Coping With Depression During Pregnancy

Written by: Lisa O’Connor, Contributing Writer

Pregnancy can be a daunting time for any woman, but especially when you are trying to finish your college education and cope with your pregnancy at the same time. Although several campuses have resources to support pregnant students, it is likely that you will be contending with deadlines and morning sickness at the same time. Your mind is probably swirling with questions: How will you cope financially? Will you be able to finish your classes and look after your baby at the same time? How much bigger is your stomach going to get? (There’s no more room!) These questions will probably leave you feeling confused and frightened- but don’t worry. Almost all women, whatever their age and situation, find pregnancy overwhelming and frightening. It’s important to acknowledge these thoughts and arm yourself with all the information on what you should do if you think your thoughts of sadness and fear have turned into depression

How do You Know if it’s Depression?

Depression is a common disease among women of reproductive age. No doubt because of this, according to statistics from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 14 and 23 percent of women suffer from some form of depression during pregnancy. These figures are increased if the pregnant woman is of collage age, and has no spousal or family support. So how do you know if any negative thoughts you’re feeling are really depression? Often symptoms of depression are dismissed as simply ‘pregnancy hormones’.  It’s normal to occasionally feel frightened and ‘blue’ during pregnancy, especially if you are facing your pregnancy alone or trying to cope with keeping on top of your school work at the same time. Your body is going through some dramatic changes and your new arrival is about to turn your world completely upside down – pregnancy is an emotional roller coaster! However, if your mood stays down and you find this last for more than two weeks rather than mood swings that go up and down, you feel persistent sadness (and you aren’t able to feel any joy at the thought of your impending arrival), then it could be that you are suffering from depression.

Ask if You Need Support!

So what can you do if you think you might be suffering from depression during your pregnancy? The first thing you need to do is visit your doctor. Don’t worry that you will be judged for describing the way you feel. It’s common to suffer from depression during pregnancy. It doesn’t mean you will be a bad mom or that you will suffer from postpartum depression, and you need to talk about your symptoms so you can get the support you need. Your doctor will ask you questions to test for depression. He will then decide how best to treat you. This could be by referring you to a mental health professional who specializes in treating depression or by prescribing medication (in more severe cases). Talking about how you feel with your family or a trusted friend may also help you feel better. Describing your feelings will help you to work through them and start to overcome any negative feelings you’re having about your pregnancy.

Look Out For the Signs of Post-Partum Depression Too

Once your pregnancy is over, you still need to be alert and look out for any signs of depression because this is when the more widely reported postpartum depression becomes a risk factor. 10-15% of women suffer from postpartum mood disorders; that’s more people per year suffering with depression after pregnancy than the number of people who sprain their ankles every year! Due to this, there is a wide variety of free counselling resources available to college students who become moms, and who are struggling to cope. Some common signs of postpartum depression are similar to those of depression during pregnancy. These signs include:

  • Feeling guilty and overwhelmed, like your baby deserves better and you should never have become a mom in the first place.
  • Not feeling bonded with your baby.
  • Feeling irritated and angry.
  • And finally, feeling so sad that you can’t stop crying, even though you have no reason to keep crying all the time.

Don’t worry – although this may sound scary, depression is treatable, and those negative feelings will pass. Get the help that you need. Then you can focus on being a good mom, finishing your studies, and creating the great life that you and your baby both deserve!

You Are Not Alone

*Do you have an article or story to contribute? Please contact Beth O’Malley at bomalley@studentsforlife.org.

Rachel’s Story: Surprise Twins

Rachel and Sons 3When you’re a college student, there are certain expectations of you—expectations that you have of yourself and expectations from those around you. You are intelligent, and your family and friends know it. You are driven and goal-oriented; you are going places in life. You probably know several individuals from school that chose to go straight to work after high school (or may still be stuck in the “party scene”), but you did not. You chose to go to college and make something of yourself and maybe, even, to change the world. You have dreams, ambitions, and the ability to pursue any and all of them. College is the glimmering door to which endless possibilities and experiences are created. For many college students, the glimmering door can inadvertently lead to some rather unexpected experiences—such as pregnancy.

