** NOTE: This post is not meant to scare or deter you from having kids or trying to have children. I am Bipolar I and still chose to get pregnant 🙂 It’s very possible and very doable, especially if you have a great team of doctors. These are just some ugly issues I’ve seen/dealt with while pregnant.
Pregnancy is such an exciting time in your life. You have a little one growing inside of you! Not only are you experiencing physical changes to your body, but you’re also going through mental changes. You’re going to be a parent, (which is a huge change!), and you’re becoming more hormonal than you’ve ever been in your life. Pregnancy is beautiful and a wonderful experience, but don’t let it fool you. If you struggle with mental health, you may find that there are some ugly, hidden truths in pregnancy.
According to the CDC, 1 in 10 women struggles with depression, while 1 in 9 will ultimately end up with symptoms of postpartum depression. These statistics don’t include women who are already diagnosed with mental health disorders prior to pregnancy. According to the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health, 20% of women manage a mood or anxiety disorder during their pregnancy, of which many women may be more vulnerable if they need to stop their psychotropic medication. The statistics are even higher for those who are receiving treatment for depression and bipolar disorder.
These stats aren’t meant to scare anyone from stopping medication, starting medication, or even prevent women from getting pregnant. This is more for awareness of how common it is for women to have these disorders, many of which may be exacerbated by pregnancy.
The ugly truth in these statistics is that you are more than likely bound to struggle with pregnancy depression, extreme mood episodes, and post-partum depression if you already have a mental health disorder.
Just like how there is stigma surrounding mental health, there is also stigma surrounding pregnancy. For example, hormones. Hormones are used as a joke throughout media for women. In Clueless, Dion’s boyfriend asks, “Is it that time of the month again?” when Dion is confronting him on the fake polyester hair extensions. This is just a small example of stigmatization of hormones in the media, and that wasn’t even about pregnancy hormones. The jokes, although light and somewhat playful, can make it difficult for women to point out how they are feeling to others. Their feelings may not be taken seriously or may not be validated.
The important takeaway is that you should talk to your doctor no matter what about how you are feeling during and after pregnancy. If your doctor will not listen to you, find another doctor who will. Find support groups, whether they’re online or they’re mom groups in your local area. You are not alone and your feelings are completely valid.
Here’s where things get tricky and where the real ugly truth can come out. Self-care for your mental health when you’re pregnant. I’m not talking about walking, having a nice bath, journaling, etc. I’m talking about medication. There’s a plethora of medication for treating mental illnesses, but once you get pregnant, that list shortens significantly. There are risks with certain medications in pregnancy that may require you to change your medications. There are also medications that are borderline “okay” in pregnancy. All of these are worth talking to your doctors about. Be prepared to possibly make some changes.
Personally, I am taking Seroquel and Lithium (after a lengthy discussion with my OB and my psychiatrist). I am thankful that I am able to take these medications to remain stable.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I knew that there would be a lot of changes, physically and mentally. However, now that I’m in the third trimester, I never realized just how much the physical changes on my body would take a toll on my mental health. I have gained 27 pounds (and am currently at the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life), and I just don’t recognize myself.
When I was ending high school and about to start college, I went through a summer of significantly restricting my caloric intake and excessively working out. I have always been conscious of the way my body looks. Being pregnant, these bad thoughts about my body came back, and I was tempted to restrict my diet again. I knew that I couldn’t for the sake of my baby, and I fed my body nutritious food in hopes that I wouldn’t gain too much.
Be prepared for these physical changes to possibly trigger some old thoughts of your eating disorder, if you had one. It takes a long time to recover from one, and pregnancy can make all these thoughts come back. Again, work with your doctor to ensure you are healthy physically and mentally.
The Beautiful Truth
The wonderful thing about you being pregnant, other than bringing a beautiful baby into this world, is that there are resources for you. Don’t go through this alone.
- Find an amazing team of doctors, including an OB and a psychiatrist.
- Personally, I have been on Reddit following r/pregnant and I am so glad I have been. You can post your questions to a very understanding and open community of others who are/have been pregnant.
- Get yourself on Twitter. Find some other moms to follow and connect. You are not alone.
- Join some Mom Facebook groups. There are plenty if you search “Pregnant” or “Mom Group.” This is just one of the groups I am part of.
- And of course, one more time for the people in the back, you are not alone. You do not have to go through this pregnancy alone. Please reach out to others if you are struggling mentally, physically, etc. Pregnancy is a huge step and milestone in your life and it comes with many changes, but it doesn’t mean that you have to suffer.