What Depression During and After Pregnancy Taught Me

My journey to motherhood wasn’t easy. In fact, it was difficult at nearly every turn – from fertility issues and miscarriages, to a scary labor with a very rare condition, HELLP syndrome.

But the hardest part was suffering with anxiety and depression during the latter half of my pregnancy and weeks following my sweet baby Luke’s arrival.

I’m sharing this because we so often share our highlight reels, but leave out the behind-the-scenes moments. But, those behind-the-scenes moments are where we learn the most. These are the lessons that we can share with others – the lessons that teach us that we are not alone.

I’ve learned that perinatal mood disorders – mood and anxiety symptoms that occur during pregnancy or up to one year postpartum – are very common. In fact, women are most likely to face depression during the childbearing years of their lives (a cruel trick of biology if you ask me). Postpartum Progress, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women with perinatal mood disorders, estimates that around 1.3 million women experience perinatal mood disorders and anxiety each year. That’s more than the number of women who will face diabetes, stroke or breast cancer.

Although I’d heard of postpartum depression, and believe even more can be done to spread awareness of this issue, I’ve learned that anxiety and depression during pregnancy are just as common. Those same hormonal fluctuations that lead to postpartum depression and anxiety can also cause those symptoms during pregnancy, even if you very much wanted, prayed for and have the resources for your pregnancy and baby.

I’ve always believed that we are responsible for our own happiness, and I still believe that. But I’ve learned that being happy can be more difficult during certain times than others, due to hormonal, biochemical and physical changes, trauma, loss or significant life events. And I’ve learned that we won’t, nor can we possibly, always be happy. I’d like to think that most people know me as a happy, positive and fun person – the first on the dance floor, to offer a smile, make a wisecrack and hopefully, a light to others. So being in this altered state was very difficult, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed of what I was going through.

I’ve learned it’s OK to ask for help, and that you must ask for help if you’re dealing with a perinatal mood disorder. These are temporary, treatable conditions. It’s hard to see it when you’re going through them, but you will find the light. I promise: You will find the light again.

I’ve learned I have an amazing group of supportive family and friends who helped me through this journey. I can’t even begin to properly thank those who knew about my ordeal for their support, prayers, kind words and love. My husband, Zach, truly kept our vows of loving “in good times and in bad,” although I never anticipated dealing with the “bad.”

I’ve learned a lot about my reproductive and mental health and have a great care team in place now. But finding these experts was difficult, even for someone who grew up in a family of health care providers and has always worked around health care. In a previous job, I’ve advocated for more mental health funding, but now I know firsthand how vital these services are. I am lucky to have the means to get the care I needed, but others aren’t.

I’ve learned life doesn’t always go as we’ve planned. Sometimes it will be hard. Although I feel much better now, I still feel my pregnancy and postpartum period were marred by my perinatal mood disorder. Things didn’t go like the little movie script in my mind, and it was scary that my brain was telling me to feel things I had no intent, or even right, to feel. It’s hard for me to accept I can’t control or plan every aspect of my life, but I am slowly making peace with that reality.

I’ve learned others cannot be the measuring sticks for our lives. We will each have our own trials and tribulations, even if they are behind the scenes.

Most importantly, I’ve learned I could love a human being so much more than I thought I could. My love for Luke is the reason I fought so hard at every turn. I hope he will be proud of me someday. I hope our bond is stronger because of everything we went through together. I hope he knows I would do anything for him. I did not choose this fight (Trust me: no one would), but I hope this will make me a better mother – a mother who knows life can be challenging at times, but the dark times make the bright times that much brighter.

If you think a woman in your life is dealing with a perinatal mood disorder, please help her and offer your support. It’s hard to understand, since these disorders often don’t make sense, but she really needs you.

This post was originally shared on The Mighty here.
A version of this post originally appeared on Hello Belly Goodbye Feet.
Stephanie Pavol is a first-time mom to baby Luke and wife to her high school sweetheart, Zach. She is a social media manager by day and social media consumer by night. After suffering with her own bout of anxiety and depression during pregnancy, she is now a passionate mental health advocate.

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