“‘Since you’re 30 weeks, we do a standard mental health evaluation,’ my nurse midwife said matter-of-factly.
‘Uhhhhh. Okay,’ I responded, trying to keep my cool, which is basically impossible as a hormonal, exhausted 30-week pregnant woman who also was working a part-time job with a toddler at home.
This was my second pregnancy, but it was my first time delivering at this hospital with a team of nurse midwives, and I’d never heard of a standard mental health evaluation.
Immediately, the nurse midwife started asking me questions…
Nurse: ‘In the last two weeks have you felt sad most days, some days, or not at all?’
Me: ‘Most days.’
My eyes started filling with tears.
Nurse: ‘In the last two weeks have you struggled to find enjoyment in life most days, some days, or not at all?’
Me: ‘Most days.’
My throat became dry and tight. There was something so overwhelming about hearing my own answers spoken out loud to someone else. She asked me a few more questions to assess the level of my depression. I answered, choking on my words and my tears.
Nurse: ‘In the last two weeks, have you had thoughts of harming yourself or taking your own life most days, some days, or not at all?’
Me: ‘Most days.’
I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard in my life. The tears were pouring out of me, and the sadness I felt was so deep it felt like there was a stabbing pain in my chest. It was like I had absolutely no control over my emotions.
Anyone else who has struggled with severe depression understands the pain of admitting these things out loud.
After over 6 months of feeling this way and hiding it, it was like the flood gates had opened, and I couldn’t suppress how I felt anymore.
I can’t fully remember what I said after the questions were over. I think I tried to say how sorry I was for all the crying I was doing that I had no control over—cause that’s what we’ve been taught to do, right?
I tried to pull it together, and with so much empathy, the nurse midwife told me that I had clinical depression, and that I need to be on medication immediately if I was open to it. I was hesitant, and I told her I would get back to her in a few days. I was scared to take meds, even ones deemed safe for pregnancy.
I went home and dried my puffy, red eyes as much as possible before I saw my husband who asked, ‘How did your appointment go?’
I collapsed to the floor and started bawling my eyes out again. I told him what happened, and how I was really doing. He held me and let me cry and cry and cry.
You would think that this would be the beginning of more sadness, more depression.
You would think that a diagnosis was a confirmation that I was broken, messed up, and unfit to be a mother.
But, it did the exact opposite for me, and I was surprised by how many beautiful things came after that scary diagnosis.
For the first time in my 5-year relationship with my husband, I was finally able to articulate what was going on in my head. For the first time, my husband was really listening and able to understand what I had been battling every day for the last 6 months.
It was like having an official diagnosis enabled him to fully wrap his head around the ‘sadness’ I was always complaining about and realize that it was much more than just feeling sad. This sadness was affecting every area of my life and made living feel impossible.
This new connection with my husband made us closer, and I felt more supported in this mental battle than I had in my whole life. My husband assured me that we were going to do whatever it took to help me get better. That assurance alone started to change things for me.
A week later, I saw another doctor and was given the official diagnosis of Antepartum Depression—depression that occurs during pregnancy. Apparently this condition is rather common as 7% of pregnant women experience antepartum depression but because of a lack of providers screening their patients and only focusing on a woman’s physical health during pregnancy, it’s no surprise that many women’s mental health is being overlooked.
I felt so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I had a diagnosis, and I could finally get help.
I tried a medication that was prescribed to me. I was told that my symptoms could worsen until my body adjusted to the medication over a 6-week period. I started to feel worse after one week, and I was advised to get off the medication since I was going to give birth soon. I was given the option of trying a different medication after I gave birth, but I was still too scared to try.
I grew up with a lot of stigma around medicine. Looking back, now that my daughter is 1 year old, I wish I allowed myself to try medicine again because I plummeted into severe postpartum depression and anxiety a month after she was born (you can read more about that here), and now, I’m on medicine, and I feel much better and more stable.
Even though the first medicine I tried didn’t work, something amazing happened that made all the difference for my mental health.
After that diagnosis, asking about my mental health became a regular part of every prenatal appointment I had. Whichever nurse midwife I saw that day listened with so much empathy and helped me troubleshoot what I could do to make things just a little bit better.
Just having a safe place where I could share my feelings and cry made a massive difference. I shared with the nurse midwives about how stressed I was about money. I was working a part-time, low-paying job from home because I could not afford childcare. So for 6 days a week, I was feeling immense mom-guilt about my 18-month-old toddler being stuck inside in front of the TV while I squeezed in conference calls and did my work at the kitchen table.
The nurse midwives told me that I could apply for state disability. I had no idea this resource was available to me. They helped me fill out my application, and they filed it for me. Once I got the approval letter that I was going to be receiving aid from the state, I was able to put in my notice at my job, and a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.
I was so overwhelmed by the idea of having to continue working this job from home while adjusting to having 2 babies under 2, and now, even though we would be scraping by financially for a while, at least I could focus on taking care of myself and my kids.
I’m one year postpartum, and since then, I’ve been in talk therapy every week, I no longer have postpartum depression and anxiety, I’m doing work I love, and I’ve learned about so many other state and community resources that are out there for moms who need help getting food, childcare, therapy, and other services.
If there’s one thing I want to leave you with it’s to get a diagnosis! Don’t stop until you’ve been able to get clarity on what you have. There is power in that. Other people will take you seriously. You will take yourself more seriously instead of dismissing your feelings as ‘just sadness’ or ‘just worry.’ You will be able to get the help and support you need.
A diagnosis is the beginning of a more hopeful journey to better mental health and a better life.
Motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and battling a mental illness on top of it can be life-threatening. No one should be carrying that burden on their own. I want you to know that if you’re a mom and you’re struggling there is so much hope and so much help! Please reach out to me and let me know what you’re going through. I’m here to listen and to support you however I can.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mia Hemstad of Costa Mesa, California. She is a Postpartum Depression and Anxiety survivor turned mental health advocate for moms. You can follow her journey on Instagram, YouTube and her website for tools and tips that helped her, and most importantly, letting moms know they are not alone in the struggle. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read Mia’s powerful backstory of her harrowing birth experience:
‘Why did you cut her?! She didn’t give you permission to do that.’ My blood boiled. He just stared, his face blank.’: Doctor performs episiotomy on mother without her permission during childbirth because he had ‘somewhere to be at 7 p.m.’
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