Sometimes it’s not what you feel, but what you don’t feel.
I’ll never forget the day I learned I was pregnant.
The air was heavy, in spite of the fact that the weather was unseasonably cool. The sky was overcast. Afternoon sprinkles kept my family on the boardwalk instead of the beach, and I spent the afternoon drinking beers and downing oysters because, for my family, it was an important day: It was my daughter’s preschool graduation.
Of course, when I got on the kiddie coaster, I didn’t think much of it. I eagerly jumped in line with my little girl, and we rode it — twice — before heading to the swings. I whirled around the Super Himalaya long before I knew a baby was on board.
But around 9 o’clock that night, things changed. Everything changed.
Because after a few Blue Moons I decided to take a pregnancy test… and it came back positive. I learned my little family of 3 would soon be a family of 4.
My husband and I were elated. My son was planned. We’d been trying to conceive him for more than 12 months, and financially, we were set. Our home was ready.
We knew he would make our hearts and family full — but something wasn’t right. I was happy because I was supposed to be, not because it was what I felt.
Initially, I brushed my concerns aside. The birth of my daughter didn’t go as expected — breastfeeding was a challenge and I had severe postpartum depression (PPD).
It took me more than a year to see the proverbial light. As such, I assumed my apprehension was just that: fear. I couldn’t celebrate because I was afraid.
But my feelings never wavered.
I felt absent. Distant.
My depression wasn’t marked by a wave of emotions, it was marked by a lack of them.
When the doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat at my first prenatal appointment, I wasn’t sad. I was ambivalent.
Even after the heartbeat was found, the situation seemed surreal. When my belly grew, my feelings didn’t. There was no connection between myself and the child I carried. I wasn’t attached. And an overwhelming sense of dread consumed me.
I was sure something could (and would) go wrong.
The good news is that, as my pregnancy progressed, my mood changed. But the bad news is it wasn’t necessarily a positive change. The void I previously felt was full, but my heart wasn’t happy — it was heavy.
I was sad, despondent, and irritable. I ran out of patience and energy.
I avoided social outings because I was “exhausted.” (After all, I was caring for two.) I worked haphazardly. I am a writer, and in my darkest moments, thoughts blurred together. Words lost their meaning and worth.
At home, I fought with my husband or avoided him. I went to bed at 8 p.m. because I was “tired.”
Pregnancy gave me an excuse to shut down. And menial tasks became a challenge.
I went days without showering. Many mornings I “forgot” to brush my teeth or wash my face.
These things, of course, compounded. One thought, act, or idea fed the other, and I was stuck in a vicious cycle of sadness and self-loathing.
I was ashamed. Here I was blessed with yet another healthy child and I was not happy. Something was (still) very wrong.
Of course, I now know I wasn’t alone.
According to the
And while PPD is the most common, the symptoms of pre- and postpartum depression are very similar. Both are marked by sadness, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, and a general sense of loss.
Anxiety, insomnia, hypersomnia, and suicidal thoughts can also occur.
Thankfully, I got help.
After months of struggling in silence, I called my psychiatrist and admitted I was not okay, and I went back on my meds. We worked together to find a dosage that was right for me and my unborn babe, and while antidepressants aren’t without risk — little is known about the effects of said drugs on the fetus — I cannot care for my children without first caring for myself.
If you’re struggling with a pre- or postpartum mood disorder, contact Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773 or text “START” to 741-741 to speak to a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few — and when her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization which aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.