This post deals with perinatal depression and might be triggering for some readers.
I spent a long time trying to get pregnant with my first child. Finally, just in time for Christmas in 2013, the little seed arrived. After crazy hormone treatments and months of scheduled mating times, it had worked.
I was fortunate. Not super lucky like those friends who just thought they’d give it a go and got pregnant the first time, but luckier than those who had to go from one IVF cycle to another for years, bleeding their emotions and savings dry.
I was overjoyed. But not for long, and my anxiety began to rise as my pregnancy progressed. There were some days of joy scattered between the stress and tears that came with my hormonal surges and bouts of depression. But overall, despite the months of trying and desperation to become a mother, I just felt flat.
On our podcast for new parents, the Baby Bubble, hosts Zoe Marshall and Sean Szeps talking about tackling parental burnout. Post continues below.
I still wanted my child, but rarely did I feel the giddy heights of knowing that I would soon become a parent. Or the elation of being pregnant and knowing I was growing my child inside me. Generally, I just felt anxiety running through my veins and stress pumping my heart. I felt crankiness, indecision and fatigue.
I spent sleepless nights stressing about minor things, then stressing about how my stress was affecting my growing child. And the guilt – the guilt for feeling this way.
I had thought that pregnancy would be my happy time. That after months of dealing with the crazy effects of hormone injections, I’d finally start to feel settled. I thought that once I got the green light – the dark thoughts would fade. Unfortunately, they only got worse.
I’d heard of women being a little crazy during pregnancy. Crying at milk being left out of the fridge or a partner purchasing the wrong brand of cheese, but I had thought that not being able to enjoy a few wines on a Friday night would be my biggest challenge. I expected to feel nausea. I expected to feel tired, and hungry and dizzy. But I didn’t expect the sadness.
But I shouldn’t have been surprised by my feelings, because the perinatal period (from conception through the first 12 months of the baby’s life) is commonly when a woman is at her most vulnerable and at the greatest risk of experiencing mental illness. In fact, in Australia, as many as one in five expecting or new mums will experience perinatal anxiety or depression. It’s common, it’s real, and it’s time that we need to ‘get real’ about it – which is why I wanted to share my experience.
Like with all facets of mental illness, greater knowledge of the condition and experiences people have, brings greater acceptance and understanding. In this case, acceptance that becoming a parent can bring a range of complex emotions. That our expectations aren’t always met by reality. That it’s okay if you don’t feel a bond with your child straight away, or love being pregnant. And understanding that not every expecting or new parent, mum or dad, will be okay. That the shift to family life is HUGE and can take a toll. That sleeplessness can be crippling, even if you have a new strength of love like no other.
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