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Pregnancy or Prozac? Why I chose both

Why I chose both

By Rhiana Maidenberg |

When the two drugstore pregnancy tests came back positive, I took a picture with my phone, emailed my husband, then had a mild panic attack. My first daughter was now one and a half, and my body finally belonged to me. I was exercising regularly, eating well, beginning to sleep consistently, starting a new writing project, and feeling like I could have it all. I was in love with the little family I had created and had a great set of supportive friends. Did I really want to go through it all again?

It wasn’t just the dread of night feedings, colicky babies, and sore nipples that made me nervous. I worried that my firstborn had taken all of me. My first was a demanding baby, who turned into a demanding toddler. But I cherished the little screamer with every muscle in my body. What little she left of me I gave to my husband. There was no more to spare.

But perhaps all these fears were just my hormones acting up. When my first trimester ills finally improved, I thought that my attitude would as well. Unfortunately, without morning sickness to blame, it became obvious that I was coping with more than the average pregnant mama; I was slipping back into a cycle of depression that I’d dealt with for the past 18 years. This time it was not only affecting me, but my husband, my daughter, and my unborn babe.

Depression is horrible, but suffering from depression while pregnant is absolutely brutal. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, somewhere between 14 – 23 percent of women wrestle with antepartum depression. In some ways, this depression can be more difficult to manage than postpartum depression, as many OB/GYNs are uncomfortable with pregnant women taking antidepressants.

I took Prozac while pregnant. Would you? — Paula BernsteinPregnancy depression meds up miscarriage risk — Rebecca OdesNew parents and depression: How common is it?Ceridwen Morris

In general, SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors/antidepressants) are considered relatively safe – but not optimal – during pregnancy, a time in which all medication taken crosses the placenta and reaches the baby. Since most antidepressants are new to the market, little research has been conducted to examine the effects on a developing fetus. However, some of these medications have been linked to fetal heart problems, low birth weight, and colic. These were my reasons for discontinuing Prozac the day I discovered that I was pregnant with my second child.

Over the next few months, I fell deeper into my depression, barely being able to care for my toddler, let alone myself and the baby inside of me. Days would pass where I forgot to eat a proper meal, and nights would pass without more than three hours of sleep. I felt as though my mind and body were betraying me.

Each morning I would drag my sorry self out of bed, dreading the tasks that lay before me. Although I still felt great affection and love for my daughter, I was losing this love for myself. Unlike my first pregnancy, I couldn’t bond with the fetus. It felt less like a baby than a parasite sucking the life and joy from my body. I did my best to hide these emotions from friends and family. Instead of admitting the depression, I blamed the insomnia and joked to friends about swollen ankles and the inability to sleep on my back.

And then the day came when I couldn’t function any longer. After months of insomnia, I mentally collapsed. As I was driving my toddler to her gymnastics class, I began to cry, and I couldn’t stop. Instead of turning right at the stoplight, I veered left and drove my car to a friend’s house. There, I spent the morning sobbing on her couch as our children watched Dora and ate Cheddar Bunnies. That afternoon, my mom came for the long weekend, and I continued my breakdown.

With the support of my doctors and my family, I checked myself into the hospital for observation. While I wasn’t necessarily suicidal, my will to live was diminishing quickly. All doctors were in agreement that what was best for me and the baby was to go back on my medication (Prozac for depression and Ativan for anxiety and as a sleep aide). It appeared that the intense hormones that accompany pregnancy, along with my decision to suddenly stop my Prozac, and the demands of mothering a toddler, created a perfect storm for my depression to escalate. While I was trying to blame the insomnia for driving me nutty, the depression was actually causing the sleepless nights.

Once the medication began working and my sleep returned to a semi-normal state, my general mood greatly improved. Soon after came the day where I was actually excited to wake-up and be with my family and friends. I began to love my life again and found that I had plenty of love to give to the new baby. When my second daughter was born, my anxiety disappeared and my heart swelled with each of her gas-induced smiles.

