Feeling anything but glowing? Depression in pregnancy is more common than the postnatal kind. So, asks new mum Laura Atkinson, why do we hear so little about it?
Surrounded by friends drinking champagne, I should have felt fabulous. I was on holiday in France for a friend’s 30th, staying in a chic chateau and expecting my first baby. But I felt a nagging anxiety. ‘Cheer up, Laura!’ smiled a male friend, seeing my miserable face – at which point, I burst into tears and ran out of the room.
Ah, pregnancy. A joyful time of baby showers and excuses to eat chocolate. Or in my case: nine months of anxiety, irritability and unexplained tears. On holiday, I’d shared our news. Everyone was thrilled, but I felt a bit down. I wanted to be pregnant, but I just couldn’t stop crying.
Not Feeling The Buzz
I should have been ecstatic, grateful, even. I had friends who’d been trying for years and couldn’t get pregnant, while we’d managed it straight away. But the positivity that I desperately wanted was just beyond my grasp.
Back home, I talked to my midwife, who assured me I wasn’t alone. Feeling anxious and down during pregnancy is more common than we think, but it’s rarely talked about. As my lows were fleeting and not persistent, she said I didn’t have the more serious antenatal depression – I was just one of the many who finds pregnancy tough emotionally.
Join The Club
One pregnant woman in 10 develops a mental health issue, from irritability to more serious issues such as OCD and suicidal thoughts. My midwife advised me to talk to my partner and friends about it, take gentle exercise and look after myself. But for some mums-to-be these feelings go deeper.
'If you feel down at least every other day for a couple of weeks, see your GP'
‘Depression is common during pregnancy,’ says Beth Murphy, from mental health charity Mind. In fact, women are more likely to suffer it during pregnancy than after birth. 'If you feel down at least every other day for a couple of weeks, see your GP to rule out pregnancy depression,’ says psychologist Sandra Wheatley.
‘Without treatment, it can be serious,’ says Rachael Dobson, co-founder of PANDAS, a support group for women with pre- and postnatal depression. ‘Symptoms include chronic anxiety, lack of energy and guilt – sufferers might feel detached from their bump and feel anger towards the baby.’
As with any depression, hormonal, genetic and environmental factors can make some women more susceptible. ‘There isn’t always a rational answer,’ says Dr Ellie Cannon (author of Keep Calm: The New Mum’s Manual, £10.99, Vermilion). A physical problem or a previous miscarriage may start negative feelings, but it can also come out of thin air.
Beating the taboo
Most challenging is that we don’t talk about antenatal depression. ‘The public face of pregnancy is that we’re glowing and happy, so we find it hard to admit when we don’t feel this way,’ says Ellie.
While Instagram pictures show pregnant celebrities like Miranda Kerr looking blissed out, others don’t find pregnancy so easy. West End star Ruthie Henshall struggled with her first pregnancy. ‘Physically, it was easy,’ she says. ‘But mentally I found it hard. I didn’t want to go out or do anything.’
Don't blame hormones
It’s a feeling that Juliette O’Donnell, 34, from Birmingham, understands. Mum to Sean, Keiron and Niall, she had antenatal depression with each of her pregnancies.
‘I had a miscarriage two years before my first full-term pregnancy – that’s where the anxiety started,’ Juliette says. ‘Physically, everything was fine. But by 32 weeks, I was crying all the time; I didn’t feel right.’
'By 32 weeks, I was crying all the time; I didn’t feel right'
Juliette’s midwife put it down to ‘hormones’, while her husband didn’t understand what was going on. ‘He wasn’t being cruel, but he told me to buck up – he thought I was talking myself into feeling worse,’ she says.
Juliette’s GP realised how ill she was by her second pregnancy and referred her to a perinatal psychologist who diagnosed antenatal depression. ‘I felt so relieved,’ she says. She was prescribed antidepressants and therapy, so she could discuss her feelings. ‘The sooner you act, the less chance you’ll develop postnatal depression,’ says Sandra.
My pregnancy blues were down to being scared of how my life was changing and not wanting to lose my identity. I came to accept that I’d never be the girl who loved being pregnant, that perhaps the ‘glow’ wasn’t meant to be.
But when my baby came, I found motherhood was, for me, easier than I’d imagined. I had a beautiful baby girl and we bonded quickly; four hours’ sleep and constant breastfeeding was a breeze compared to the pregnancy.
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