Delphi’s Story

I married young at the age of 19 to a man of the same age, exactly a year after my father passed away. It was a foolish deathbed promise I made my dad to marry that young and was much to the nervousness of my mother who said it would never work. At the age of 20 I had a planned, and blissfully uneventful, pregnancy giving birth to a beautiful baby girl at 42 weeks, exactly two weeks over my due date. It’s fair to say the labour was not as easy as the pregnancy itself and after a realisation by the midwifery team that Elysia, my daughter, could not be born without help she was delivered by emergency caesarean in March 1995. I was in my element; a young mum, very proud of my little bundle of joy who has grown up to be just as perfect now as she was then. My marriage, though, was not so perfect and after deciding we’d married too young (don’t you hate it when your mother’s right?), my husband and I divorced in 1998.

In 1999, I met a man too much like my father, unreliable with a roving eye and of course I fell in love with him. I fell pregnant around 18 months later. However, I was told at 10 weeks pregnant that “the pregnancy was not viable” and it ended in a heartbreaking miscarriage; not surprisingly the relationship didn’t survive either.

I met and married my second husband, Dean, in 2003. After only a short time of being together, and having never fully recovered physically from my miscarriage I was asked to have a laparoscopy (a routine key hole procedure to investigate gynaecological problems) and was diagnosed with endometriosis – the lining of my womb was growing extensively on my bladder and bowel.

I’ll never forget the consultant’s words at the hospital when she reached over, held my hand as I was coming round from the anaesthetic and told me to “think beyond having children now”. I was crushed. Although in the early stages of a new relationship, we had of course hoped for children at some point in the future.

In an effort to relieve the symptoms of my disease and in the hope of a subsequent pregnancy, I started an intensive course of treatment (injections in to my stomach every four weeks) which shut down my ovaries and caused a “pseudo menopause”, meaning I had to take hormone replacement therapy tablets and endured hot flushes and cold sweats every night for six months. I was just 27 years old.

Just over a year later I fell pregnant – my new husband and I were absolutely overjoyed. In fact overjoyed is an understatement.

So, when I began to wash my hands excessively during the pregnancy, I didn’t really think anything of it at first. I had experienced symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since my teens and had suffered times when life seemed to be conspiring against me. But I had no reason to think I may be suffering with depression during my pregnancy. Crying in pregnancy was “perfectly normal” and how could I be miserable when I as so happy to be pregnant? Besides, I’d never heard of such a thing as “ante-natal depression” so it couldn’t exist. Could it?

Soon after the initial excitement of discovering I was pregnant, my behaviour changed. I wanted to stay in bed all the time. I didn’t go out of the house and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Even with my husband and daughter, I was growing more and more irritable and withdrawn.

Once I passed the twelve week “watershed”, that gate of hope when doctors tell you your pregnancy is ‘safer’, I began to relax a little in to the pregnancy and the symptoms I experienced of checking my knickers for blood (when there was none or reason to think there may be) and over washing my hands seemed to ease.

Then at 18 weeks pregnant, I had what appeared to be a show of blood. On arriving at the hospital and after a student midwife’s bungled attempt to find the baby’s heartbeat, it transpired the baby was absolutely fine. I, on the other hand was not, and from that point on my pregnancy – and the welfare of my baby – was almost all I could think about.

Soon (although not soon enough), I was 32 weeks pregnant and a nervous wreck. I wouldn’t wear perfume or eat take-away in case I ‘contaminated’ the baby. I refused an eye test when the optician said he needed to put some dye in my eye to perform it even though he assured me the dye was less toxic than a pot noodle. I pointed out that I wouldn’t even eat a pot noodle whilst pregnant and made my excuses and left.

I was making weekly (if not more frequent) visits to the ante-natal ward to hear the baby’s heartbeat, although this rarely reassured me. I was eating just for the sake of it, and my weight increased from 11 stone to 13 stone in a matter of weeks. I was washing my hands repeatedly to the point where the skin was so tight and dry, my hands would bleed. (When I was talking to a journalist years later about this, we calculated between us that at its worst, my anxiety was causing me to wash my hands up to 200 times a day).

I was becoming increasingly paranoid and anxious, I began to think that the house we had just moved in to was haunted and I felt like everything – and everyone – was against me. I couldn’t sleep even though I was exhausted and I was crying, inconsolably, for what seemed like hours at a time.

Dean assumed it was my hormones and all part of pregnancy. This was his first experience of pregnancy and he didn’t know what to expect – but I did, and I knew I wasn’t well. (To this day, I feel for Dean that his experience seems as traumatic as mine). I took the bold decision to tell a friend, someone I’d known for over 15 years and who was also pregnant, that I felt incredibly anxious about my pregnancy and scared about what may happen beyond my control. She told me I attracted drama in to my life and if that was her, she’d tell herself to get on with it. I decided not to tell any more ‘friends’ or my family what was going on for fear of a similar reaction.

However, eventually, I decided to see my midwife and tell her everything. The way I saw it, I had nothing to lose if I was going mad anyway. When feeling at my worst, I had even contemplated – just for a brief and irrational but scary moment – the possibility that if I threw myself down the stairs, they’d have to get my baby out. I then realised this could kill not only me but the precious cargo I was carrying and so seeing the midwife and telling her my thoughts was the only option available for me. Remember, I desperately wanted this baby and if it meant that I was sectioned to ensure his safety, then that was how it had to be.

Fortunately for me, she did not call the men in white coats. I sat in her office and explained what I had been feeling. I didn’t care how crazy I sounded, I needed help and I felt I had to confide in someone for my sake and the baby’s. My midwife, Zoe, sat and listened until I’d finished talking.

