Sarah’s Story

Below is a real life article which has been submitted for publication with kind permission of the author and the copyright is owned by this website.  Please do not use the content of any of these articles without express permission of Depression-in-pregnancy.org.  Unfortunately we cannot endorse the content of any third party websites to which this article may refer.

I married in March 2009 and started trying for a baby after the nuptials – a good focus for the honeymoon. I thought it was going to take a while to conceive, at least a year, given I was already 38. Both my husband and I were mindful of pre-conception care before we started trying; exercise, good diet, vitamins, relaxation etc.

Then around a week before my period was due, end of April 2009, I started having the oddest experiences; mood swings (elation and irritation), vivid dreams about little people swimming to a light source (go figure!), tiredness whilst feeling spaced out and floaty, and an interest in make up which was very unusual for me. I kind of knew at that point I might be pregnant. By the time my period was three days overdue I was almost certain especially as my cycle was at the time clockwork regular.

I was also taking my temperature every morning on first waking which continued to read high even when my period was due. This was another strong indicator of pregnany.

Armed with all this evidence I marched off to the local supermarket and bought two pregnancy tests which both mirrored back a resoundingly positive result. My husband and I were both delighted but equally shocked that it’d happened so quickly; it’d only taken two months. We were also enjoying a very happy point in our lives as we’d just married so there were no obvious indicators for what was about to happen. To suddenly go from feeling happy and settled to holding onto my sanity was to be a deeply distressing experience.

I knew that pregnancy wasn’t necessarily going to be easy based upon my previous reactions to the contraceptive pill. I’d had no adverse affect to the pill during my early twenties and took a break from oral contraception until I tried it again on two seperate occasions in my late twenties and early thirties. Both times didn’t go very well as within a week of starting the course I had descended into a tearful depression. Both times I stopped taking the pill immediately and within weeks was feeling much better again. I felt certain I had reacted negatively to the pill. This also made me feel uneasy; as the pill releases the same hormones involved in pregnancy how would I react to the real thing? This worry lay at the back of my mind for years to come. How would I cope with an adverse reaction to pregnancy?

Week 5 into my pregnancy and I had already started feeling hormonal, teary and irrational. Like my usual PMS I thought and so far tolerable. Then this suddenly descended into the darkest depression. Some days I couldn’t leave my bed and had to take time off work. The depression escalated and I cried constantly. It started to almost feel psychotic in that I was losing sense of myself and fragmenting into pieces. I just couldn’t get a grip on what was happening or my sense of reality. I ceased to function well, I couldn’t cope with anything and would spend hours staring into space.

It’s difficult to put into words the depth of the experience so I’ll try my best in the following sentences. I felt cut off from everything around me like I was contained in an impenetrable membrane. I couldn’t get out and no one could really reach me from the outside. I was deeply alone and sucked deeply inside myself. All I could hear were my internal cries. I felt totally overwhelmed and could almost physically feel the birth hormones whirring in my brain. I felt like I had been taken over (and essentially I had as I was growing a baby), my body hijaked and that I was caught up in something I didn’t seem to have any control over.

At the worst point (weeks 6-9 of pregnancy), and for the first time in my life, I experienced unwanted suicidal thoughts; My mind filled with painful, vivid images of putting a gun to my head and pulling the trigger. All I obsessed about was ending my life; it was very frightening. I actually started trawling the web for places I could purchase a gun from – absolute madness. I was literally crawling the walls – I wanted out of my head and body. It came to a point that I actually thought about terminating the pregnancy – it was the baby or my sanity. It was distressing to entertain the idea of terminating a wanted pregnancy.

Not only did I feel alone but so did my husband. As we’d decided not to tell anyone about the pregnancy until after the results of the first scan my husband felt totally unsupported and lost in the situation. What was happening to the happily married couple? Why was his wife disintergrating before his eyes; He felt he was losing me. There were times he wanted to run to the hills. He couldn’t cope with my breakdown. Every day he was inundated by my terrified phonecalls and would come home to a sobbing and traumatised wife. It was very hard for him when I expressed my concerns about whether I could continue with our pregnancy.

