When I was first diagnosed with depression, it took a lot of self-acceptance and external support for me to grasp what I had been going through for many years as something tangible and medically ‘real.’
For many who suffer from depression and mental health issues, there is a lot of scrutiny that comes with the label being attached to you. There is a lot of shame and hesitance to understand that what you have is a real illness like any other that can be cured or managed.
Most importantly, it takes a lot of courage to genuinely believe, when you’re in so much pain, that you can go from that miserable ‘norm’ to optimal and healthy—that you’re worthy. From personal experience, I can safely say that combination therapy saved my life and helped me find myself again, in what once was a sea of sorrows and confusion.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the strength with which depression could come back, full-force, the moment I fell pregnant. I was even less prepared for the way in which a rare condition known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), would exacerbate the underlying depression and anxiety that was there already.
What is HG?
It’s rarely spoken of and there is much more research that needs to be done to truly understand the causes and extent of the condition, and performing extensive medical research on pregnant women is a dangerous and ethical slippery slope.
For this reason, there isn’t that much knowledge out there on what it means to have HG, and there is a very limited array of medications that can assist women who suffer from this. I think it is important to discuss what it is, and how being chronically ill and/or mentally ill while pregnant is one of the most difficult and overlooked situations in society—and yet, so important, considering we all came from a pregnant woman at one time.
According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), between 14 and 23 percent of women will experience some symptoms of depression throughout pregnancy. That’s a significant percentage of the population, and this isn’t necessarily including women who already suffer from mental health issues.
Despite the misconception that anti-depressants are not safe during pregnancy, many studies have determined that the importance of taking medication far outweighs the risks of not medicating during pregnancy.
There is so much information out there that it can become confusing and overwhelming for anyone suffering from mental health issues, let alone someone experiencing all the changes that come with pregnancy on top of that.
There is the knowledge carried down through the ages—from your Grandma’s Grandma and their Grandma—that you must do everything you can to be clean from all meds and any stress during pregnancy.
This becomes difficult when your only recourse is medication, or when you can no longer distinguish between pregnancy hormones and your depression as the driving force behind your mood swings—not to mention the guilt that accompanies not being able to feel your best and care for your baby the way others can, when you are not well to begin with.
Not your normal morning sickness
Imagine you are experiencing all of the above and you have decided to take [safe] medication during pregnancy to manage your symptoms, or you’ve decided to try therapy or Yoga, and all is well until about your fifth or sixth week when you are slapped in the face with the worst dehydration and morning sickness you could ever possibly fathom.
Now, imagine that few in the medical community know or understand what you are going through. This is what occurs for most women who suffer from HG. This happened to me in the beginning.
HG is not your normal morning sickness, and it tends to last even after you’ve given birth, leaving many women more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, PTSD and postpartum depression throughout and after their pregnancies.
The H.E.R. Foundation, which was founded in 2002 and is the largest grassroots organization dedicated to researching HG, adequately defines this condition as follows: “Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease marked by rapid weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration due to unrelenting nausea and/or vomiting with potential adverse consequences for the mom-to-be and the newborn(s).”
Most people don’t even know this exists, and they also tend to downplay symptoms of depression associated with HG as just pregnancy hormones. I can say from personal experience, and from speaking to many other women who suffer from this, HG is not normal morning sickness and the debilitating feelings of frustration, desperation and depression that come with it are incomparable to anything else.
Don’t be afraid to reach out
My HG has made my depression worse. It caused a relapse and has taken away the joy that one is supposed to experience while pregnant. It has made pregnancy feel more like fighting a never-ending flu on steroids, instead of simply being pregnant. It has made it difficult for me to connect with my baby, with myself and with a natural and happy phase of my life.
It takes strength and courage to admit you have an illness—period. It takes a lot of valour to focus on creating awareness by telling your story.
As such, I felt the need to share this experience, to share this information and help bring about awareness. I could not possibly endure and survive this experience alone, and I genuinely believe that we all deserve support. There is nothing more frustrating for someone suffering any type of illness than to be told it’s all in their head, that they’ll simply get over it eventually, or that they must be strong.
It takes strength and courage to admit you have an illness—period. It takes a lot of valour to focus on creating awareness by telling your story. I can say, for now, I’m focusing on recovery and enjoying the little bits of time when I get some reprieve and can find little rays of hope where there sometimes aren’t any.
I hope that by reading this, you will understand that you are not alone, and that this too shall pass. Remember that there are resources out there. Don’t be afraid to reach out.