Mental Health and Pregnancy

Psychological Health during Pregnancy

Pregnancy comes with a lot of changes in the body of a woman. Other than physical changes associated with pregnancy, there are also psychological changes. The psychological condition of a woman during pregnancy depends on the life situation of a woman at that very time. For a married woman who has been trying to have a child, this can be the happiest moment of her life. She gets her husband’s, friends, and family congratulations and support. This woman is likely to experience good psychological health during her pregnancy, especially if she will not experience a lot of pregnancy complications that can create fear, anxiety and discomfort.  The situation may be very different for a woman in an unstable relationship or for a girl who was just having fun and not ready for marriage, children and all those complicated stuff. I am one of those girls who received pregnancy news with despair and shock. I was right from the campus, with nothing to hold on to. I had just completed the last exams, had not even received the results. I was so green in the world and I did not know what to do with the news. Coming from a poor family of 13, I had the unspoken responsibility of assisting my parents to educate others (black tax). However, even before I could secure a job, I was here faced with the new responsibility of being a mother. My boyfriend had graduated a year before me but had not secured a job we could depend on. In addition, the last time I had met him, something made me unsure about our future together. The whole situation made me very scared of my future and this affected my psychological health. A number of thoughts came through my head, including abortion. The clinic attendant who gave me the news saw my despair and offered to help. But what help could she give? I just brushed it off and went away. I later called my boyfriend about the news and he sounded shocked but positive. But this did not last for long. He changed drastically. There were no frequent calls as I used to get, and mine could go unanswered and unreturned. I realized this was my burden and I had to make a decision on how to handle everything. Having been raised from a strict catholic family, abortion was the most scaring thought that could cross my mind. But this does not mean that I did not consider it. I actually did a number of times. But I feared God’s punishment, especially based on the stories on how invisibly baby’s cries would torment a mother after abortion for the rest of her life. I also feared that the process, which could only be done in backstreet clinics, since abortion is illegal in the country, would result in total body destruction, denying a chance to get a child later in life. There was also the danger of death while going through the procedure, and how this would destroy my family’s reputation, among other things. Moreover, I did not have a single coin to pay for this service, which was supposedly expensive being illegal. After a number of sleepless nights toying with the abortion idea, I decided to keep the pregnancy and to face what comes with it.   

Keeping the pregnancy is a decision that would be wowed by many; however, it has its own challenges. As a fresh graduate, with no money, I had to think of how to survive, Going back home was not an option following my poor relationship with my mother since; a story of another day. I had to get a job, though I doubted there could be any employer willing to take me with my condition. This made me less choosy. I had to take any task I could manage that would allow me to get a few coins to prepare for the coming of my baby. I searched for at least 5 months before I could get anything. As a matter of fact, the pregnancy was approaching its prime age where one could hardly hide it. This means within the second month of employment as a receptionist with less than $3 payments per day, the employer had realized my tummy was growing abnormally and maybe suspected that I was pregnant. This simply meant that my employment would be short-lived as the employer was unwilling to incur the maternity leave cost. But luckily, my work spoke for itself and he was willing to give me 1 month paid maternity leave.

I somehow managed to go through my pregnancy though not without a number of psychological distress. Other than lack of support from the key players including my boyfriend, and family members, I lost all my friends. It was a hard time for me. I lacked financial and emotional support. The majority of my friends actually ganged up to laugh at my fate. Overcoming this situation was hard. I had to turn to God for support. I would cry while alone and wonder about life, destiny and genuineness of any relationship that exists in the universe. Every individual would expect support from the close associate during a bad time. However, all my associates treated me as an outcast. I was left alone in the wilderness. I could only receive assistance from strangers as an act of Good Samaritan. However none and I mean none of those people I expected to help make the slightest effort to do so.

This is what most young mothers are experiencing in life. Serious psychological distress especially caused by rejection, abandonment and ridicule by very people one anticipated support from. One is labeled a failure in life for getting pregnant before marriage or settling down in life. While I was able to survive the hard time, not every young mother can manage it. Some go down with depression during pregnancy and later with postpartum depression after birth. While such situations are not well handled, the psychological situation of a pregnant woman can affect the child’s health and to some extent subject both the mother and the unborn child to various life risks, including self-harm. A number of teenage and young mothers who are not well settled in life are pushed by moral judges into contemplating suicide or using uncouth methods of abortion, just to escape societal prejudice. While a child is regarded as a blessing in the African community, in such situations the child becomes a curse to the mother. Harsh judgment of the mother, rejection, and prejudice pushes most mothers into depression, affecting the health of the unborn baby.

Although women facing challenging life situations during pregnancy are highly likely to experience depression, depression is not limited to this group. Any woman can get depression during pregnancy, hormonal changes that result to change in the chemical composition of the brain. Pregnancy brings a new and unique experience to a woman. The uniqueness may sometimes stretch into causing depression among other discomforts.

Causes of Depression during Pregnancy

  • Age while getting pregnancy (young women; especially teenagers, are more likely to experience depression than older women)
  • Preparedness for the pregnancy (women handling accidental pregnancy are more likely to experience depression)
  • Support system during pregnancy (rejection, broken relationships, and abandonment are likely to increase the chances of depression)
  • living alone and lack of friends and family support can also increase chances of depression
  • Having depression history increase the chances of experiencing depression during pregnancy
  • Uncertainty during pregnancy (this include both relational uncertainties and financial uncertainties)
  • Domestic violence or marital conflicts

Signs of Depression during Pregnancy

Sometimes it is hard for a woman to single out depression from other pregnancy symptoms or changes. It is therefore important for pregnant women to know signs of depression.

  • feeling of sadness, worthlessness, and hopelessness
  • loss of pleasure or interest in activities that one used to enjoy during normal times
  • crying most of the time and for no reason at all
  • lack or loss of energy and the feeling of enthusiasm
  • Changes in sleeping routine, particularly sleeping too much or experiencing trouble sleeping
  • Change in eating habits and appetite which is characterized by having little desire for food or eating too much   

Effect of Depression during Pregnancy

Depression during pregnancy has a negative effect on the life of a mother and that of an unborn child to both the mother and the unborn child. Some of those effects include;

  • Miscarriage
  • Preterm delivery or delivery before the actual date
  • low birth weight or delivering an underweight baby
  • Risks of being suicidal

To reduce the chances of pregnancy depression, one should try to get the necessary support from people who are willing to offer it. Being spiritual and depending on God can also go a long way in offering a strong support system. Planning and avoiding accidental pregnancy can also ensure mental stability. It is easier to handle parental responsibilities when a woman is financially and emotionally stable. As women, we should try to get babies when we are well prepared. Being in a well-defined relationship that has to be officiated can be one way to ensure good mental health and support during pregnancy. Financial stability is also necessary whether in a stable relationship or not. This may not solve all possible problems that can occur, but it can help one to survive even after abandonment or rejection. Healthy pregnancy results in a healthy baby focus on having a healthy pregnancy.