You can imagine my shock when, to my complete amazement, she told me she understood and thought she might know what I was experiencing. She explained that some women when pregnant, suffer from ante-natal depression – depression in pregnancy – and this can be for a number of different reasons.

In my case, my overwhelming fear of losing the baby because of my previous experiences combined with the fact I had fallen pregnant under difficult circumstances. Some women experience it because the baby is unplanned or unwanted. Some because it affects their weight- all sorts of reasons. I was not alone. I left her office that day feeling as if I could breathe again.

After that, I had good days and bad days, but on the bad days I kept telling myself that I wasn’t going mad and tried to remain rational. It wasn’t easy and in the end my husband took time off work in the weeks leading up to the birth so that I didn’t have to be on my own at home. When my son was born, I cried hysterically – I was so happy and I could hardly believe he had made it. Little Harvey was born by caesarean in March 2004, two weeks early.

I began to research ante-natal depression by looking it up on the Internet, but could find little information. I discovered a research project carried out by Dr. Jonathan Evans, a senior lecturer from Bristol University, in 2001 and read this repeatedly with the relief of knowing I was not alone. At least one in ten women suffer from depression in pregnancy.

My midwife said there wasn’t enough known about ante-natal depression and asked me if I’d consider helping to set up a support group. I agreed and, having spoken to Dr Evans, agreed to write an article about it too. We all felt it was important to raise awareness of this illness and how important support can be.

Depression is an illness which requires acknowledgement, just like any other illness. If it hadn’t been for my midwife taking the time to listen, I honestly don’t know what may have happened at that time. I vividly remember the weight lifting from my shoulders when I heard her reassurances that I wasn’t a complete fruit.

This is my story but everyone is different, every situation unique. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recognised the role of medical professionals in spotting ante-natal depression and your midwife and doctor have a role and responsibility to look after both your physical and mental wellbeing in pregnancy which I talk about later. You can read these guidelines here.

My advice to anyone who recognises some of the experiences as I have described them here is to ask for help. Speak to your doctor and/or midwife. I doubt you’ll regret it.

I hope my story will go some way to helping people who can relate to some if not all of my experience to know they are not alone. I can look back on my experience and feel positive that some good has come from it and I hope that the subsequent pages will offer you some helpful insights in to what can help.

Helen’s Story

Below is a real life article which has been submitted for publication with kind permission of the authors 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.we can not endorse third party websites which may be mentioned in articles provided.  This article has been published with the kind permission of the author. 

I had my first child in December 1999 – it was a very stressful and long labour resulting in an emergency c-section as my son was in distress. All ended well but I was very scared to have another child. Eventually I got up the courage as I approached 40!

Having had a miscarriage in March 2004, I discovered I was pregnant again in January 2005 I was very nervous of a repeat. Thankfully all went well and I was very well and excited until 25 weeks. Suddenly I woke up one night breathing fast, sweating and feeling as if I was choking. I had a couple of other ‘attacks’ over a few nights – it escalated until I was scared to sleep.

I would lay awake worrying, I was sure I was going to die and baby too. I tried to explain my fears to others – but got the stock ‘ you should be excited’ statements and little understanding. I got more and more tired and very low, terrified of the long nights, anxious and stressed. I didn’t want to see people but forced myself to carry on for the sake of normality and my 5 year old son. I looked on the Internet and found The Depression in Pregnancy web site, read it and felt reassured I was not alone, it gave lots of positive information.

I exchanged a number of emails with Delphi, founder of depression-in-pregnancy.org) and was very reassured to learn that I had no higher probability of pnd than any other new mothers – this was great news as I was very worried my fears would continue after the birth too. Delphi also arranged for a Support Advisor from the local Hospital to contact me, She came round to my home to discuss my fears and took me around the hospital – we especially visited the Operating Theatre where c-sections are performed – this particularly helped to address my concerns.

My doctor prescribed anti-depressants – I did not want to take these as the side effect leaflet scared me and arranged at my own expense (as my doctor had a 4 month waiting list) to see a counsellor – an ex mid wife, she helped me to express my fears and talking really helped me. After the birth (another emergency c-section!) I was elated. My daughter is now 15 weeks old. I am very happy and the stresses have all melted away.

I remain very thankfull to this service for giving me hope and an explanation for my fears and supporting me so well where no other support was available.

Helen.

This story has been reproduced by kind permission of the author.
© Depression-in-Pregnancy.org

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.

Everything and Doughnuts

delphi-and-her-children-telegraphMany women worry that as well as their anxiety about the pregnancy itself, their mood may be having an adverse affect on their baby in the womb.

My story of ante-natal depression may not be the worst on record, but it certainly wasn’t the mildest either.  All I can say is that my son is one of the happiest children I know.

He often tells jokes (“Why did the chicken cross the road? because he was being carried…”) and when asked what he wanted to buy from the supermarket he said ‘Everything and doughnuts’. I told him recently that he is so funny and he replied “I know, I can’t resist myself”.  As you can see from this picture which featured in the Daily Telegraph, he’s certainly got a lovely smile.

The concerns my son tends to show involve the environment (at the age of just five he asked (when seeing an empty discarded coke can outside) “Why do people not care about our Earth?” and he often drops philosophical titbits in to our conversations. His most powerful statement to date (again at the age of five) has been “You know where you are, when you know where you are”. In other words, you are only ever now, in this present moment.  Read more Things Harvey Says.

Please remember that everyone is different.

If you’re worried about the impact your depression, stress or anxiety is having on your pregnancy have a chat with your midwife and/or doctor about it and consider positive treatment options available to help you in the meantime.