My Story of Perinatal Depression – A Pathway Through Shades of Grey
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”Charles Dickens, The Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens’ opening lines for his famous book, The Tale of Two Cities, come to mind as I write about my personal experience of perinatal depression.
It was that sort of year for me the year Baby Number Five was growing, both in utero and out. Amazingly, it was both a crippling and triumphant year. A roller coaster of emotions was with us. Crazy moments of joy. And ridiculous lows. How is it possible to experience such contrasting feelings in such a short space of time?
Not only did I have four young ones to love during that pregnancy (from Grade 5, down to “terrible-two”) I was mostly flat-as-a-tack. Gathering enough enthusiasm to get off the couch for the school pick-up was not only an uphill walk, it was an uphill battle.
Thankfully, I didn’t have any morning sickness, as I’d had with my other pregnancies. But this forever-feeling-depressed state. Well, I’m not sure which was worse!
While I always describe this particular pregnancy as my “lovely surprise”, I remember feeling very distracted when I realised my child-bearing days were not quite over, as I’d thought.
This is partly because I lost my mother to breast cancer when she was only 57. So early on in the pregnancy, there I was literally counting my fingers to work out how old my baby would be when I reached my mother’s age-at-death. I could no more imagine my life beyond 57 than I could see the wind. It’s a gap in self-concept, so common for those who have lost a parent.
I was very thankful when I worked out (over-and-over) that the baby would be 20 by the time I reached that age. Thank goodness! I was ahead by nearly five years. Just the same, I’m sure that cloud impacted me deeply, and shaded my days with grey.
Meanwhile, we had a joyous life at home. Our lovely friend, Maggie, was living with us then, and life was full of fun. As well, our church life was bursting, the extended family was close-knit, and our house was frequently full of visitors. We shared meals, hung out together, and experienced an inspiring breadth of community.
That year truly was among the best of years for us.
My Safety-Relief Valve (No. 1)
However, it was only when towards the end of my pregnancy I talked to Janine, an also-pregnant girlfriend, also feeling very down, that I realised I was suffering prenatal depression. While I was fully aware of postnatal depression, I’d never known that having it before the birth was even a thing!
But to my mind I wasn’t feeling quite low enough to go for medication. I could see I was ticking all the boxes: I could keep the household going, and I got on with my life. AND I had good days among the bad.
But just knowing my friend was experiencing a similar low patch was good for my soul. I was no longer quite so alone in it all. That chat with her was like a safety release valve for me. Suddenly, the pressure was off. My lonely grey path was not quite so lonely anymore.
And so, the Big Day Came . . .
Not surprisingly, labour was hard work. But our beautiful auburn-haired baby arrived safely, and in good health. Just moments after her delivery, my husband lovingly said to me, “Welcome back!”
I was truly surprised. Really? Obviously, I’d been out-of-range more than I realised! For the next few days I relished feeling normal again as I was unexpectedly given a private hospital room, and together our newly grown family bonded.
But, a few weeks after we got home, I was there again. Down and out. That’s what often happens with perinatal depression. Because if it hits during pregnancy, it’s very likely to hit after birth.
As you can imagine, family-life was full-on. Plus my baby and I had a few issues feeding. Who would have thought? I had to learn to breastfeed. With baby Number Five!
My Brain was in Turmoil
It felt like my friends thought I should cope well, because I had with Numbers One, Two, Three, and Four. So, there wasn’t any need for anyone to do anything special for Number Five. Was there?
Some days I felt so flat and teary, I wondered if it would be easier just run away. It felt like quite a rational thought at the time. It felt like I was a huge inconvenience to my family, feeling so flat like that, and maybe it’d be better if I was out of the way. But while I did think about leaving, I wouldn’t say my thinking was suicidal. Just that my world was many shades of grey, and again, I felt alone and isolated.
But, of course, my husband was nothing short of alarmed when I mentioned my feelings to him. “Are you sure you shouldn’t be on medication?” he said. “Maybe you should go see the Doctor?”
I didn’t want to see the Doctor. (Silly me.) Too much like making a mountain out of a molehill, I thought. But I did promise to talk to the Infant Welfare Nurse at my next appointment.
My Safety-Relief Valve (No. 2)
I had no idea how much I needed to offload until I started to talk in that safe place. I explained to the Infant Welfare Nurse how everyone thought I was so capable, and that I didn’t know how to ask for help.
We talked about my breastfeeding woes.
I let her know some of the things that had been troubling me.
And she listened.
“If you still feel like this in two weeks’ time, go to the Doctor and talk about it,” she said.
But you know, just having a serious conversation made all the difference. Suddenly I saw how I needed help.
And I felt it was OK to ask for it.
As well, I realised I was being a too hard on myself with my own expectations. Of course, I realised at last, it’s impossible to think I might easily run a household, with four kids and a baby.
And I relaxed.
I discovered things had built up inside me for quite a long time. I let go.
And I let myself cry.
In the end, I didn’t end up going to the Doctor, because within two weeks things started looking up. The world started to look colourful again. To my amazement, I saw that God was with me in ways I had not realised, even when I was very low.
What Charles Dickens wrote is true:
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
If You are Suffering Perinatal Depression
- Remember this: You ARE important. Don’t believe the lie that you are not. You are valuable.
- You are doing better than you think.
- Talk to someone. It’s alright to let your sadness/grief/troubles come to the surface – in fact, it’s a good idea! This was my safety relief valve.
- Be easy on yourself. Unrealistic expectations are as much a problem as anything else.
- Look for the good things. Sometimes there are great surprises right under your nose.
- Difficulties? Maybe an unexpected pregnancy, or trouble feeding, talk those through too.
- God is Good. It’s in the most unexpected moments that God shows himself to be faithful. Talk to him. He loves you.
- Get HELP! If there are health services available, make use of them. Of course, I should have gone to the Doctor! But at least the Infant Welfare Nurse was a good compromise.
Have you struggled with perinatal depression? I’d love to know how you managed.
See you in the Comments !