As the mother of four healthy children, I feel blessed. I was fortunate to have what I consider easy pregnancies, with no undue discomfort, mood swings or difficulties. That said, I will certainly tell you that it was easier to be pregnant when I was 16 and 19, than it was when I carried my last child at age 35! Nevertheless, I attended school and worked without disruption during those times. With two of my pregnancies, I even waited tables just hours before giving birth.
Last year, when my own daughter became pregnant for the first time, I saw a different side of what people will tell you should be the “happiest time of your life.” Just five weeks into her pregnancy, she became alarmingly ill. And not just morning sickness, mind you; but extreme nausea and vomiting that occurred throughout the day. She went to the emergency room five times during this period due to dehydration, with multiple follow-up appointments with her OB-GYN.
Eventually, my daughter was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a severe form of extreme nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Her physician said the condition could be a result of increased hormone levels, but the cause is unknown. We learned that mild cases can be treated with rest, a change in diet and antacids, but more severe cases require hospital stays so patients can receive fluids and nutrients intravenously.
That’s what happened to my daughter, who was hospitalized for four days and sent home with a balanced medication regimen to keep the Hyperemesis at bay. Thanks to the meds, my daughter began to feel better physically, but was beginning to struggle emotionally. She then received a second diagnosis – antepartum depression.
You’ve probably heard about postpartum depression. Antepartum depression arrives before the baby is born. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 14 to 23 percent of all pregnant women experience depression during pregnancy. Since some symptoms (changes in sleep, energy level, appetite, and libido) are similar to symptoms of pregnancy, it can be difficult to diagnose. Healthcare providers may attribute the warning signs to the pregnancy and not depression. In my daughter’s case, I knew it was more than the illness, and her physician eventually prescribed an antidepressant to promote emotional stability. She also sought counseling to keep her anxious feelings in check.
This story, I’m pleased to tell you, ended well. After a 30-hour labor, my daughter gave birth to the most amazing little human I’ve ever witnessed. Mom and baby are doing well, and my daughter is regaining a sense of emotional normalcy. That is – as normal as it can be with a newborn!
As I think about the last 10 months, I realize that I have never prayed so much for my child – for her physical relief and a positive outcome. I also fully understand how important it is for expecting mothers to have a solid support system throughout their pregnancy and beyond. Here are some tips I learned from my daughter’s experience:
- Be supportive of the expecting mother. Identify her as an individual first – and expectant mother second.
- Never pass judgment. Understand that the emotions she may be experiencing, including her inability to be happy, are not her fault.
- Attend doctor appointments together. Realize how hard it is to describe an emotional disconnection if you are the person experiencing it. If she’s having trouble expressing her feelings to her doctor, ask her if you may share your perspective in order to relay the seriousness of the symptoms you are observing.
- Don’t ask. Just do. Whether it’s before the baby is born or after, Mom is going to need help. Don’t expect her to ask for assistance. Just pitch in.
- Babysit, while Mom is at home. When the baby arrives, look for ways that she can have time alone. Watch over the baby, for instance, so she can shower, take a walk or get some much-needed sleep.
- Remember, you’re not a guest! It’s nice for family and friends to visit when a baby arrives, but this is no time to be a guest. Be a helper instead. Shop for groceries, cook meals and become the quiet background of comfort that she will need.
- Remind her that she’s doing just fine. Praise and reinforce her successes, whether it’s learning to breastfeed or soothing a fussy infant. We all need support and encouragement, and she does too – now more than ever.
To learn more about Hyperemesis Gravidarum, visit the HER Foundation at www.hypermesis.org. For more tips on ways to support new mothers, visit www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/depression-during-pregnancy/.