Anna Tan* was overjoyed when she first found out she was expecting a child, but her joy took a sudden turn for much unexpected grief and stress when she went through a period of depression. She shares with us what that journey was like for her, and what got her through it. On 30 Dec 2011, Anna gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and mother and son are doing fine now.
How did you find out you were expecting?
The way most women find out – I missed my period. But before that, my husband and I had been trying for a child for some time. In February 2011, I had a miscarriage very early in the pregnancy, so this time round, I was naturally very apprehensive, and even took the pregnancy test three times to confirm that I was really expecting.
Of course I was thrilled to confirm that I was really pregnant! I was in the office at work at that time, so I immediately called my husband with the good news, and excitedly brought home the kit to show him.
When did things start to change?
Almost from the start, I couldn’t help worrying if this pregnancy would last or end abruptly, like my previous miscarriage. My excitement, which had been so intense at the start, began to wane in the 7th week, when I began to experience very strong symptoms of morning sickness.
I was very nauseous most of the time, and threw up several times every day – even during the night, which severely disrupted my sleep and ability to function at work. I would break out in cold sweat and shiver. None of the medications prescribed by my gynae helped, except for stemetil. I was put on a hydration drip once, but that didn’t seem to be any good either. Eventually, my gynae gave me one month of hospital leave to rest at home.
I felt like I was fighting a war, and was losing the battle to the nausea, with no way of defeating it. I hadn’t been able to eat properly, and felt lousy, ugly and sick most of the time. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into… My husband and I paid a visit to our family doctor, who was very helpful and patient in explaining to us that a lot of the symptoms I was experiencing were due to the stress on my body because of the frequent throwing up. Finally, he told me that I was struggling with mild depression, aka prenatal blues.
How did you manage to get better?
I was given anti-depressants to combat my prenatal blues. That helped a lot. At the same time, I was taking stemetil and dimenate, prescribed by my gynae. My family doctor was very kind and encouraging to us. He would sms me now and then to check on how I was doing, and to provide timely advice.
All in all, my depression lasted for about five months, during which the people around me definitely made a huge difference in my recovery. My husband was always there with me, as long as he wasn’t at work. He assured me on a daily basis that he loved me, even through all the tears and throwing up. My mum and sister would drop by our place regularly to make sure I wasn’t alone, and texted me daily notes of encouragement too.
Even at work, I was lucky. My boss and colleagues understood that I was going through a tough time, and gave me the space to be real with how I was dealing with the pregnancy. My cell group in church prayed for me daily the whole time I was in depression. Last but not least, I was blessed to have friends who would meet up with me, let me cry, didn’t judge my tears, and allowed me to pour out my fears to them.
What would you like to share with other mums-to-be who might be in similar circumstances as you were then?
If you think you have prenatal blues, do seek help immediately from an experienced doctor or your gynae. Be brave to admit your struggle – it’s not something you need to be ashamed of or something you should be going through alone. I’ve learnt that it’s actually quite common for women to experience some form of prenatal blues during pregnancy, because your body is going through so many changes.
Remember that by taking the time to care for yourself, you are also caring for the baby in you.
Moving on, what is life like now, as a new mother?
Life as a mother I, quite honestly, tough. No one is born knowing how to manage a crying baby, to breastfeed or to withstand the lack of sleep that is part and parcel of the first few weeks/months. I’m still new to the journey, myself.
My doctor did inform me that I might be more susceptible to post-natal depression because of my prenatal blues. And sure enough, I did experience some signs of depression those first few weeks after giving birth. However, I’ve learnt to allow myself to cry when I need to. I’ve opened myself up to talk to experienced mummy friends when I need help. With my husband, I’m open about my fears and struggles. And, very importantly, I’ve learnt to allow the people who care for us so much to help with caring for baby at times, so I can have a rest.
At the end of the day, as I watch my beautiful son contented after a milk feed, or sleeping peacefully in his cot, I am moved to tears at the intensity of the journey we have roller-coasted through to get here to this moment. My heart is filled with love and gratitude for my precious son, my loving husband, and all who have been there for us along the way. In the end, I know it’s all been worth it.
*Name has been changed
This article was first published in The New Age Parents Feb/March 2012 online magazine.