When “Congratulations” isn’t the best response to pregnancy

A few days ago, I was reading a post about “The One Thing to Tell Pregnant Moms: Congratulations.” All moms-to-be, the author says, should hear congratulations. Teen mothers, older mothers, those with many children: these women all deserve to hear “congratulations.” They do not need to hear our commentary on their size, their age, their family’s size, the age of the other children in the family, or any other random comment that emerges from our open mouths.

I understood her point. I agree with her point. But I chafed a little, too.

When I meet a pregnant woman, “congratulations” is not the first thing that comes to mind. “Happy” is not the adjective that comes to mind, either.

The reason is simple. Neither of my pregnancies were happy times in my life.

I wanted them to be. Believe me, I did. I love my children!

But I spent much of my first pregnancy wondering what was wrong with me that I wasn’t happy. Why I was swinging, endlessly, relentlessly swinging, from irritability to despair. Why I was so frightened. Why I couldn’t keep my moods under control. Why I couldn’t trust my own mind to tell me the truth. Why none of the pregnancy manuals mentioned this particular symptom of pregnancy. Why I wished–often thought–my life was over. Why my husband was afraid I wouldn’t be alive when he returned from work.

Why, when I hinted to outsiders about my inner turmoil, they dismissed my feelings.

“That’s just normal. Pregnant women are always moody,” I was told. “Dreary, cheery, and weary! Those are the three trimesters. You’ll hit cheery soon enough, so cheer up! Congratulations!”

Instead, I hit week 29.

In both pregnancies, week 29 was when my moods hit a sharp curve and careened headlong into the mountain of mental illness. With the first pregnancy, I got a diagnosis (bipolar II), proof that my moods weren’t “normal,” medication, a stack of literature on the subject, and a church that rejected me. With the second pregnancy, I got more medication and more sympathy. (Different church, different attitude.)

“Congratulations”? That was the last thing I wanted to hear.

Now that my pregnancy days are finished, I look at other pregnant women and wonder if “congratulations” is what they want to hear. For most of them, it is. But for a few, it isn’t.

I look in their faces and I wonder how many of them are frightened, just like I was; depressed and out of control, like I was; vaguely aware that something is wrong but not knowing what it is; trying to say the words but not being understood; wondering if anyone will understand or if they will suffer alone. Just like I was.

I wonder, too, what question I might ask that would enable that woman to answer honestly and freely. Yes, I’m depressed. Yes, my thoughts scare me. Yes, my moods are uncontrollable. Yes, I need help, and I don’t know where or who or what might help me. 

For those of you who haven’t experienced this, congratulations. Have happy (or at least) normal pregnancies and consult What to Expect When You’re Expecting all you want.

For others, though, my experiences feel uncomfortably familiar. It may be mental illness. It could be many other things leading to a tumultuous pregnancy.

I want you to know that you’re not alone. There is help available. There are people who understand, who will not dismiss your feelings and thoughts, who will love you and your baby.

Here’s some resources to get started:

Kitt O’Malley has gathered a list of great organizations that help those with mental illnesses. NAMI has some pages dedicated to information about mental illnesses and pregnancy: bipolar disorder; depression; other pregnancy considerations for women with psychiatric histories.

Please feel free to suggest other links in the comments and to share your story.   

 

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12 thoughts on “When “Congratulations” isn’t the best response to pregnancy

  1. I relate so much to your experiences. My first pregnancy was awful and even as I type this the guilt rises up. I was healthy (in the physical sense) and was frequently told that I was a model pregnant person and should have loads of children. I didn’t want to be pregnant. I hated it. I was detached from the life I was carrying. In hindsight, I was severely depressed. Feeling as though I had to fake it was the worst part. My second pregnancy was better but then I had the guilt that I hadn’t felt the same with my older child. I wish I had had the courage to admit to someone how sad, lonely and desperate I was feeling, better yet, I wish those around me had notice and reached out, and there were many signs that I wasn’t handling life well. I finally sought therapy when my son was an infant and my journey to healing began. Since then I’ve talked with numerous women whose pregnancy blues and baby blues were more severe than they or anyone else wanted to admit. My husband finds it disturbing that I’m not always happy when I hear of friends’ pregnancies. He still doesn’t get what a dark time my own pregnancy was for me. Thank you for writing this.

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    1. Isn’t it odd when other people don’t respond to our silent cries for help, even when there are clear signs that we need help? Even when I shared my new diagnosis at our church, no one responded. When people ask, “How are you?” and I say, “Not good!”, their response shouldn’t involve acting like I’m joking; yet that was what happened.

      What baffles me more is that most pregnancy manuals don’t discuss postpartum depression or psychosis or pregnancy depression much. It might be mentioned as an aside, but it infuriated me that, while a whole host of other pregnancy-related woes were covered in depth, this one was not. My doctors weren’t much help, either. Now I think I should’ve been bolder in demanding help and demanding that they take my complaints seriously and not brush them aside for months.

      I’m sorry you went through this. I wish you the best on your journey to healing, and I hope that other women will read your story and realize that they aren’t alone.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree with everything you said. During my first pregnancy, mental health was not covered. Questions regarding my history of depression were never asked; in fact, mental health was never mentioned.

        I was fortunate with my second pregnancy. I went to birthing classes and chose a holistic practice for my labor and delivery. The difference was night and day, but this group only accepted patients who had standard, straight-forward pregnancies and so many don’t. Plus, issues in pregnancy can contribute to a mother suffering from ppd.

        I’m sorry you went through such a hard time as well, and I applaud you for sharing your story. Merry Christmas to you and your family. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this. I suffered severe postpartum depression and felt so alone. I felt so guilty not to be happy when I was lucky enough to have a beautiful, healthy baby.

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    1. I’m sorry you had postpartum depression. Oddly enough, I didn’t have depression after my first pregnancy and did with my second, even though my second pregnancy was (slightly) mentally easier. It’s so hard to “enjoy” the baby when depression sets in, with guilt over the depression following. I hope you sharing your experience helps some other reader know that she isn’t alone!

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  3. Excellent post as usual, Laura, and yes, Kitt O’Malley’s site has a fantastic wealth of resources.

    For those women who have a family history of bipolar disorder and are mothers or considering becoming a mother, please visit my blog “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar”. There you can read about my experience with childbirth-onset bipolar disorder, otherwise known as postpartum bipolar disorder. (PPBD) The url is http://www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com My father had bipolar one disorder; I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar one until I was almost eight weeks postpartum (at age 37) in 2007.

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    1. Excellent addition, Dyane. Thanks for linking to your blog. 🙂

      Y’all–sorry, being Southern right now!–Dyane’s blog is great. She’s very honest, and her blog is definitely worth reading. It should be required reading, really. It’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the Bipolar Version.” (What to expect? Um, the unexpected! I never knew what wacky thing my brain might do when I was expecting/postpartum.)

      Liked by 1 person

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