I’m quickly approaching 30 weeks pregnant with our first child, and I’ve been thinking about stigma around mental health from what feels like a new angle. I’ve lived with anxiety and mild depression for quite a while, and feel very comfortable talking about how helpful I find a therapist and the fact that I take medication. Certainly there have been some negative responses, but at this point I don’t feel the stigma as acutely.
But. as I enter my third trimester of pregnancy, I’ve been thinking more about peripartum depression, and the stereotypes and stigma I’ve heard around this. I’ve heard things about it being fake, or women are just tired. I’ve heard “but they should be so happy they have a beautiful healthy baby!” I know women facing this kind of stigma, and, frankly, I’m scared of being in the same position and facing the same responses.
I have no idea whether I’ll develop peri- or postpartum depression at any point. I do know that some research suggests that as many as one in seven women who go through a pregnancy develop peripartum depression. I also know that other research suggests that I may be more likely to develop it, since I have a history of anxiety and depression. And, I know that I’m frightened of the stigma surrounding this potential struggle. (My fear leads me to think about all of the women who haven’t already found a good therapist and gotten to a place of self-disclosure with friends and family about previous diagnoses and/or struggles. How might they be feeling?)
One source of comfort I find is in passages that talk about how God knew me before I was even born (Psalm 139:13; Jeremiah 1:5). In my tired and overwhelmed brain these days, if God knew me before I was born, and loves me just as I am, I feel certain that I will be loved regardless of what happens. And right now, that’s what I need.
Hannah Campbell Gustafson
Hannah Campbell Gustafson and her family recently made a leap of faith and moved to Minneapolis, MN from rural Wisconsin. She is the outreach coordinator at Plymouth Congregational Church. Hannah is treasurer for the Mental Health Network, is trained as a social worker, has an MDiv, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC. She and her partner (an ELCA Lutheran pastor) share their lives with their young child Leona and their standard poodle puppy Óscar.