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I Experienced a Type of Depression I Didn't Know Existed

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We’d talked about a third child. I missed – and deeply mourned – the lack of a tiny body snuggling into my shoulder or pacifiers crammed into the silverware tray in the dishwasher. I cuddled friends’ babies close, wishing those small beings were mine to love. But babyhood was behind me. I was working part-time, making some spending money and learning about book publishing. Neither my personal nor professional life could get any better.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was missing something. Actually, someone. Our third child. The one I wasn’t holding in my arms late at night while the rest of the family slept around us.

What I didn’t think about was how much harder a third pregnancy would be eight years after my first. I learned something important during those early weeks of that pregnancy — symptoms weren’t as awful as the fear of loss. Of child, of self, of sanity.

I was slowly losing all three. I also lost my connection to my husband and my children. I knew it and had no idea how to fix any of it. Each day, getting out of bed was harder. Some days I didn’t.

My oldest daughter sat next to me as I huddled in my bed, her eyes murky with fear. She asked if I was going to die.

“No,” I said automatically, shocked. The truth was, I’d never felt worse. I tried not to be nauseated or tired or dehydrated. But I couldn’t stop the encroaching fear that I was losing everyone I loved because I’d chosen to have another child.

I finally asked the right question — Not why I had so many symptoms, but why I couldn’t roll with them as I normally did. And then I found the answer: According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “between 14-23 percent of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression in pregnancy.” Nearly one in four women struggle with depression during pregnancy.

I’d never heard of the condition, and I wondered… If I hadn’t heard of it, how many other women were suffering needlessly because they hadn’t heard of it either?

I wasn’t unhappy about having a baby. I was miserable because of the pregnancy. I saw this as a clear distinction no one else seemed able to grasp. After failing to explain my feelings once again, my husband, Chris, and I decided to see a licensed counselor.

Counseling wasn’t part of our budget — I mentioned we have two other active (read: expensive) kids, right? – but our need was overwhelming. We’d become strangers, managing to slink past one another, unable to make eye contact, to talk, to sleep next to each other, to breathe the same air.

We went to months of bimonthly visits, some resulting in nothing more than shredded tissues. Others brought about small breakthroughs. Chris realized he couldn’t will me to wellness. We both worried the intrinsic me would once again be stifled under the weight of infant needs and the ever-present mound of laundry.

Eventually, I labored those necessary, intense hours to bring our baby girl into the world. She was tiny. Her limbs were so thin, the newborn diaper gaped around the edges.

But our worst fears — the ones we’d struggled to articulate even in counseling, the reason we were in counseling — hadn’t been realized. Our daughter was healthy. She was barely 18 inches long. She barely weighed 6 pounds. She was perfect. She snuggled into me, burrowing close and offering the comfort I needed.

Chris picked up my free hand, both of us exhausted and euphoric. I stared at our fingers, reveling in this new connection we’d fought for. I reveled in the child we’d both struggled to birth through a depression I hadn’t realized existed.

And I realized, once again, I was blessed with an incredible partner. One who helped me find a path when all I saw were pitfalls.

Originally published: February 26, 2015
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