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Andrea Sutherland, 32, is a mom of three who works as an engineering coordinator at a New York City hospital and lives in Queens Village. When she was pregnant with her third child she began experiencing peripartum depression and enrolled in clinical trials at Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health. The study examined peripartum and postpartum depression. She shares her experiences with TODAY.
This pregnancy felt different from the beginning. With my older children, I remember excitedly buying them clothes, bottles and toys and decorating their rooms. This time, I felt no enthusiasm. I cried constantly and felt angry and upset. Soon, I wasn’t able to keep up with making meals and cleaning. When my children asked for help with their homework, I couldn’t do it. Before becoming pregnant, my daughter, Khaleesi, 5, and I would read together every night, but I couldn't muster the energy to continue this tradition.
I sometimes forgot to bathe my children and rarely bathed or even brushed my own teeth. I forced myself to eat but I mostly stayed in bed crying. Every time the baby kicked, I felt sadder. Every ultrasound just reinforced that I was pregnant and the helplessness I felt.
When I was about three months pregnant, I was waiting in the doctor’s office and I saw a flyer for a research study on peripartum and postpartum depression. Reading a laundry list of symptoms, I realized I had peripartum depression, a depression that begins while a person is still pregnant. I enrolled for this study, which involved me sharing how I was feeling.
While I knew that describing my emotional state would help researchers understand mood disorders in pregnancy, it was hard admitting that there was something wrong. Telling someone that you’re thinking about hurting yourself or your baby makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. I didn’t want to feel that way and I felt ashamed when I shared those thoughts.
Once I realized that I had peripartum depression, I told my partner and family so they would understand why I wasn’t acting like myself. I wanted them to appreciate that I was sick and I might need a little bit more patience from them. My family gave me loads of support and still do, which helps me tremendously.
Participating in the research kept me motivated even when the depression felt so overwhelming. After I had the baby, Ethan, I joined another research study looking at treatments for postpartum depression. That’s also when my depression was at its worst and I thought about me and Ethan dying a lot. I couldn’t care for him and when I saw Ethan felt nothing. My depression rippled and affected my family. My daughter, who was a good student, started struggling in her classes. My house was a mess and it felt like my entire life was collapsing.
When I heard about the study looking at possible treatments, I knew I had to sign up for it. As part of the research, I took a medication, and I felt like it worked almost immediately. Suddenly, I wanted to cuddle Ethan. I wasn’t having negative thoughts about myself or Ethan. I felt excited about work and cleaning my house. After two weeks of taking the medication, I truly felt like myself again.
Now I cope with stressors more easily than I did when I was depressed. I feel confident and less anxious. Everything feels like it did prior to my third pregnancy.
I feel it’s important to share my story so people with peripartum and postpartum mood disorders do not feel isolated and alone. There’s no shame in having depression or any mental health condition. And, there’s help. While I found help through research studies, there are therapists and doctors trained to help people with their mental health. Asking for help isn’t embarrassing or a sign of weakness. Don’t be afraid to reach out. I believed I was strong enough to fix myself. I’m a mom — I do it all. But I couldn’t transform into super mom and fix my depression. But I am glad I found someone who could help me.
I also wanted to share my story to encourage more pregnant people to consider participating in research studies. Many fear being involved in studies while pregnant, but it does help experts better understand conditions that impact us.
Ethan is 7 months old and he’s a laid back infant who loves giving kisses and snuggling. I feel grateful that I received help and can enjoy him without postpartum depression.
When I returned to work, a co-worker approached me and mentioned she had postpartum depression and I shared that I experienced the same thing. I am grateful that I could help her feel less alone and understand that postpartum depression is normal and there is help for it.