Given the acute reaction I was having I felt very sure I was reacting badly to the pregnancy hormones. In addition the depression also raked up lots of personal material; psychological stuff around my childhood, and ambivlence around having a baby. I wondered if I was doing the right thing, whether I would make a good enough mother and feared the unknown path my life was taking. The enormous responsibility of raising a child seemed too much. This was all compounded by pregnancy fatigue, nausea and sickness.

I also felt upset and angry as my pregnancy should be a cause for celebration. Why was this happening to me? I felt pressure that I should be feeling happy as this is what you are ‘supposed’ to feel at this time. The myth that pregnancy is one of the most joyful experiences for a woman seems to be perpetuated in our culture. For some it really is a very straightforward, wonderful and textbook experience but for others its hard work and can be debilitating. My heart goes out to those women who suffer from acute sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum.

So if you are having a bad time it can feel pretty isolating when it seems that all the other mum’s to be are really enjoying their pregnancies. I felt very alone and actually very ashamed and embarrassed that this was happening to me – surely something must be wrong with me?

Fortunately I found some solace in chat rooms on mumsnet where I read about other women’s experiences of depression in pregnancy (I wasn’t the only one). I managed to stumble across this website which offered invaluable information and support.

Fortunately I also had a very supportive GP. She placed me on her priority list and encouraged me to see her as often as I wanted. After weighing up the pros and cons we both decided that a course of antidepressants (citalopram) would be the best way forward – it was certainly the more preferable option to terminating a pregnancy . I still felt nervous about taking medication and the impact it might have on my baby. I started taking a low dose at week 9 which continued until a few months after my baby’s birth. The medication really helped and allowed me to enjoy the rest of the pregnancy. Incidentally my baby was fine.

In addition I also saw a counsellor; talking through what had happened helped me to understand, process and ground my experience. I am a counsellor myself but my experience felt so extreme that I knew that just talking to someone once a week wasn’t going to be enough in this instance – I actually needed ‘chemical readjustment’ as well.

I cannot advocate taking anti-depressants and if you are in a similar situation then my advise is to consult your options with your GP. You need to assess what is right for you.

I also had a very supportive boss. After being absent for so many days I had to come clean and tell him about my condition at week 7 of my pregnancy. He also told me that his grandma had once said that ‘pregnancy is no walk in the park’ which was very reassuring.

When I finally went for the first scan I had almost forgotten that I was pregnant; I had been so focussed on the depression. However when I saw the image of the tiny little thing wobbling around inside me it helped me to turn a corner and realise all the hard work my body and mind had been doing for the last number of weeks. This was my pregnancy and this is the shape it took; it helped me to accept the depression.

By week 15 I started feeing markedly better; my mood and tiredness lifted and the morning sickness ceased. My second and third tri-mesters felt a world away from the first.

However I sometimes continued to feel self conscious about what had happened. When I talked to friends about my first tri-mester and the depression I omitted describing the suicidal thoughts bit. At around week 16 I went to a Summer BBQ party and I tried opening up a little to the other mum’s during a discussion about pregnancy. That wasn’t a great idea; I was met with blank stairs, the other mums didn’t know what to say. To me this emphasised the aloneness of being in mental illness and other’s ‘not quite sure what to say or do’ reactions to it. Mental illness still evokes a certain almost fearful reaction; maybe because when we are faced with it it puts is in touch with our own fragility which can be quite a scary prospect.

My experience of depression in pregnancy is now playing its part in my decision whether to have another baby; could I go through that again? I worry that it’s likely to happen again, especially if it’s caused by hormonal imbalance, and the impact this would have on my little daughter. On the other hand pregnancy is also now a ‘known quantity’ and what went before will help prepare me in case the experience repeats itself again.

My top tips: Seek help and support as soon as you feel yourself ‘sliding below’ whether from friends, family, GP or counsellor. Also keep reminding yourself that you are pregnant and that your body is doing some amazing work to grow the foetus. However you are feeling will pass eventually.

Sarah.

