I saw a commercial the other day that should have scared the piss out of me. It was one of those low-budget, lame graphics, stern voiceover spots calling all “victims” to a class-action law suit. This particular suit is for mothers who took one of many listed anti-depressant medications during her pregnancy and gave birth to a baby with … um, I’m not even sure. That’s how little attention I devoted to the screen, even though I am a mother who took an anti-depressant during both of my pregnancies and subsequent breastfeeding years.
My history with the class of drugs called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) had been relatively brief at the time my husband and I felt we were ready to start trying for a baby. But the era that the drugs ended, one of constant anxiety and relentless panic attacks, had lasted far too long. I was terrified at the thought of possibly going back to the fear-based life I had lived for so many years, but obviously worried about what effects this medication might have on a developing fetus.
As usual, internet research (I know, why did I even bother?) was inconclusive and my attempts at anecdotal discovery were futile. My very caring and honest psychiatrist didn’t feel she had enough knowledge on the subject to provide me with a recommendation either way, so she referred me to a shrink who specialized in reproductive psychiatry. Learning that such a specialty existed helped remind me that I wasn’t the first woman to face this question. It also meant there had to be a body of research on the topic. This was the start of my relief.
The goodness continued at our meeting with the doctor. She listened as I recited my abridged life history and asked all of the questions I hoped she’d ask. What are your panic triggers? (A: Mostly physical.) How would you characterize your attacks? (A: Severe.) Have you experienced bouts of depression? (A: A few.) After speaking with my husband and me for an hour, this doctor concluded that I would very likely relapse, so to speak, if I stopped taking the medicine. She reasoned that the negative effects of depression and a near-constant pounding of stress hormones on a growing baby would be far worse than anything that 100 daily mg’s of Zoloft could do.
Instinct had been telling me all along that staying on the medication was the right thing to do, but receiving such unequivocal advice from an expert really sealed the deal for me. Actually, I take that back. It was later that same day, while I was sitting on our roof deck and crying out of frustration, wishing that this didn’t need to be a concern of mine. I consciously opened my heart and mind to the wisdom of the Universe and asked for guidance. A few minutes later, there was just one thought at the front of my brain: “Your baby will be okay. Keep yourself healthy.”
Pregnancy, and the months immediately following, can be the most physically and emotionally demanding period in a woman’s life. Because a mother’s health is her baby’s first line of defense, she should do what needs to be done in order to safeguard her well-being. I was definitely given a fair amount of crap from various sources for my decision to stay on medication, but my faith in my decision was strong.
Thankfully, both of our children were born healthy and complication-free. I realize there is no guarantee that some yet-to-be-discovered long-term side effect won’t pop up in the future, but know I did the right thing for myself and my children. Like it or not, I’m a better mother because of the medicine I take, and that’s been true from the very beginning of my parenting journey.