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?
Co-Owner, Oh Baby! Fitness