“Oh God, I screamed internally. Oh God, someone stop the clock please! I don’t want this! I thought I did. I hoped and prayed and tried and worked hard to conceive this baby, but it was all a terrible mistake and I can’t do this anymore and I’ll never be the mother this child deserves, so we’re all screwed.
I hated myself for what I’d done to my family. I’d created two huge burdens for them – the baby, and myself.”
- Extract from Through the Window: How I Beat PND by Lauren Shapiro.
It’s not something most people want to talk about. Mental illness in general is still a taboo topic in many circles, but depression during pregnancy – what is supposed to be one of the biggest blessings and happiest life events – is even more unspeakable, says journalist and mother Lauren Shapiro.
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"Until now, it’s been swept so far under the carpet that most people weren’t even aware that it was possible. Well, let me tell you: it’s a thing.
What used to be called Post-Natal Depression is now being re-termed Perinatal Distress as psychiatrists recognise that it can occur both during and after pregnancy, as either depression or debilitating anxiety.
But I didn’t know that when, during the first trimester of my planned and prayed-for pregnancy, I found myself sinking into a deep pit of despair that threatened to consume me.
Joy bled out of my life. Fear took its place. I cried constantly and suffered from severe panic attacks.
I told myself it would pass. My psychologist told me it would pass. But instead of improving, it got worse. I realised something was very, very wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it.
One hospitalisation, two medical professionals, many months of therapy and several psychiatric drugs later, I mercifully made it out the other side.
Nobody speaks about Perinatal Distress (PND), and so it continues to tear apart lives and families across our nation. Approximately 1 in 3 families are affected by PND in South Africa, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). That translates to around 50 000 women per year.
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I tried to talk to my family and friends about what I went through, but how could they possibly understand? How could I fully explain it? So I decided to write a book, immersing readers in the complete journey through PND, from pre-pregnancy to full recovery.
As I was finishing the first draft, I happened to join a bookclub. None of us knew each other very well, so we gave short introductions: “I’m Lauren, I have three kids, I’m a journalist and I’m writing a book.”
Of course, they wanted to know what it was about. “It’s about my experience of PND,” I responded with false confidence. It’s hard to put that out there about yourself, especially to virtual strangers. There was an awkward silence, then one lady confided, “I had that too.”
“That’s the thing,” I said, capitalising on her honesty. “It’s actually so common, but no one talks about it. And if we don’t talk about it, we can’t support each other. I mean, statistically,” I continued, doing a rough head-count around the room, “there should be at least one more of you who’s suffered from it.”
Slowly, silently, not one but two other hands went up. Right then, I knew I had to see the project through."
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