Antenatal depression and what you need to know

I was talking to a friend recently, and they mentioned something that gave me the idea to pen this post. She asked, paraphrased,

“Looking back, were you able to tell anything was amiss [when you were pregnant]?”

My thoughts ran back to 2011. All of 2011, for the most part, was a blur – Pregnant, single and very confused. Looking back, now I see the red flags I missed. The constant tearing  (I remember walking downtown and just crying, not the pretty crying – I am talking bloodshot eyes, mucus and lots of tissue-), the sleepless nights I would lay awake wondering what this baby was going to eat (this baby who is now all of 5 years going 15), the drastic mood shifts and everything in between.

Little did I know that these were the early warning signs I was at risk of depression. Then I lost my job in the third trimester and everything just seemingly reeled out of control in my world. The thoughts of been unable to cater for baby’s needs were the catalyst for the Postpartum depression I suffered after his birth. In retrospect, there were all the signs that not everything was fine, but I remember thinking, ‘ah, it shall pass. Maybe it’s the hormones…’

Read More: 8 things to know when you visit a new mom

Today, I would love to share on antenatal depression. Why? Because it is often the precursor to Postpartum depression (PPD). Antenatal depression, just as the name suggests, is depression that occurs during pregnancy. While this is not perhaps as well known as PPD, it still is prevalent. According to PANDAS UK, around 1 in 10 moms will be depressed during their pregnancy. This is a sobering fact because 1 in 7 moms are at risk of PPD.

The causes of antenatal depression are broadly categorized into three: social, emotional and physical causes. Socially, some of the causes include lack of a support framework during pregnancy, an absent partner and generally, the stigma associated with depression. Given that the older generation typically may not have been aware of the different mental illnesses, it is easy to see why all these factors predispose a mom to antenatal depression.

Emotionally, the thought of bringing new life is often overwhelming, whether it is the first child or the fourth one. Add to this the fact that moms who voice their concerns are often told that the drastic mood swings are as a result of hormonal changes (what I thought at the time), and there’s not much that can be done about it.

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The physical changes that come with pregnancy may predispose some moms to antenatal depression. The drastic changes include engorged breasts, extreme fatigue especially in the last trimester, swollen legs, bladder distress and heartburn among others, place a lot of stress on the body. Getting through the day sometimes get so so exhausting. It is little surprise therefore, that some women fall into antenatal depression.

With these in mind, it is important to look out for the symptoms of antenatal depression. These symptoms are eerily similar to those of PPD. The only difference is the onset that marks each of the perinatal mood disorders.

Symptoms of antenatal depression

  • Guilty feelings
  • Endless bouts of crying (as was my case)
  • Withdrawing from social circles, that is a mom-to-be is no longer interested in been around the people who mean the world to her. This is often accompanied by loss of interest in activities/hobbies they previously enjoyed.
  • A crippling fear of what the future holds, whether one will be able to care for the baby well.
  • Low energy levels
  • Appetite changes (one is either eating too much or too little)
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Fearing to speak out and ask for help
  • Recurrent sleepless nights for some moms

Left unchecked, antenatal depression affects the mom after birth and they go on to suffer from PPD. Therapy is a common method of treatment for moms with antenatal depression. If you have any concerns as a mom-to-be, remember there is no shame in reaching out for help. You are better off wrong (meaning you do not have antenatal depression) than fail to ask for help and suffer under the haze of this form of depression.




5 Years On

My son turned five in January this year. 5 good years. 5 solid years.

To say I am excited about it is an understatement. I remember how, in 2011, when I realized I was pregnant, I could not envision how I would bring this child up. I struggled with seeing beyond a year a month, especially in the days that followed after a threatened miscarriage. When it dawned on me that I would be a single parent, I slowly reeled into what I now realize was antenatal depression.

Antenatal depression, while perhaps not as widely known as Postpartum depression (PPD), is a form of depression that occurs during pregnancy. It is characterized by symptoms such as persistent worry about the pregnancy and safety of the baby, sudden mood shifts, and withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities as well as extreme difficulty in concentrating. For some moms, this form of depression is also accompanied by engaging in risky behavior as well as intrusive thoughts of selfharm. Left unchecked, antenatal depression is often a precursor for postpartum depression [source].

And that is exactly what happened in my case, only I was not aware. Struggling with impending single motherhood, losing my job in my last trimester and everything in between left me gasping for breath. I recall vividly, walking in town one evening, so overwhelmed by the thoughts of pregnancy and the new role I was about to take on. I was saving every cent I could get to take care of this baby. Before I lost my job, it entailed frequent travelling, and to some extent, that was weighing down on me owing to the additional costs of the same.

Read More: Night Terrors: The Reason my son kept waking up screaming!

Too overwhelmed, I started crying smirk in the middle of the city. It was not the pretty classy crying; no, I am talking about the ugly mucus-all-over-the-place type of crying. I crossed the roads in a haze, not sure I wanted to be pregnant anymore. I should have known there was something wrong… but even then, I felt resigned to whatever curveballs came my way. And come they did when PPD hit.

After he was born, I struggled with intrusive thoughts. I struggled with bonding with him. It is said that moments with a newborn are blissful, magical even. I did not see it. Sleep-deprived, utterly exhausted and wondering just why I couldn’t bring myself to enjoying motherhood, these experiences threw me deep into Postpartum Depression.

Read More: A Letter To My Son: Chronicles of a PPD survivor

As he grew up, and the milestones came and went, I struggled with the thoughts that my PPD would scar him for life. I feared he may never be able to love me as mom. Thoughts of been unable to bond with him continually haunted me. I never thought we’d make it to 5, but here we are. I recovered from PPD, I am able to bond with my son now, perhaps the best we have all his life. I am at a place where I appreciate been a mom. I am grateful for 5. Here is to 5 more, 15 more, 25 more…!

Why do I write this? To share with a mom struggling with PPD that there is hope. It may not get better in a day (Took me a couple of years to get to this place), but someday it will. I got help, I went for therapy, and I am here to tell you that you can pull through. That there’s hope, there’s help and it matters that you are holding on.

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