after a few months, I couldn’t really distinguish between my dreams and reality. I tripled my exercise and cut my calorie intake in half because I kept hearing my husband’s voice from my dreams mocking me for being fat, asking, “How could I ever still love you when you look like that?”
When the Nightmare Became Real
Probably the most terrifying part of motherhood is the fear that something you do will harm your child.
That worst-nightmare came to life for me one day when my baby stopped moving. For almost the entire day, I felt nothing from the 31 week old baby in my stomach.
My very loving, caring husband rushed me to the hospital, where they monitored fetal heartbeat and movements. They pumped me full of IV fluids, and they gave me lunch when I admitted the last time I had eaten anything had been the morning before. My poor, clueless husband was horrified when I confessed everything.
Finally, an Answer: Antepartum Depression
Thankfully, I had a kind and understanding OB/GYN who explained to me that almost 20% of women experience antepartum depression, which is depression during pregnancy.
I’d always heard of postpartum depression, but I hadn’t realized it could also happen before my baby was even born!
In fact, antepartum depression is almost more dangerous because it is often chalked up to pregnancy hormones. We assume that we’re just having “pregnancy brain,” we’re overly tired, etc. But since our baby is still 100% dependent on our body for its nutritional needs, our baby directly suffers when our health does, and that includes mental health.
If left untreated, antepartum depression can lead to premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental problems.
Just knowing what was happening and where these thoughts were coming from made a tremendous difference. Then with proper counseling and medication, I was able to control them for the rest of the pregnancy.
Even with proper treatment through the remainder of the pregnancy, what I went through still took a toll. My daughter (my first child) was born full-term at 37 weeks, weighing only 4 lbs 8 oz.
Thankfully, I did not have postpartum depression with my first pregnancy. Most women who experience antepartum depression will then go on to have postpartum depression.
Rounds 2 and 3 with Antepartum Depression
When my second pregnancy hit and I began having vivid, disturbing dreams of my innocent husband molesting our now two-year-old daughter, I was able to recognize antepartum depression right away.
I spoke frequently with my husband and OB/GYN, and it made the pregnancy go much more smoothly. By taking action sooner, I was able to carry our little boy for 38.5 weeks, and he was born with a healthy weight of 6 lbs, 15 oz.
After this pregnancy, I did go on to have mild postpartum depression So often, husbands and friends are counseled to keep an eye out for symptoms of postpartum depression after a child is born. What we aren’t told to look for is what may be going on during pregnancy, too!
Baby #3 was born in May 2020 and it was the easiest pregnancy; I was already on an antidepressant from the postpartum depression caused by Baby #2. It’s amazing how much of a difference it made
Also, exercising regularly, like with a prenatal yoga class, helped tremendously. I pushed the other two kids in a double stroller for 3 miles the day before my c-section, and it felt amazing.
Symptoms of Antepartum Depression
Some of the symptoms of antepartum depression include (but are not limited to):
- Persistent sadness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Change in eating habits
- Recurring thoughts of death, suicide, or hopelessness
As you go through your pregnancy, or as you watch the pregnancy of someone else, please keep an eye out for these symptoms!
Sometimes, yes, you’ll encounter these while pregnant (especially sleeping too much or a change in eating!). However, they could be a sign of something more serious, like antepartum depression.
An earlier version of this post was written by Tiffany on Matriarc