However, life back on the medication came with some new anxieties. Was it right of me to put my own needs before that of the baby’s? Was I selfish for wanting to bear children at all? Would my girls receive my anxious and depressed genes? But these new worries in my head were not nearly as loud as the old ones – that I didn’t have the ability to love and care for my family, that I wasn’t capable of being their mother. As the weeks passed, it became clear to me that I had the ability to be a wonderful mother. Taking medication, in fact, was the opposite of bad parenting.

Today, I am still faithfully taking my Prozac each morning. I now know that I will never again take myself off my medication. In my twenties, I felt shame and remorse that I needed a little happy pill each morning to stay balanced. Now, I have new reasons that remind me to swallow that capsule; I take my medication for my family, so that I can be present, positive, and able to be the best parent I can. Taking antidepressants is not my choice, it is my responsibility.

In the end, it is difficult to say that the medication adversely affected my daughters. While they are both headstrong drama queens, they are also inquisitive, empathetic, and intelligent. Who knows, maybe they would have been neurosurgeons had I not taken my little green pills each morning. In any case, I am fine with raising general practitioners. My children are being raised by a happy and healthy mom who they know loves them unconditionally, and to me, that is more important than any adverse side effects to Prozac.

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About Rhiana Maidenberg

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Rhiana Maidenberg

Rhiana Maidenberg is a freelance writer, escaping her two young daughters by writing in various San Francisco coffee shops. In her blog, Married with Toddlers, Rhiana explores the challenges of raising toddlers and husbands in the current super-mommy, super-wife, super-everything environment.

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27 thoughts on “Pregnancy or Prozac? Why I chose both

  1. Supportive says:

    If you were a diabetic, you wouldn’t feel guilty for taking insulin during pregnancy, would you? You absolutely made the right decision. I’m just sorry you didn’t get enough support early on so that you felt empowered to stay on your meds from the beginning. It seems like you had to hit bottom to feel like you deserved to take care of yourself. But truly, being an engaged and healthy mom is the best thing you can do for your kids! Best wishes for many years of good mental health!

  2. Thank You says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’m going to comment anonymously as I also suffered ante-natal depression but am not brave enough to post about it. This article will help many people. I have two children, and I suffered during my second pregnancy. I was afraid to take any medicine during my second pregnancy, and I damaged my own health severely. If we are brave enough to have a third child and the antenatal depression returns, I have resolved to take the necessary medication. Thank you again. I’m sure you’ll have some haters commenting on this post, but they haven’t been where you and I have been. I wouldn’t wish antenatal depression on my worst enemy.

  3. Supportive says:

    Also, here is an excellent informational resource: http://www.womensmentalhealth.org/.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I grew up in a era that depression is a state of mind and you are a weak person to take anti-depressents. I actually was really never close to anyone who had depression, that is until I meant Rhiana and when she was going through this ordeal I truly understood that depression is a valid disease! The guilt of being a parent is hard enough without adding a does of depression to it. Rhiana is one hell of a trouper!!

  5. Kristen says:

    Thank you for being brave and honest enough to share your experience. My mother suffers from depression, and I am thankful every day for the medications have helped her regain her energy and spirit.

  6. Tara C. Robinson says:

    This is so refreshing. Rhianna is a down-to-earth writer with such an honest portrayal of a pregnancy/motherhood crisis yet without any of the stereotypical guilt. I for one would love to see more from this promising writer.

  7. BlackwellBethany says:

    my best friend’s mom makes $77 an hour on the computer. She has been out of job for 9 months but last month her check was $7487 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read about it here CashBrave.com

  8. Heather in Ohio says:

    It might not have been depression causing the sleeplessness… there is a kickback/rebound/withdrawal phase when you stop Prozac. It’s almost impossible to go *off* Prozac without the withdrawals, and until you’ve gone through the withdrawal phase, it’s impossible to really know what part of depression you actually own, and what part is caused by withdrawal symptoms.

    There are currently class action lawsuits against Prozac for birth defects. Prozac can cause heart defects, lung defects, brain & spinal cord defects, missing limbs, cleft palate, cleft lip, and PPHN (persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn).

    I’m glad your baby turned out healthy and okay, but anyone who is reading this and thinking just because your baby survived, theirs will be okay, should seriously consider the risks and alternatives before risking the quality of life for their child.

