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The Stigma of Anti-Depressants: I Should Have Taken the Damn Pills

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by Ellen Seidman, writer of 1,000 Perplexing Things About Parenthood and Love That Max

“Maybe you need some antidepressants.”

That was my doctor talking to me the year I had my son. I rarely went to see her for a physical, but I was totally run down and thinking I had take care of myself because I had a baby to care for—in a major way. My son, Max, had brain damage. He had a stroke at birth (yes, babies can have strokes), and was at risk for not walking or talking, cognitive impairment, even vision and hearing loss. It was a big-ass stroke that had hit both sides of his baby brain.

Those months after Max’s birth were the hardest ones of my life. I was getting used to being a mom (and the sleepless nights), having trouble breastfeeding, grappling with the grief. Nobody could tell me what Max would be like, and that terrified me. I just wanted to know. I spent the majority of my maternity leave going to doctor appointments, arranging to get Max therapy through our state’s Early Intervention program, researching strokes and seeing if there were experimental treatments to try. That winter was one of the coldest, snowiest ones on record, and our house never felt warm or bright. I’d stroll around with Max strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn, the only way he would take naps, feeling the chill—and the dread of the future.

Bundle of joy? No. I took no joy in my beautiful baby. I stared at him and didn’t see the cuteness—just signs that something might be wrong. Like the way he stared into the lights. Or when he never cooed at me. I felt lost and very alone. I cried all the time—in the car, in the shower, in bed in the middle of the night. I cried the hardest the morning that a neonatologist examining my son looked at me and said, gravely, “His future looks ominous.”

The months passed. Work was a welcome distraction, although concentrating wasn’t easy. The anxiety and worry were overwhelming and ever-present. I’d talk with my husband, but he was in denial and acting all sorts of overly optimistic. I didn’t want to freak out my parents, so I’d put on a happy face when we spoke. Friends wanted to listen but I never felt like anyone knew what I was going through.

“How’s Max doing?” people would ask. “Oh, he’s coming along!” I’d say, as brightly as I could, never revealing the despair I felt.

Finally, I went to see my doctor. Through tears, I told her what had happened to Max. She cried, too. Then she suggested antidepressants.

I grew up in an anti-medication home. My mother used aspirin only as a last resort. At the dentist, I could get Novocain only for a really deep cavity. My parents were loving, caring parents who meant well, but they believed in the least amount of medication possible. I never realized I’d ingested their anti-med attitude, but I had, to some extent. I was also breastfeeding, and worried about passing along drugs to Max though now I know I shouldn’t have been.

Mostly, though, I didn’t want to be dependent on meds to boost my mood. I’d always been an I-can-deal-with-this person. And even though I was facing the mother of all crises in my life, I thought I could handle it.

And so, to the doctor I said, “No, I think I’ll be OK without medication, let’s see how it goes.”

I left and continued to be sad and anxious and filled with worry for months to come, but I did not go back to the doctor. Somehow, I got by. And as Max progressed and time passed, the fog lifted.

I wish I’d said yes to those pills, because I was for sure dealing with postpartum depression. Surely they would have helped me savor Max’s delicious-ness, as he was not the least bit cuteness impaired. I take great pleasure and pride in him now, but I will never get back the baby joy I missed out on back then.

Those pills I so quickly rejected would have, in many ways, made a terrible time in my life less awful and more manageable.

There would have been no shame in taking antidepressants. I would not have been weak for using them. No, if anything, I would have been stronger.

Please support Katherine Stone’s efforts to create a national campaign for raising awareness for postpartum depression.


One mother’s story: Postpartum depression nearly killed me– then I had another child.

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6 thoughts on “The Stigma of Anti-Depressants: I Should Have Taken the Damn Pills

  1. Alicia says:

    Please don’t feel guilty about not taking the pills. I know something of how you feel. I ended up with major mental health issues after my son was born, and for the first three years of his life I had to deal with them. And even though I was diagnosed in 2007 (with Bipolar II Disorder) and started treatment, it took two years for me to be put on the right medication so that I felt “normal” again. So I look back and have a lot of regrets, but at the same time I know that I can never go back and change things, so I focus a lot on what I do now, and my interactions with my son now. That’s all that we moms who end up with mental health issues after the birth of our children can do. I mean, I had a worry about taking pills for a long time too, but in the end we simply did what we thought would work at the time, even if it turned out to not be the best thing to do. But I do agree that talking about our own experiences to help encourage other moms to seek the help they need is a good idea. To other moms out there: There is *no* *shame* taking medication to help with any depression you’re dealing with. It *won’t* make you feel artificially happy, it will only help you return to your personal normal. And you may not even need it for very long, but even if you do, there’s no shame in it. You’re *not* weak for taking them. You’re simply dealing with a brain disorder that’s no different than any other health issue you may need medication for.

