Pregnancy and depression.

 

I’ve hinted in my last two posts that the first few months of pregnancy were tough. And I wasn’t going in blindly—I’ve seen thousands of women in their first trimesters in my classes, and know that it can be a tough, physically challenging time. (A secret: I warn our instructors that women in their first trimester actually need to be handled the most “carefully”—they are the ones likely to faint, puke, get dizzy. They aren’t usually showing, but they are usually “feeling” the most as they workout.) At six weeks pregnant I was prepped with saltines, good books, a comfy couch and felt ready to tackle morning sickness like the pro I thought I was.

And then I was hit with a crippling case of…..tears. Putting it that way sounds silly, but the real diagnosis was pregnancy or antenatal depression.  I had heard that pregnancy can make some women weepy or anxious, but this was beyond—I physically, literally could not stop crying. For months.

Within two weeks, Clare, my business partner, had pulled me aside and recommended I see a doctor, immediately. She actually volunteered to drive me to the doctor that moment, which is a testament to how wonderful she is, and also how rough off I was. I opted to email my doctor instead, who called me right back and asked to see me ASAP.

I was nervous going to the doctor and felt like I was making a mountain out of a molehill— when I got back with the doctor I started in, staying “I know this is just the first trimester, and that it’s totally normal to feel sad because of the hormones.” My doctor interrupted me quickly and said “Kathleen, what you are experiencing is common, but it’s absolutely not normal.” This was so extremely helpful to hear- and made me realize that I’d passed far beyond pregnancy emotional instability into something more serious. We spent the rest of the appointment coming up with a game plan- I opted to avoid meds for the time being and to take an eastern medicine approach, but I left with a prescription that I could pickup if I changed my mind.

My doctor said something else that I thought was helpful- that antenatal depression is a combination of physiology and external causes. Pregnancy means lots of hormones (ie, physiology) but it also brings up existing or new stresses about jobs, relationships, financial stress and fears of the future. Part of why she wanted to meet with me was to see where I fell in the spectrum of those two causes. After speaking with me for 30 minutes she said it appeared I was dealing with a chemical/hormonal case, which really felt accurate to me. I wasn’t scared about the pregnancy, and at no point was I crying over any THING, rather it felt like an entirely physical reaction, almost like sneezing or allergies (except it presented as weeping!). This became a useful framework for me to think about what I was feeling—I was dealing with a physical symptom of pregnancy, and didn’t need to “fix” my feelings.

I talked with my husband and with Clare and came up with a plan to help me navigate. Here’s what helped:

-       Acupuncture. I saw a wonderful acupuncturist (Jenny Karns) while trying to get pregnant, and continued to see her after getting pregnant. I asked my doctor about using acupuncture to help treat the antenatal depression and she agreed that it could help. I upped my appointments to twice a week with Jenny and felt noticeably and significantly better. I’d arrive at an appointment feeling low, and within the first few minutes of treatment feel noticeably calmer, clearer and more stable. It was easily the most helpful tool I had in combating the tears.

-       Exercise outside. I knew that exercise helps my mood, but the thought of being around other people seemed impossible. Instead, I’d walk outside and listen to an audiobook. Being outside, moving and being distracted by a good story was really beneficial on the hard days.

-       Feeling the feelings. In the middle of the worst days and weeks, I would get upset that I was feeling so bad. I wanted to be with friends, and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just turn off the feelings and feel “normal.” My husband encouraged me to hole up and “feel the feelings.” I took a lot of (lukewarm) baths, read in bed, and generally retreated quite a bit from my normally active social life. Sleep was also really useful- I’d go to bed early, read, and then sleep as much as I could.  Rather than trying to put on the happy pregnancy face, I was able to just, well, feel blue. I found that easier than pretending to feel normal, especially when so many friends wanted to talk about how exciting and great my pregnancy was, when I could barely keep from crying.

One other thing my doctor told me at that appointment is that the antenatal depression might go away, but that it might not, and it might get worse. I’m so relieved as it has gotten a bit better—I’ve had more good days, and starting around 18 weeks started to feel closer to my old, normal self. I’ve experienced more of what I consider normal emotional instability of pregnancy, but nothing like the weeks and weeks of what I was dealing with.

Like I said, this was not at all what I was expecting when I thought of being pregnant (and I have to say, morning sickness on top of antenatal depression is not a fate I’d wish on anyone!), but I know it has already given me a deeper understanding of what many of our clients experience.

Did you experience any depression in pregnancy? What helped you feel better?

-Kathleen

Co-Owner, Oh Baby! Fitness

3 Comments »

  1. Heather said,

    August 1, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    It is so refreshing to hear someone discuss this. I was very depressed in the beginning of my pregnancy and only looking back did I realize these were real legit feelings! It only took us one time to get pregnant and I was so thrown off by this and afraid of how drastically life would change, weight gain (selfishly), afraid of having a collicky baby, not being able to get it all done, and just plain anxious. Honestly once I was out of my first trimester I felt much less depressed. I still had a hard time as I was not sleeping at night from Month 2 until Month 7, but at least I didn’t feel such despair. Oh Baby Fitness helped a lot with this!! Being with other moms who were so excited to be pregnant and so hopeful was such a blessing. I bought a pregnancy devotional book, and decided to throw myself into registering, decorating, and preparing. All that worry over nothing-of course God has a plan. Our baby is as close to perfect as they come, my delivery went fairly smooth and all those things I thought would matter before didn’t. Now if I can just figure out how to have the time to get everything done we will be in business! :) God Bless and Congrats to you!!

  2. Abigail said,

    August 1, 2013 @ 3:39 pm

    Hi Kathleen – Thank you for your open and incredibly helpful post. I can’t remember how many times I wondered if something happening while I was pregnant was normal – or something that needed attention. Your doctor explains so well that common is not the same as normal.

    One of the things I love most about Oh Baby classes is “checking in’ with a group of women going through some of the same things as me (both while pregnant and after having a baby) – and instructors who have seen and heard a lot. This often helped me figure out whether or not I should be concerned about something.

    I’m also thrilled to hear your wonderful news – congratulations to you and your husband!

  3. Robyn said,

    August 3, 2013 @ 12:15 am

    Wow. I can honestly say you are the first person I’ve ever heard discuss depression during pregnancy. More importantly, I think I may need to have a conversation with my doctor next week when I see him. I can totally relate. I just thought it was maybe because I’m 37 (I was a mere 20 years old during my first pregnancy) and had a lot going on in my life when we conceived this time. After reading this I think it may be a little more than that. My now 17 year old son has really been acting out the last year or so plus my job and some family stress seemed to have almost quadrupled around the time we found out we were pregnant. Things have definitely gotten better in my 2nd trimester but I still lose it unexpectedly from time to time. I know I didn’t experience this occasional underlying sense of feeling alone in my first pregnancy so its scary. Thank you Kathleen for sharing your story and helping me to discover its not normal. I’ll definitely be looking into it!

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