© Depression-in-pregnancy.org

14 responses to “Sarah’s Story

  1. Sarah hi!
    I am from Greece and I face the same problem depression in my Pregnacy.Your article gave me a lot of courage and hope because i felt very alone and hopeless.It’s not the first time I face up dipression byt I hoped it wouldn’t happen through my pregnacy.thank you so much that you shared your experience with us.

  2. Sarah – I can’t tell you how much less alone I feel after reading your story. I am also a therapist and am struggling immensely with the prospect of even stating to myself that I’m depressed. I’ve heard from so many people that I’ll “have to learn to deal with it” because its “just something you have to overcome”, but it is so far from that easy. Some people have even said to me “just be glad you could even get pregnant – there are lots of people who would love to be in your shoes” and I really want to scream and tell them how much I don’t care about how anyone else feels right now. This is such a “taboo” topic – likely because we’re supposed to be so joyful, but I feel so far from joyful. Thank you again for sharing your story. It helps to know I’m not alone.

  3. I am going through the exact same thing…. It is horrid….your story is my story. And there is no relief.. I am seven months in and still feeling awful. Dr doesn’t get it, counsellor put me on a guilt trip and cause severe anxiety. I am alone and facing this but for the first time today I felt…. Ok mayb this hell will end.

    • Hi there. Thank you so much for sharing. Please make sure your doctor and midwife are aware of the comments your counsellor has made and that the relevant regulatory/overseeing body (BACP in the UK) are informed; its important these can be addressed and you get the help you need. Don’t forget to download the free guide on this site as some of the tips may be useful. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. reading your story has made me cry and cry. I have been feeling like such a freak, I have always wanted a baby and I just hate that at the moment it does not feel like a blessing, but a curse. I am 30 weeks and I spend all day at work acting as if everything is fine, but its exhausting. I am finally getting up the nerve to speak to a doctor about how i am feeling, but its been hard as i keep seeing different midwifes. I have been trying reflexology, which was helping, but it the effects are lasting less and less time and i cannot afford to go more that once every few weeks. Its so good knowing i am not alone in these feeling. Thankyou

    • Donna, thank you for sharing. Keep talking, even if it’s just commenting here or send an email so I can support you the rest of the way. Wishing you a sparkling pregnancy. Delphi.

      • I went to the doctors yesterday, which has helped a lot. have been signed off work for 2 weeks, as all i was doing was acting as if everything was ok at work. Have also arranged some couselling for just after xmas. Still feeling emotional, but its nice to finally be honest about it. Thankyou again for this amazing website xx

      • Donna, thanks so much for the update and so pleased you are getting the help you want. Keep me posted on how you’re doing and have an amazing Christmas. x x

  5. My symptoms started about two months ago when I thought I
    was just getting tired from my pregnancy,then I woke up one morning
    and haven’t stop crying and doubting everyone and everything and
    not wanting to leave the house and when i do feeling like everyone
    is judging me and telling me to snap out of it.

    • Hi Rosie. Thanks so much for sharing. You’ll see from the experiences and comments on this site that you’re not alone. Keep talking to people who will support you including your doctor and midwife to make sure you receive the help you feel you need. Don’t forget to download the free guide on this site for some top tips which may also help. Keep us posted. Delphi.

  6. Hi there I am 16 weeks and feeling just the same. I have other children and have never felt this way before in pregnancy, in my last two pregnancy after giving birth I get depression and anxiety but this one is so different. I woke up this morning and even though of putting the baby up for adoption.( how bad is that) my doctors and midwife are well aware off my depression after birth and have said to me to asks for help if needed but I feel so bad because I feel like this. Feel so alone.

    • Hi Hailey, you’re not alone. The Samaritans are a great source of support if you feel you need someone to talk to day or night and keep your midwife and GP up to date on your progress. There are no rights or wrong, good or bad – this is how you feel and raising awareness of that is your first step towards recovery. Well done and thank you for sharing so that others know they’re not alone too. ^DEE

  7. Thank you, I went to my doctors and she thinks it more panic attacks then depression and has put me on med’s. Lady’s if you are reading this my advise would be as for help there is no shame in it. You are not alone there are lots of women out there that are going thought the same thing.

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