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.
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.