  9. Chloe says:

    Thank you! I could have written a very similar post. I weaned myself off my SSRI when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Went from being reasonably functional to sleeping 12-14 hours at a time between crying jags. Even my husband, who hates all meds especially anti-depressants, was alarmed by the change in my behavior. At 17 weeks my obgyn put me on Wellbutrin. The difference was night and day! I was able to function and feel good about myself, and take care of my body. Gave birth to a healthy, full-term baby boy and breastfed for 18 months. I’m still taking the Wellbutrin plus now I take Ritalin for my ADHD. When we found out about our second unexpected pregnancy I asked my primary dr if I should stop the Ritalin. We discussed the benefits and risks and decided it was better for my family and me to continue. As an experiment I cut my already-low dose in half and am functioning very well. At 29 weeks my baby’s heartbeat is strong and healthy, his ultrasounds have looked good, fundal height measurements have been consistent and everything they’ve tested for has come back normal. We’re all optimistic that I’ll deliver another healthy baby boy. I’m not saying everyone should make the choices I did, but lots of mothers with chronic medical conditions take meds that may or may not be safe for their babies. Sometimes you can get away with going off your meds and finding another way to manage your condition. In other cases the benefits of staying on your meds may outweigh the risks of discontinuing them. Any expectant mother on meds needs to do her research, talk to the trusted professionals in her life and make the decision that’s best for her and her family.

  10. Compadre says:

    Thank you. Just thank you from a fellow mama who spent many days feeling guilty for having to swallow a pill before realizing that the true crime would be robbing my family of my whole self. Now I’m grateful every day that I live in a time when my disease can be treated and I can take part in my own life. Having been into the depths of darkness the light only seems brighter.

  11. Amy says:

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story. I hope this helps others understand the seriousness of depression and the importance of carefully considering all one’s options, especially while pregnant.

  12. Oddstray says:

    I completely get this dilemma. But this is serious. Put your own oxygen mask on before you help your kids.

  13. Erika Beseda-Allen says:

    thanks to this brave woman telling her story.

  14. Rhiana Maidenberg says:

    When I wrote this piece, I wanted to share my story so that other women going through similar experiences would feel less alone than I did. While I am 100% confident that i chose the path that was best for me and my family, I know that this is a personal decision that must be made by each mother. Yes, there are class-action lawsuits against Prozac, but what drug doesn’t have at least two or three lawsuits pending? The research has not found any birth defects linked to Prozac, but it has found many complications linked to depressed pregnant mothers.

  15. w says:

    I had a very similar situation with my second child. I stopped taking Lexapro the day I found out I was pregnant as well. For the first 11-12 weeks I seemed to just be a normal emotional preggo woman then, all the sudden I hit a wall and was having a total nervous breakdown. Imsomnia and such bad anxiety I too was loosing the will to live. Unlike you, when I went to the hospital there was little or nothing they would do for me. Finally my ob/gyn put me back on my lexapro and gave me ambien for insomnia. Slowly I became stable again. It was the scariest experience. My husband had to take a leave from work to help take care of me and our 3 yr old daughter. I never lost my love for her, but I was unable to focus on anything besides my panic and insomnia. I would literally sit in the car or by the computer for hrs listening to worship music and singing because it is the only thing that made me feel better. I never realized I could get to the point I was at. I was scared I would never bounce out of it. Luckily I did and I only had to take the ambien for a mo and I had a happy healthy son.
    Thank you for this article. There are so many women who struggle with the guilt of choosing themselves over their unborn baby, but that is not what we are doing. Like someone else mentioned, If you had diabetes and you found out you were preggo, would you stop your meds?? Depression and anxiety is a very severe illness and if left untreated it only gets worse and worse. So many people who do not suffer from the disease dont understand how real and dangerous it is. I strongly feel ob/gyn doctors need to be prepared better for these situations. I felt very alone in my battle. It seemed no one really understood what was happening. It is definetely a road I will never go down again. I am still taking my happy pill and although plans of weaning myself of are in the future, I will never do it unless I am ready and being monitored by my psychologist and doctor.
    One more thing. I know other mothers judge people like me who took meds that could be unsafe to the unborn child. I too was terrified that the medications were harming my baby. I prayed everyday for my child to be born healthy. It was not really a choice to take the medications it was I needed to survive. At my lowest point I was considering abortion which I am totally against, but my suffering was so extreme I just wanted it to stop.
    Ok, I will stop rambling, It is just a subject so close to my heart. I came out stronger and so much closer to God.

