“So many women experience anxiety, depression, and PTSD during pregnancy . . . You’re not alone.”
I was back in familiar territory at Women’s College Hospital. I’d been part of their Reproductive Life Stages Program before, but this time, sitting in front of the psychiatrist, I felt twice as vulnerable.
“I just . . . I can’t do it by myself anymore.”
She nodded, her eyes gently coaxing me to keep talking.
“I’m scared to . . . to do anything. Because I think something will set me off. I used to write so much and I can’t even because I’m just . . . frozen. I don’t know how to deal with the thought of bad news . . . I don’t know how to deal with good news. I want to write about it . . . I want to just tell my friends but I, I just can’t. I snapped at my 4-year-old for taking too long getting dressed this morning. I screamed at my dog for panting too loudly. I flew into a rage at my boyfriend who’s done nothing but be amazing . . . I just wanted to hate him and I honestly can’t even tell you why. The ultrasound technician gave me 9 photos of my baby. He said it was perfect and the heartbeat was beautiful. He told me to carry those photos around all the time and I do and I look at them and I still just don’t believe it’s happening. I’m so scared that I’m going to lose it that I don't go to the bathroom for hours because I think I’ll see blood. I, I’m broken.” It poured out of me in a crescendo, and ragged sobs cracked through the silence.
The doctor’s voice grounded me. “For what you’ve gone through, this is completely normal, and it’s great that you’ve recognized all the red flags. You’ve used all the tools that you have learned through therapy, and that has brought you through a lot. You’ve even recognized that you can’t do more by yourself. Give yourself some credit . . . and now we are going to figure out how to take some next steps together.”
I had never stopped to think of my coping mechanisms and ability to function in everyday life as any kind of success, so this stunned me a little. I had also never thought of my anguish as an opportunity to develop or grow—beyond peripheral, prosaic, existential exploration. The kind done on a lazy Sunday while sipping hot tea. The realization that I could change these feelings let me draw a deep breath.
“In addition to talking to our therapist, I also want you to consider going back on some medication while your symptoms are this close to the surface.”
I was on a minimal 20mg dose of Prozac throughout my last pregnancy for preexisting anxiety and mild depression related to my Crohn’s diagnosis. I had contacted Motherisk.org right away and felt assured that it was safe for the fetus along with my other Crohn’s meds, but a part of me always felt guilty for needing pharmaceutical bolstering even if my health depended on it. Then, in the first few months after I had Baby Girl, my Crohn’s flared along with the feeling of "overwhelmed" and all my medication doses went up.
After my first miscarriage, we upped the Prozac dose again to 40mg. After my second, we went up to 60mg. These decisions were never made by just one person and I always played an active role in how any and all medications would fit into my life.
My therapist at the time, my GP, my specialists, and my family had an open dialogue about everything—especially mental health. By the time I had separated from my husband, I had been tapered back down to 20mg, and later that year I was weaned off of it completely. I’d never felt like it was a failure to help myself any way I could—through therapy, meditation and prayer, self-help and reading, exercise, diet, and medication. So why did I feel so defeated and hurt by the sudden prospect of going back on meds?