 

When I found out that I was pregnant during my first year as an undergraduate, I had thought that my glimmering door had just closed. I remember the many tears that followed the discovery. I felt like I had just lost a part of myself—who I was and who I was meant to be was now fading beyond my grasp. My mind became filled with worry and fear. I backed up against the bedroom wall and sank to the floor, head down on my knees. My mind frantically raced with an influx of worrisome thoughts: What would my parents think? After all, I was only 18 years old and still reaping the benefits of graduating high school with a 4.2 GPA. How could I let my family down like this? What about my boyfriend? What will he say and do? What would my peers think if they found out? As an officer for my sorority, what would my “sisters” think of me?

 

My 19-year-old boyfriend was in immense shock as well, as he was a university student with his own dreams and ambitions. He had the same intense fears and worry that I had. However, we both felt that although many may see our pregnancy as a “mistake.” We knew in our hearts that it would be a much greater mistake to be rid of a life that you can never bring back. At the first doctor’s appointment, I was terrified, embarrassed, and uncertain of what would come from the appointment. It was at this appointment that we discovered that I was not only pregnant with one baby, but two. “You’re having twins!” I could not help but cry. It was not tears of sadness but tears of fear. I was already scared at the thought of having one baby, how could I have two? And then I heard it—the rapid thump, thump, thump of my babies’ combined heartbeats. It was then that I felt my own heart palpitate with the realization of the magnitude of my new purpose in life. At that point, I decided that I was not going to let the societal “stigma” associated with having a baby at my age get in the way of the joys that my new journey would bring.Through this realization, I made peace with myself and my new life path. However, this led to the next concern: what about my education? I had made peace with my new purpose in life, but, could I still become the doctor that I had always envisioned?

 

When several of my peers suggested that I get an abortion (like many of them have had themselves), I became disenchanted with the low expectations and lack of faith from my peers. I continued with my education and my twin boys were born during my second year at the university. The father of my boys also continued with his education, graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2010 and his master’s degree in 2012. Through perseverance, hard work, and support from my family, I was able to graduate with my bachelor’s degree on time (2010), within four years after graduating high school. I completed my master’s degree in counseling two years later (2012), received a graduate award for “Outstanding Graduate Student 2011-2012” from my university, and became a full-time PhD student at the age of 24 from an APA- accredited university (2012). I can gratefully proclaim that I will become the doctor that I had always envisioned.

 

As I reflect upon the tears that I shed from the news of my pregnancy, I now shed tears of guilt—guilt that I ever shed such tears at the news when, ultimately, my pregnancy has been the best gift I could have ever received. I think about how much joy my boys have brought to my life and I cannot picture my life any other way. With pure happiness in my heart, I think about how my son wakes me up with a huge hug and tells me that he loves me. I think about how my other son gives me his favorite stuffed bunny to hold if I am not feeling well. I think of all the flowers, rocks, pennies, and “rollie pollies” that my sons lovingly give to me as gifts. Joyfully reflecting upon the last 6 years as a “mommified” college student, I look down at my homework folder and I see a pastel green piece of paper sticking out. As I pull it from my notebook, I see my son’s adorable writing on the piece of paper. It says “I love MOM”, in uneven, letters of mixed sizes. Every day, I thank God that I have my boys to share in joy, love, happiness, discovery, and laughs. I am thankful that I have been able to pursue this journey with my precious twin boys by my side; I cannot imagine my life any other way.

 

ThroRachel and Sonsugh my journey, I have learned a lot about myself and about life. Six years ago, if you would have told me where I would be today, I would not have believed you. But that is the problem—we tend to lack faith in ourselves and in our abilities. As highly unique and valuable individuals, we have the ability to achieve more than we could ever imagine. I wish that I had known from the beginning that despite my changed life path, my life would turn out better than I could have ever imagined or desired it to be.

Many thanks to Rachel Fraser for sharing her inspiring story! If you have a story to share, please contact Beth (O’Malley) Rahal at brahal@studentsforlife.org.