Counselor & Therapist

When depression hits before the baby is born

May 21, 2024 • 6 min
depression before baby

I knew I was in trouble. 

The problem was, I didn’t know what to do about it. This is depression, isn’t it? The voices in my head screamed at one another. 

You have a spiritual problem. 

You are selfish. Just be joyful, and this will go away. 

Our bodies and minds are plagued by a sin cursed world—of course I’ll battle difficult thoughts and selfishness.

Oh, quit it. You are just justifying your own sin!

Lord help me. I want to be released from this prison of darkness! 

These oppressive thoughts snapped back and forth like a tennis ball in my fragile brain. No one knew. I was alone—tormented and too weak to claw my way out of this space.  

I had heard about postpartum depression before.  But no one warned me this type of depression could come. 

The kind that hits before the baby is even born. 

Like darkness closing in

I was pregnant with my second baby, and my oldest, Emma, had recently been diagnosed with a syndrome which would affect her throughout her entire life.

The syndrome manifested in delayed motor skills and excessive growth, and for most of my second pregnancy, Emma was unable to walk. She weighed thirty-five pounds, and I needed to carry her everywhere, which damaged my already strained pelvis. 

Walking itself was painful, but carting around a toddler the size of a four-year-old? Excruciating.  Additionally, the emotional agony of Emma’s diagnosis and its ensuing strain on our marriage was tearing me apart. I was constantly in pain, lonely, and bathed in grief over having a special needs child.

Darkness closed in around me.

Concerning preterm labor signs in early April dangled the hope of being released from this pregnancy and its mental and physical hardships much earlier than my June 11 due date.

I chided myself. Who hopes their baby will be born early? Certainly, I wanted a healthy baby. What would people think of me if they knew how I felt? 

The more deafening the thoughts were in my head, the quieter I became.

April crept into May, and I was still pregnant. I slipped into deep depression.

I sat in the living room with the blinds drawn, quit answering the phone, and cut myself off from interaction. I was sick of being pregnant and disappointed that my oldest child had been slapped with a lifelong diagnosis. I felt increasingly distanced from my husband, and my heart ached.

Joy and light were absent.

I knew the truth. I knew about the tender, unconditional love of the Lord, His acceptance of me, and His work on the cross for my sins. 

But none of that knowledge was able to pierce through the darkness that had taken over my mind and soul. I was utterly helpless. 

This struggle felt like sin.

Lost in the dark

As the calendar crawled toward the end of May, I felt cheated. I was hopeful I would be done with this pregnancy weeks earlier, but now I found myself in the third week of May, still pregnant. Still lost in the dark.

Finally, my husband Andrew grew concerned enough about my depression to make an honest phone call to the doctor. She wanted to see me as soon as possible. 

I silently lectured myself on the way to the doctor. What is wrong with me? How come I can’t just be happy? I am growing a healthy baby, and the longer he or she is in there, the better!

I secretly hoped the doctor would find some legitimate medical reason to induce me. It would release me—both from my pregnancy and the secret shame over wanting to be done.

My doctor walked into the room and looked at me with kind eyes. 

“How are you?” she asked kindly. I couldn’t speak. The tears were too near the surface. I couldn’t control them any more than I could control my thoughts. Wet drops streamed over my cheeks, which were now hot with embarrassment. 

My face gave her the answer she sought. I wasn’t ok and couldn’t fight my way back to the surface on my own. Andrew had not sugar coated my mental plight when he spoke to her.

“Eileen, you can’t do this yourself.” She patiently described antenatal depression and explained that at thirty-eight weeks pregnant, we didn’t have time to wait for antidepressants to kick in. 

She checked my cervix, discovered I was two centimeters dilated, and offered me an induction date for later that week. 

“I don’t want to force things,” I told her. “But I desperately need to be done.” I wept, anguish mixing with more tears.

I hobbled out of the office, the conversation with my doctor replaying in my head.

I finally had what I thought I needed, and yet all at once, a million new, painful thoughts came crashing in. What if the baby isn’t ok? I could never forgive myself if we induced and something went wrong! The doctor had found a “legitimate” medical reason for induction. Now I was scared that reason wasn’t good enough. 

The Lord doesn’t want us to fight alone

However, the arrangements had been made, and we welcomed a healthy baby boy a few days after that appointment. He was born in a dangerous position. Holding my beautiful—albeit extremely bruised—son, the darkness faded. It was as if someone finally flipped on the lights inside my head. 

It took me many years to accept that the awful darkness I had been in was valid. I sometimes wonder if the Lord, in his mercy, allowed my depression and my son’s early arrival to ensure my baby was born alive. Had he been any bigger and stayed in that position any longer, he could have easily broken his neck during birth—which would have been utterly devastating.

Looking back on that season of darkness, I wish I had spoken up sooner, and not pretended I was fine (outside the privacy of my own home). Many weeks I spent suffering silently, shaming myself that I wasn’t grateful enough, spiritual enough, or joyful enough. I could have sought help weeks before and saved myself (and my family) from so much pain and grief. 

The Lord doesn’t want us to fight alone. He said He will fight for us. Sometimes the Lord fighting for us looks like medical intervention, whether it’s medication, counseling, or, in my case, an induction. 

Antenatal depression is no small enemy, certainly not one we can fight alone. The Lord assures us that He knows what we will go through—what we are going through—and He wants us to be victorious! I am thankful that, while I did suffer for a time, by the grace of God—and by utilizing available help—I saw victory. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace…will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 

Joyful light can shine through the darkness once again. 

Consider a few extra resources:

About the Author:

Eileen VandenBerg

Eileen VandenBerg lives in Ravenna, MI with her husband and seven children, three of whom are adopted. She is passionate about foster care, adoption, special needs kids and is a fierce advocate for children with medical complexities. She writes about looking for gifts in everyday life with a bustling family, as well as lessons learned through trials along the way.

You can connect with Eileen on substack

More from Eileen →