If you’ve ever been pregnant, looked at a parenting blog, read anything, anywhere about growing and pushing out a baby, or just paid attention to the press surrounding childbirth and postnatal experiences you’ll have heard about postnatal depression (PND) or postpartum depression (PPD). It’s discussed a lot. As it should be! Awareness and understanding are essential for people to feel safe discussing their own experience with mental illness and seek help. There’s been another big push on PND awareness recently, with Chrissy Teigen’s amazing open letter about her experiences (which is incredible and spot on and so honest and everybody really should read it) to the recent surge in reporting of the 1 in 10 statistic. PND is having a moment, a moment I wish had happened before the birth of my daughter, it would have made things much easier and I would have gotten help much sooner than 12 months postpartum.
That statistic, however, is the same during pregnancy. 1 in 10 pregnant women will experience depression during their pregnancy. The same amount of women and yet we’re still not talking about it.
Antenatal depression is a very real thing, and when not treated correctly, can be very dangerous.
When you’re pregnant mental health comes up from time to time. Your first meeting with your midwife they ask some basic questions, towards the end those questions get asked again, but there’s not a lot more to it. But the questions are geared more towards risk factor for mental illness after the baby is born, not while you’re still carrying. My midwife is more than aware about my ongoing mental health problems, as is my doctor, neither seems particularly worried about how I am now, they only worry about how I’ll be then.
Pregnancy is a weird time in a woman’s life – you’re expected to be glowing and happy and excited and getting on with it because, well…you haven’t got a baby yet. Yet for most women it’s far from the nine months of glowy gorgeousness we were promised. It’s 40 weeks stuck in a weird limbo, in between two lives and not really feeling like you belong in either.
My mental health has been giving me the run around the past few months. With anxieties about baby being well, work getting finished on time, not completely neglecting my daughter, and of course actually being able to cope with another baby combined with that voice coming from over my shoulder telling repeatedly that I’m just not good enough to do any of it – I’ve been having a pretty shit time. But I’ve not wanted to tell anybody about it. I’ve not wanted to talk about the fact that all my warning signs have been alerting me that things aren’t ok for months. I’ve not wanted to admit that I’m not ok.
Why? Because to feel so low, to feel so broken and scared during a time I should feel the opposite just seems like a failure. If I can’t cope with being pregnant how the hell am I going to cope with a newborn? With two children? Why would anybody let me be responsible for another human when I can’t look after the one I already have? When I can’t look after myself? Because I can’t get out of bed some days.
I’m open and honest about my mental health, that’s half of the reason this blog exists. But I’ve suddenly felt the need to hide and be silent about how I’m feeling now. Because while we’re allowed to talk about the other aspects of pregnancy that suck, we’re not there with mental health yet.
We can moan about sickness, dizziness, and PGP. We can moan about swollen breasts, extra thick thighs, and stretch marks. We can moan about swollen ankles, back pain, and how much we miss going out and drinking tequila.
But there doesn’t seem to be space to talk about the affects all of this can have on our mental health.
No matter how supportive your friends and partner are pregnancy is a lonely time, it’s you alone that is experiencing the pains and sickness and mood swings and body changes, it’s you alone that can’t join in with boozy celebrations, it’s you alone that is being bombarded with a million different emotions and feelings. Those experiences aren’t easy to explain to other people without sounding like you’re constantly moaning. All you have to do is glance a look at Twitter and you’ll be reminded that nobody wants to know about your pregnancy (apart from to discuss how much pain labour will be which, shockingly, doesn’t help anybody feel better). Is it really any surprise that antenatal depression and anxiety rates are so high?
There aren’t support groups and celebrity testimonials about antenatal mental illness, maybe because other women feel the same as I do. Ashamed. And scared.
I feel in the middle of two lives, neither of which I know and neither of which I can understand properly. I’m not who I was before and I don’t know who I’m going to be yet. Every plan being made is for after. Plans with friends, plans for trips, plans for mental health support. I feel homesick for somewhere that doesn’t exist, as teenage and emo as that sounds, it’s true.
Pregnancy is one of the biggest changes in your life, those changes don’t begin when you have your baby handed to you, they change when you see that plus sign on the stick you just peed on.
I know that it’s ok not to be ok.
I know that any times of big change are likely to trigger times of mental instability.
I know that it doesn’t get much bigger than pregnancy.
Yet because nobody else does, I felt too scared to be open about it. Which is why I’m writing this, I guess, because somebody has to be open.
I know all of this, but it doesn’t make it any easier when I can’t drag myself out of bed, when I can’t stop crying, when I read again that baby can feel my stress…
It’s hard, it sucks, it scares me because I know it’s more likely to lead to PND, it’s affecting so many aspects of my life, it’s impossible to explain coherently.
But it’s ok.
And I will be too. Just not today, and probably not tomorrow.