I’m two and a half months pregnant. I’m gearing up to fake smile and prove myself to a professional. I’m terrified she will think that I don’t want to be pregnant as I lacked any kind of plausible enthusiasm.
Three nails bitten through later, and after what seemed like being in an adrenaline vacuum in the waiting room, I am eventually face-to-face with my midwife and she asks, as they always do, “how is your emotional wellbeing?”
I paused. As someone who finds it incredibly easy to breeze through conversation without often having to engage genuine emotion, it was a surprise to me as my eyes welled-up. “I don’t know” was the only response I could give that felt any connection to the truth. I legitimately had no idea; I was angry, argumentative, sad and couldn’t understand why no one was helping, when everyone kept saying they were trying to help?
After a while of attempting to explain this to my midwife, she set me up with the Perinatal Team and a referral for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) because of something called ‘antenatal depression’ - I’d heard of postnatal depression of course, but I’m pretty sure antenatal depression had been made up on the spot. “Fuck,” I thought, “I’m actually crazy” was the departing mindset as I walked through the exit of the hospital.
I felt fairly numb after that. I researched and awaited my CBT referral letter but began to ponder each of my emotional reactions: am I actually crying because I’ve run out of dry shampoo but hair wash day isn’t until tomorrow? Should I be this scared that my child will contract an illness or get hurt? What if I die during labour? Should I have this level of hatred towards Amanda Holden? As rational or as ridiculous as these feelings could be, I felt that I was questioning everything - mainly because I didn’t have a connection to feeling anything apart from the snuggling, clasping comfort of the little hole I found myself down, grabbing me with each hand and mutating my mind whenever I went to laugh or cry.
Fortunately, due to being pregnant, teams that work with pregnancy referral tends to mean that you will be fast-tracked for therapy - as was the case with me; I began CBT just four weeks after being accepted.
My partner dropped me at my first appointment. I had tears in my eyes as we pulled up, and felt an overwhelming sense of relief, fear and just total disappointment in myself. Clichés certainly do always have a route of truth; and yes, I felt like I had failed. ‘Three months in and I’m already not coping’ was the screensaver of my brain, and I was starting to believe it more and more.
I met with a therapist, let’s call her Kate*. Her initially calm, warm approach and the way she softly said my name made my shoulders tense, and I was certain that she was the type of person who’s breathing would stop if I referred to something with any kind of venom. Typically, this pretty swiftly convinced me that this would not succeed. Kate and I went in a blank room with a dull sofa and I was abruptly face-to-face with my issue, with every certainty that Kate would be yet another one that I could practise my exceptional acting skills on, with my best performance of ‘I’m completely fine’.
I was wrong. Twenty minutes in and instead of explaining ‘how I feel’, Kate has somehow got me challenging my thoughts and basically calling me out on anything that wasn’t accurately true. “I’m scared I’ll be a shit parent” was met with “not factual, you have no evidence to go on” - I was stumped; she wasn’t trying to solve my worries, she was proving to me that I had no logic to support them. For a cynic like me, she’d caught me right where it would sting: directly in the facts. I came home and my partner gently asked how the session had gone. “It surprised me... is it weird to have enjoyed it?” I pondered, whilst reading some home information Kate had supplied me with.
I visited Kate every two weeks for two months before I was discharged, each time with firmer and perfectly tailored strategies for my personality. She was no longer softly-spoken Kate, she was a possible genius who cracked the despondency whip and clapped out any bullshit. Our final session was almost like old friends, because we just chatted. She knew I had come so far, but the greatest development was that I also knew. I could feel the change that I had honestly thought would never happen, especially not from therapy. Still naturally slightly terrified, I was ready to be a mum.
The day I received my discharge letter, I cried whilst I smiled - I thought that when the day came that I received this, I would think ‘now I have proof that I’m okay’ but I already knew I was the proof, to no one else but myself. I was elated.
From the darkest depths of my mind to being able to openly talk about it all, my biggest hope is that no one feels that they have to continue feeling this way –antenatal depression is very real but there are many forms of help, you just have to ask for them. Never be ashamed.
*name has been changed for privacy
For more information on Jessica’s experience of antenatal depression, follow her on YouTube here or on Instagram @jessicamadeleine___