Updated: Jul 8, 2022
Laying in bed, your stomach feels empty, hollow, it's almost as if gravity isn't even there and you are just floating around, unattached. You want to feel something, anything really but all you feel is empty and hopeless, there is nothing to hold on to. Your appetite has shrunk to nothing which you think is pretty fitting considering that's how you feel, like nothing. And all of the questions you get, "When are you due?" "Do you know the sex yet?". You wish you could muster up some fake emotion to appease these people but you can come up with nothing. Prenatal depression, who knew it was a "thing." Oh, it's a thing alright.
Most people are aware of postpartum depression, and a select few are aware of Postpartum Anxiety but rarely do we hear about Prenatal Depression. Approximately 7% of pregnant people will experience prenatal depression. What are the symptoms of prenatal depression? They are similar to the symptoms of Postpartum Depression:
Changes in appetite
Decreased interest in activities you once enjoyed
Fatigue (sleeping more than usual or less)
Feelings of sadness, numbness, hopelessness
Loss of interest in sex
Physical manifestations: GI issues, headaches, muscle aches
Problems concentrating or remembering things
Just like Postpartum Depression, Prenatal Depression can be serious if left unaddressed. It is important that you work with your healthcare provider to monitor your symptoms and connect you with the right level of treatment. For most people, outpatient psychotherapy is the right level of care. If your depression becomes too severe, you may need a higher level of care and/or consider medication.
Talk therapy allows you to talk through your emotions and develop ways to cope. Therapy can help you explore ways to create meaning in your life and engage in activities that help you feel connected to that meaning. Becoming pregnant can trigger a lot of emotions and unresolved pain that you perhaps were unaware of. This is just bringing your healing work to the surface and since it's at the surface, it is easier to resolve. Many of us are afraid of "messing up our kids" and wonder if we are qualified to even become parents. This can cause us to feel inadequate and ashamed. No one is "qualified" to become a parent. We are all imperfect and wounded yet the only real requirement to be a parent is that you are willing to show up and learn.
Beyond talk therapy, there are many other ways to help heal Prenatal Depression. Joining a pregnancy circle (usually called "New Mother's circles"), joining a support group for prenatal depression (resource for groups here), engaging in regular exercise, seeing a nutritionist, seeking help from your spiritual community and/or help from alternative healing modalities especially those from ancient cultures with deep healing wisdom.
As a therapist, I have seen many clients with Prenatal Depression. This is usually after a lifetime of struggling with other mental health challenges. People can feel disappointed that during this magical time of being pregnant, they feel like they are missing out on much of the joy. Through talk therapy, many clients are able to reconnect with the joy of being pregnant while they are still pregnant. They realize that through regular use of coping skills and self-care, they can set themselves up with a more solid foundation for new parenthood. Sitting with difficult feelings is hard and sometimes we wish we could just avoid them altogether. Learning how to acknowledge and accept all of our difficult emotions is one of the first steps toward radically healing and moving into a space where we can feel more instead of numbing out. Therapy is a tool to help you on your healing path. Prenatal Depression is a sign that something isn't right, there is some healing that needs to take place. A more full, rich, and emotionally vibrant life is waiting for you. Your life can feel more beautiful again. It will take work. No one can do the work for you. I invite you to decide which healing modality will work best for you and take the first steps on your healing journey.