  2. Rosstwinmom says:

    I feel the same. I didn’t start getting treatment for my PPD until my twins were 7 months old. I missed 7 months of their lives that I can never get back.

  3. K. C. says:

    This piece has me in tears. I currently take anti-depressants. I don’t know if it was PPD or what, but after two kids in two years, it was definitely something. I resisted getting help for so long because I was sure I could deal with it myself. Stupid. I wasn’t enjoying my children, my husband, or my wonderful life. The meds have helped me become me again; I’m not a super-Pollyanna, but I never was. I’m grateful for my doctor and my husband who stood by me when I wasn’t myself. Bless you for writing about this and letting people know that seeking help is not weak. Hugs to you!!!

  4. Sanriobaby =^.^= says:

    Thank you for telling your story and while I don’t have history of depression in my own life, I know others who do, and anitdepressants has save thier lives in countless ways. It’s a shame that there is still such a stigma about anitdepressants and overall mental illness, particularly with post partem depression. I hope that others who read your story will see the need for help themselves and will be inspired to speak to someone about it. Depression is a awful thing to go through and no one should feel bad about having it and needing to take medication to help them.

  5. Bradford Hutchingson says:

    With all due respect, this story sounds like it was written by a publicist for the drug companies. How can you have any idea how you would have felt if you had taken drugs that nobody can say for sure will do anything? That is highly illogical, and irrational. So-called “SSRI’s” – “Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors”, are the current “go-to” drug for “depression” / “PPD”. The now-discredited theory that blood serotonin levels directly correlate to mood / depression, still lingers in the collective consciousness. The scientific TRUTH is that persons with low blood levels of serotonin can be quite happy and not “depressed”, and high blood serotonin levels can be found in “depressed” persons. Modern medicine now knows of over *200* different chemicals that the brain manufactures, and that can determine our state of mind. But, besides an autopsy, there is NO way to measure ANY brain chemical in a “normal” person, much less in a person with so-called “mental illness”. And, ALL of these chemicals only exist in BALANCE with OTHER chemicals. Bottom line? That quack head-shrinker really has LESS of a SCIENTIFIC idea what is going on chemically in your brain than YOU DO! At least YOU know how you feel! “Post-Partum Depression” is a very real phenomenon, which results from mom’s body going back to it’s pre-childbirth chemical state, which is largely determined by hormone levels. The single biggest factor in relieving PPD should be regular, steady, moderate exercise. Walking, swimming, and Yoga / Tai Chi type exercises are IDEAL for both Mother and child. The drugs companies ONLY want to sell YOU DRUGS, which they make HUGE profits off. The drug companies don’t care about you at all. They only want your money. For the record, yes, I WASTED over 20 YEARS of my life with “psychiatrists”, and their POISON PILLS. They almost killed me several times. Today, I am almost 20 years “clean” of both the QUACKS, and their POISON PILLS. If I knew then, what I know now, I would NEVER have even gone to a “psychiatrist”, or taken their toxic drugs. And, despite my age ~ 55 ~ , I am more WHOLE, HEALTHY, & HAPPY, than I have EVER been, and it is just getting better. Thank GOD! Yes, you COULD BE among the 5 – 10% of the population who actually does improve, for reasons as yet unknown, when on psych drugs. But chances are, you’re one of the 90 – 95% for whom these drugs do far more harm than good, in the long run. We humans have survived for 1000′s of years without these drugs. If we “needed” them so badly, how come we survived? Easy. We DON’T NEED these DRUGS. Educate yourself. Start by googling “Dr. Peter Breggin, “Toxic Psychiatry”. PLEASE! Only YOU can choose to live DRUG-FREE and HAPPY. May God and Buddha, BOTH bless you! ~bradford.

  6. Bradford Hutchingson says:

    “Stigma” is an *ARTIFACT*, which is created by the “mental illness business industry”, to justify selling YOU vastly over-priced DRUGS, at obscene profit margins. And, to SCARE YOU into thinking that you “need” them. Trust me, you don’t need their drugs.

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