  16. Supportive says:

    To Heather in Ohio:

    The risks you mentioned are theoretical. I’ve now had two healthy children, one while on Lexapro and one while on Zoloft. During both pregnancies, I worked with psychiatrists who specialize in women’s mental health, particularly during pregnancy. Neither of them had ever seen a case of birth defects caused by or linked to antidepressant use during pregnancy. It certainly is possible, but as Ms. Maidenberg said, the risks to babies of depressed mothers have been documented in significant research. And most of all, we deserve not to live in misery!

  17. Elsie08 says:

    Love that article. I had stopped my meds when I found out I was pregnant and wound up with crippling depression. About half way through my pregnancy I started Zoloft and it made a huge difference. Next pregnancy, I’m staying on it! I don’t think I can live without it. Thank you for the article.

  18. Micheal Meyer says:

    my best friend’s mom makes $77 an hour on the computer. She has been out of job for 9 months but last month her check was $7487 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read about it here NuttyRich.com

  19. s says:

    I am currently 10 weeks pregnant and I am suffering depression. I’ve been dealing with depression for nearly half my life and know that I’ll soon be in that dark place that all depressed people fear. I had stop taking my medication because of my own fears; my OB/GYN is wonderful and encouraged me to stay on the medication. My fears won out but after reading your article I understand that to provide a safe place for me and my unborn child that the medication my doctor prescribed is the best course to stay on. Thank you for speaking out about the elephant in the room.

  20. Erick Meisser says:

    Dr. E Many may not wish to hear this but the drugs you are chatting about are proven to cross the barrier from mother to unborn child. The little “insert” that you have a right to, or should be in the box will tell you of the danger, in the PDR it is left up to the physician as to if it is worth the risk to the unborn child. Most of us say no. I know this is hard truth to look at. I hope you can. http://youtu.be/g7rACI-WJEw How do you define better anyway?

  21. thank you says:

    thank you for sharing! i have been struggling with depression & anxiety for years. over the years i’ve tried several meds and lexapro was deemed the one which was most beneficial. when i found out i was pregnant in june, my dr asked me to discontinue use. i have and have struggled off and on without it. its definitely been a challenging road – this is our first so i don’t have anyone else to worry about just yet aside from myself, my husband, and dog. i’m doing my best to fight through it and if i do get to the point where i just can’t handle it anymore, i will seek a psychiatrist since my OB is very reluctant to give the go ahead. i have just under 4 months left until my due date so i guess i shall see how it leads me. but in any case, i appreciate you sharing the story…its always nice to know you’re not alone. all the best.

  22. dontvow says:

    One should NEVER NEVER NEVER discontinue psych meds cold turkey. Drs. are idiots when it comes to these meds and people are suffering all over the US. They ARE dangerous to the fetus and if you cold turkey off your meds, you will experience excruciating side effects. Educate yourself about these meds. They are POISON!!!

  23. Jesus York says:

    My best friends mom makes $77 an hour on the computer. She has been out of job for 9 months but last month her check was $7487 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read about it here NuttyRich.com

  24. Taylor Harris says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I fell into the same cycle of anxiety/depression when I came off meds in my twenties. I have chosen to switch from Paxil to Zoloft for my childbearing years. It’s always comforting to hear another writer’s story, and Babble has been a nice place for these narratives.

  25. Nelly Frect says:

    very touching story i too went almost the same and thank you for this story but i felt much better when i read here you should too read it http://is.gd/Yo5fib

  26. Nelly Frect says:

    very touching story i too went almost the same and thank you for this story but i felt much better when i read here you should too read it http://is.gd/Yo5fib

  27. Martha says:

    While in this extreme case the risks of the medication were less risky than the risks of not tkaing it, it is typically better to avoid SSRIs as the injuries can be permanent to the child and/or even fatal. I just hope this doesn’t inspire woman that COULD do without to take medications that have harmed baby babies.

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