Article by Andrea Paterson
It’s good to see that there is a lot of focus on the serious nature of postpartum depression and anxiety these days. While there is still work to be done in terms of spreading awareness of signs, symptoms, and scope of perinatal mood disorders there is certainly more information available to women and their families than there used to be. All of this means earlier intervention and better outcomes for new moms and their partners. But some psychological complications of pregnancy and new parenthood are regularly overlooked. Prenatal depression is one of those complications. A ton of focus is placed on the postpartum period and it’s common to forget that depression can start even before a baby is born. The Guardian provides a good article on prenatal depression and states that about 10% of women will experience prenatal depression. It’s frequently overlooked because mood changes can be attributed to normal hormonal changes. Doctors might dismiss complaints about unstable mood as run of the mill emotional shifts that most women experience when pregnant. But missing key symptoms of a more serious depression can be extremely damaging, leading to intense postpartum depression and sometimes cases of self harm.
The New York Times published an incredible article by Andrew Solomon about depression during pregnancy. I should warn readers that this article contains triggering and upsetting imagery related to prenatal psychosis and suicide, but the message is a deeply important one. Mood disorders, including psychosis, during pregnancy are real and need to be treated as the serious illnesses that they are. Most women will not become suicidal during pregnancy but symptoms of depression can still be very distressing for women and their families.
There is a lot of social pressure to be a glowing, happy, radiant woman while pregnant. If your experience doesn’t conform to that stereotype it can be frightening and confusing. Let’s be honest though–pregnancy isn’t all rainbows and butterflies and joy at every kick. For pregnant and new moms I highly recommend the podcast The Longest Shortest Time. The podcast airs at the witching hour of 3 am for all those who are up nursing or shushing babies. You can, of course, listen at any other time of day too and I highly recommend that you do because the episodes don’t hold anything back when it comes to investigating the dark, gritty, raw, and very real corners of pregnancy and new motherhood that we prefer to sweep under the rug. Listening to the guests share their experiences as parents is a breath of fresh air. One episode (I’m sorry that I can’t remember which one) features a woman who experiences extreme prenatal anxiety. She spends hours counting her baby’s kicks and becomes agitated when she thinks he’s kicking too much, and also when she thinks he’s not kicking enough. These experiences are more common than we generally admit and if you’re having a stressful pregnancy please know that you’re not alone.
Many people may not know that Pacific Post Partum Support Society will extend aid to women who have not had their babies yet. You can call PPPSS for phone support or even join one of our support groups if you are experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy. Earlier intervention almost always means a quicker resolution and better outcomes. For partners, it’s important to keep an eye on your pregnant partner and not dismiss worries about mood changes and struggles. You can gently encourage your partner to take their struggles seriously and seek professional assessment if they don’t seem to be coping well. PPPSS will always take calls from partners looking for advice related to finding appropriate support too. You don’t have to suffer silently and you don’t have to suffer alone. Help is just a phone call away.