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"I regret putting so much pressure on myself to wean off my medication prior to becoming pregnant – when it wasn't necessary."
Antidepressants aren't "happy pills"
I've been on antidepressants since I was 23 years old. Before that, I was stressed, moody, snappy, and just overall depressed. I either cried about everything or I felt nothing. I had zero sex drive. After ruling out other causes, like abnormal thyroid levels, my doctor put me on an antidepressant.
I had conflicting feelings about taking the medication, and I confided my thoughts to a friend who is a psych nurse. She told me something that reinforced the fact that it was a good idea: She said, "Once you're at a good therapeutic level, you'll just feel … normal." She was careful to say that antidepressants aren't "happy pills" – they're normal pills. The pills were what I needed to feel normal.
And that’s how I felt for four years – until my husband and I decided to try for a baby. My gut instinct was that less drugs had to be better for the fetus, so with the help of my family doctor, I tried to wean off my antidepressant in increments.
But I began to feel crappy again, so I couldn't completely stop. I ended up at a dosage that was below where I started – a partial victory.
At 28, I was still taking the antidepressant when I got pregnant. My new ob-gyn put me on a different drug, but I had a horrible reaction. I went back to my previous medication and tried again to lower my dose – and was actually able to do it this time and stay stable.
What helped me when I was depressed
I knew from reading articles about pregnancy and depression that a mother on antidepressants versus an untreated depressed mom means a better outcome for the baby. My OB confirmed this was true, and that made me feel better about my decision to stay on the antidepressant.
As it turns out, I didn't give my depression a second thought while I was pregnant that first time, because I was so physically sick: I had horrible hyperemesis gravidarum [severe nausea and vomiting] for 21 weeks. I had some bleeding at 11 to 14 weeks and a lot of anxiety around that. But I felt that it was normal anxiety about normal pregnancy complications, not my-brain-running-away-with-me anxiety.
I felt miserable physically, but mentally I was feeling fine.
After my baby was born, I had some bouts of anxiety and a few crying episodes while trying to figure out breastfeeding in the first few weeks – the result of an undiagnosed tongue-tie – but I had a lot of support from family and friends.
We left my antidepressant dosage the same for the first six months postpartum. But then I started thinking about trying to get pregnant a second time. Again I had the strong desire to attempt a medication-free pregnancy. So I started to lower my dose.
Now, nine months after having my baby, I've been able to fully wean from the antidepressants completely – something I wasn't able to do before. I can't say exactly why I'm okay now without the drugs. I think a lot of it has to do with maturing.
I can read my body way better now – I'm more in tune with what's really going on when I'm feeling stressed out or distancing myself from other people. I'm pretty quick to notice that and share how I'm feeling with my spouse or a close friend. I've reached out to the employee assistance program at work, too, for phone counseling.
I've also developed much better methods for coping with stress. Carving out a half hour to take a bath and drink a glass of wine goes a long way. I also find going for a walk helps, even if I have to push myself to do it. Just feeling the fresh air and noticing little things around me makes me feel better.
What I wish other moms knew
If you know you want to get pregnant and are on antidepressants, talk to your doctor about the medication type and dosage. Looking back, I regret putting so much pressure on myself to wean off my medication prior to becoming pregnant – when it wasn't necessary.
Read more moms' stories about depression during pregnancy.
As many as 1 in 10 pregnant women suffers from depression. Many don't get help because they're ashamed of how they feel or dismiss their feelings as normal pregnancy moodiness.
If you experience symptoms of depression, tell your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Or contact Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773 for free, confidential advice and help finding a therapist or support group in your area.