Making the decision to start taking an antidepressant is usually not an easy one. For me, it took weeks of soul-searching before I actually got my prescription filled. I was met with resistance from family members about my need for medication and told I was taking the easy way out. It was a struggle to take the plunge and start taking Cipralex (escitalopram), a common SSRI, but I eventually found the strength to do so.
About two years after beginning treatment my husband and I began planning for a family. With my doctor’s guidance, I wanted to lower my dose. He advised me that the dose I was on wouldn’t harm the fetus and my ob/gyn assured me she’d delivered many healthy babies from mothers who’d taken much stronger medication and in higher doses.
But there was a maternal instinct inside me already that wanted to keep my baby safe and as far away from medication as possible. Over the course of several months, my doctors and I were able to lower my dose by half. I was very proud of myself and felt I was finally ready to start trying for a family.
We conceived within three months and about five months into my pregnancy my anxiety attacks came back, with a vengeance. I’d managed to stave them off pretty well up until then, but my hormones were running wild and it was starting to have an effect on my day-to-day life. I could only push the negative self-talk down for so long until it came out of me like vomit. My anxiety was manifesting itself in the middle of the night; I’d lie in bed thinking about work for hours on end and how my expanding belly was starting to slow me down. I pride myself on my work ethic, so the thought of not giving 110% because of my pregnancy, especially in the cut-throat world of media, was starting to take a real toll on me.
One night, my thoughts began to turn suicidal. I started sobbing and hyperventilating; I was so nervous I would do something irrational and harmful to myself and my unborn child. I clung to the mattress, knowing that if I got out of bed I would go to the kitchen, grab a knife and hurt myself. I couldn’t stop visualizing what I would do to myself if I got out of my bed. I woke my husband and told him how I was feeling and laid there crying in his arms, unsure of what to do.
In the morning I called in sick to work and went straight to see my ob/gyn, with my husband beside me. She told me, “babies are born in wartime,” and that the stress I was feeling would have no effect on the baby, but she put me off work for the week. I left the office even more upset than when I’d come in; it felt like my doctor was telling me that the way I was feeling wasn’t legitimate. I could see where she was coming from, but surely a dead mom is going to have some effect on the growing baby, right?
I immediately made an appointment with my family doctor. He’d been following me from the start of my depression and anxiety. He assured me everything was going to be OK and that he’d get me help. We came up with a plan to start increasing my dose of Cipralex slowly, to better manage my symptoms. My doctor also told me that it was in my best interest to stop working and take a sick leave. That was a tough pill to swallow; I had to put my pride aside and put my health first. I knew I was letting down everyone at work. I worked for a local radio station and we were weeks away from a ratings period and had just had company-wide spree of lay-offs. The last thing anyone needed was my absence. But I knew that it was either that they’d need to endure that or, possibly, my funeral.
It was in that moment that I decided to put myself first, not just for my unborn child but for my sake. I knew that I needed to stop worrying about whether or not I was letting anyone down and start treating myself with grace and make my health a priority. That’s hard enough for many of us to do when we’re just taking care of ourselves, but it’s even more important when you’re carrying another little life inside of you.
Eventually, medication lifted that heavy blanket of depression so I could get out of bed in the morning and take positive steps toward a happier, healthier pregnancy. For the rest of my pregnancy I spent my days practicing self-love, for the sake of myself and my son. I gave myself permission to start enjoying my pregnancy. The shift in my physical and mental attitude — made possible by my medication — quickly transformed my pregnancy from the lowest point in my life to the highest. Now I look back at the last half of my pregnancy and think of all the great memories I made with my unborn son while I was focusing only on taking care of both of us.