YOUR STORY: Shanice Ridley

In the Tennessee summer heat of July 2018, my husband and I became pregnant with our very first baby. Like many fathers-to-be, my husband was over-the-moon excited. Like many grandparents-to-be, our parents rushed out to buy every baby gadget and piece of clothing in a 25-mile radius. I notified my employer, who immediately began planning a work baby shower and arranged my time off with HR. And like many mommies-to-be, I felt blessed and very happy. At first. I began to ponder names for a boy or girl. I even enlisted the giddy teenage girls at my favorite Target to help gather items for a public announcement.

But as my first trimester went on, my emotions swelled alongside my belly. Everything that I may have been able to manage before became a trigger. When my pants wouldn’t button, a wave of body-image issues washed over me. I was less than a year into my new job and what if an ill-timed pregnancy kept me from progressing in my career? I had moved back home to Nashville to help take care of my aging grandparents, and how was I going to assist now? My husband and I were in the fifth and hardest year yet of our marriage, and it would’ve been ideal to work through that prior to having a child. All of the sudden nothing was right, and seemingly, couldn’t be fixed. I dreaded my situation, my pregnancy. When the morning sickness set in, it was like a physical manifestation of my life: in the toilet.

In general, I wasn’t the most social butterfly before the pregnancy, but even my close friends and family noticed a change. I avoided phone calls because explaining my feelings was too overwhelming. My mom eventually succumbed to sending cards in the mail. She would’ve attempted smoke signals. My husband and parents continued to remind me of how much support I had and how everything was going to be fine. The problem was I didn’t feel fine. Matter of fact, I felt worse than I had ever felt in my life. I felt depressed.

We have all heard of postpartum depression, but prenatal depression was not something that was familiar to me. But surely it was a thing, right? Surely there was some sort of explanation for what was happening to me. My lack of knowledge on it and the lack of general awareness made prenatal depression seem like some sort of mystical, abstract thing that I was making up. I felt crazy for feeling crazy. This was suppose to be the happiest time of my life. If this is how I was feeling now, how was I going to handle such monsters like postpartum depression or the baby blues after delivery?

I couldn’t come up with a positive answer, but I decided to fight for my happiness anyway. I asked my OB/GYN for advice. After showing up an hour late to my appointment, a habit I had made because of it being so hard to get out of bed, get myself dressed and drive to the office, I said, “Is depression normal during pregnancy?” She said it could be, asked questions and said I should see a therapist. Fine.

I cashed in on that plushy health insurance and found a therapist. Because I did genuinely want to enjoy this pregnancy. It was my first baby, and I didn’t want all my memories to be tainted by this heavy, dark cloud of sadness. On the couch, we discussed a lot of things. Sort of taboo things. Things that shouldn’t be taboo but that we make taboo. Like abortion, divorce, childhood trauma and fears of motherhood. Mostly, I felt like I was venting, but if nothing else it gave me a reason to get out of bed and make the effort to show up for something. I don’t know if I had any huge breakthroughs, but I was able to get through each day. I cried every day for about six months. I didn’t eat until it felt like my stomach would cave in from hunger, and then I binged on anything in a one-mile radius. I was angry at those around me and I was angry the most at myself. Despite all that, I took my prenatals, I stayed away from alcohol, I made a registry and hesitantly agreed to a baby shower.

In the end, I survived my pregnancy. It wasn’t glorious or beautiful, but I am now the proud mother of a perfect 10- month-old baby girl. It is a blessing to be able to enjoy her, myself and life every day. To all the women in the position of becoming a mother someday, hormones are a real thing. Depression at any point before, during or after a pregnancy is not anything to play around with. Please let someone know you are hurting, even if you can’t find the words to express exactly how you feel. To everyone: A woman’s feelings are valid and should be paid attention to. A woman’s control over the direction of her own life is valid. I am not a bad mom for saying that my pregnancy was the worst nine months of my life. I don’t recommend pregnancy or motherhood to anyone who doesn’t have overwhelming support available. As a survivor of depression, I can also confirm with 100-percent certainty that it will be OK. It may not feel OK, but it is. It may not be great, or even ideal, but it will at least be OK. You may be deep in the tunnel, but light is still there at the end, glowing and waiting for you.

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