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Right after the, “When are you due?” question, probably the most common one for the obviously pregnant is the sincere, “How are you feeling?” The truth, unfortunately, about how you are doing, is often a version of “Lousy.”
Besides the radical body changes (as if that weren’t enough), a pregnancy can play havoc with hormones and emotions. On top of these changes come worry and anxiety of the even greater changes to come after baby arrives. The honest answer to a polite, “How’s it going?” would be, “My ankles are swollen, I can’t find a comfortable position to sleep in, I feel like every hiccup in my financial status or relationship with my partner could balloon into catastrophe and put me and my baby out on the street – and I don’t feel like I can do a damn thing about it.”
Welcome to motherhood. Now here are some things women have done throughout the ages to deal with antepartum depression.
Potential mothers can be very protective of the new life growing inside them. The same stressors and anxiety producing elements that once only threatened their peace of mind now also seems a threat against the baby – increasing the stress level even more.
Coping with stress means taking care of physical and mental well being, asking for help and support, and lowering expectations for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you come from a long line of “super moms,” this is your individual pregnancy and it will bring unique difficulties. Watch out for those things particular to pregnancy that wouldn’t normally be quite as stressful.
• Spousal relationships. We live in a time of complex relationships. Even when pregnancy meant staying at home with a husband off at work, things weren’t easy. Add to that the modern version where a woman goes it alone or juggles a career with a pregnancy, and you can see things haven’t gotten easier. If your significant others haven’t gotten the message yet, they need to get on board with becoming a source of strength instead of stress.
• Other children, especially young ones, can also become real stressors during a pregnancy. You won’t be able to simultaneously care for them as much as you’d like, care for yourself, and care for your infant. Don’t burn yourself out trying.
• The workplace can be a source for stress. With what can seem like endless bathroom breaks, easy irritation and the feeling that your coworkers are just “playing nice” about your condition – all that can make work a difficult and stressful place to be. If there is a paid leave for pregnancy, take advantage of it. When there isn’t, make sure your boss and coworkers know your limitations – you can best recruit other women who have been through it. Properly done, a pregnancy at work can build friendships instead of ruining them.
• Poor health. Not getting enough sleep and not getting a good diet will lessen your ability to deal with stressful situations.
• Drug or alcohol use. The toxic effects of these substances to your baby is well known. What might be less appreciated is how they add to your stress, even though they seem like a quick-fix at the time. The recovery from use isn’t worth it and endangers your child.
One of our natural responses to stress is to feel like the “mental injury” is a physical one and to withdraw from activities until we feel better. The problem here is that not getting out for a walk or exercising can keep us from feeling better. Avoid this trap. Experts recommend at least a couple of hours of exercise a week – to the level of a brisk walk.
Just getting out and moving also helps reduce the level of depression. There is a healing power in sunshine and movement. Combined with pleasant company, a good walk can turn into a time, not only of stretching muscles, but real sharing and mental support. If you can’t find a human companion, dogs are also great walking buddies.
As your due date gets closer, you will want to make sure your support system is in place and working properly. Husbands need a bit of training and guidance – before the baby is born is a good time to work out scheduling kinks and add some responsibilities to his list.
Along with around the house help, it’s a good idea to work on your support network. This is a group you will draw from for encouragement and shoulders to lean on. Sometimes, a thorough talk is all that’s needed to put things in perspective. The same bonds you develop now will be used to share the post partum news and difficulties.
Typical support personnel are: husband, significant other, mother/grandmother, and trusted friend. However, you don’t have to stop there. Neighbors, church members and coworkers will often be happy to act as ancillary personnel and allow you to take a break from what might seem an endless round of responsibilities and chores. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
There is also professional help available. When depression seems overwhelming, unending, or just keeps getting worse and worse – get help. Don’t dismiss it or think you will spontaneously get better when baby arrives. Your obstetrician will be well aware of depression during pregnancy (about 10% of women get some form). They can recommend a professional mental health caregiver. And don’t assume you’ll have to take medication, nor that medication will harm your baby – healthcare professionals are well aware of the risks when prescribing antidepressants to pregnant women.
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