The XX Factor

Not Just the Pregnancy Blues: Watching My Wife Spiral into Prenatal Depression

Stories of prenatal depression. 

As part of Jessica Grose’s series on prenatal depression, we asked readers to share their stories about depression during pregnancy. The first entry comes from the husband of a woman who experienced prenatal depression.

Name: Anonymous

I think the shame that is associated with the topic has drawn a veil over the whole experience for many women. Women simply can’t talk about such trauma without putting people off. I should say I am a man—a married man in his early 30s. My wife is a university professor, and she is 28 weeks pregnant. Our story begins almost two years ago. We talked about starting a family for a little while before going for it. It was definitely one of the most informed decisions we made. We probably overthought it a bit to be honest. Since my wife had dealt with anxiety and depression in the past, we spent almost half a year weaning off medication and starting a talk-therapy schedule. And when the time was right, the time was right. We got pregnant right away.

In those first few weeks after the positive CVS-bought indicator, my wife had all sorts of crazy emotions going on. I call them crazy because they were quite simply … crazy. All sorts of irrational type thoughts … akin to moving to Santa Fe, N.M. It was hard on me in the sense that one, I had seen her in this state before, and I knew it would pass, but in the meantime I was staring down the barrel of nine months of it. And two, I felt helpless. We had decided that medication wouldn’t be the answer, even though it was pushed on us rather strongly by our medical community.

For eight weeks as a couple we struggled with all sorts of unknowns. We hadn’t even had a confirmation from the OB-GYN that it was a viable pregnancy. All this while my wife continued to work in her profession, which itself is stressful. At our 10-week appointment we anxiously waited in the office waiting room to be called back. The nurse brought us into the room, gave her instructions, and then brought out the Doppler for our first reckoning with what was inside. The room got cold as she struggled to find the right beat. The nurse did her best to not clue us in, but I knew what was happening. She sent us to the ultrasound room, and suddenly it became obvious to me that our fears had been realized. The doctor soon came in and explained what he thought was happening. He explained to us that my wife had a blighted ovum.

This is not actually the point of my story, but I need to include it because it provides the frame of reference for the dark spiral that began shortly after the first positive test and continued for several months after the miscarriage. You mention that many women who come off medication to have babies often slip back into prenatal depression. And yes, no one talks about it.

Doctors will talk about postnatal depression and how once the baby is born they’ll be prescribing medication to fight this. Doctors will talk about how important it is to not be depressed while pregnant, and they’ll even suggest medication like ours initially did. But never once did anyone really discuss the likelihood of prenatal depression for my wife. I don’t know how the future would have turned out had we decided to take the medication. Most likely, the outcome with the pregnancy would have been the same.

But perhaps the difference would have been felt in the months after, when my wife and I were shattered. We live apart from our families and had very little support during this time. We had each other, and we have the strongest relationship because of it. It took a while to get back on track for both of us. I had my own spiral of darkness to contend with while trying to support my wife and just get right again. It’s when you suddenly see yourself as a parent only to have it taken away from you that you realize how fragile life can be. As partners and spouses, what can we do? I literally did every bit of domestic labor possible—cooking, cleaning, laundry, cat boxes—just so that all she had to do was eat right, get enough rest, and stay calm. But sometimes that still isn’t enough. That was hard for me to swallow because I thought if I could just take all those things off her plate, surely she’d be able to stay calm, not stress, not spiral.

I hope that other people can share their experiences here and elsewhere if nothing else so that couples everywhere can get the support they need.

Epilogue: My wife and I tried again a year later. No meds, but we were in a much better place mentally, physically, and emotionally. At an early ultrasound we saw and heard our baby’s heart beat, but sadly four weeks later, it was gone. Another spiral ensued. We rallied and sought answers from a reproductive endocrinologist. With some treatment in the first trimester, she has successfully carried our son for 28 weeks now. Even though writing this now makes me feel a little nervous, I am excited to meet him at the end of October.