Hello to everybody! I know I dropped out of sight for a while, not just in terms of posting but also in terms of commenting. I wasn’t ready to talk about why, but having just received good news and passed a benchmark, I am now.
After years of trying to maneuver myself into a good situation and despairing, and not as many tries as I had feared, I find myself pregnant! I am delighted—I know I’ve mentioned on these boards how much I want to have a baby, and how anxious I was getting as the calendar pages flipped over with no possibility in sight. I just passed the first trimester, and my screenings have all come back with good news—my baby (because this is a wanted pregnancy and I’m thinking of it as a baby, I will use the word “baby”) is healthy, as far as modern medicine can tell thus far. What I hadn’t realized was how exhausting pregnancy is. I’d been told, but I hadn’t fully understood. Six o’clock rolls around and I’m ready to pass out. I haven’t been able to engage as much as I would like in any number of things, Feministe included. And I’m sorry.
I feel and am extraordinarily lucky to have the family I have, the support I have, the health insurance and access to medical care that I have.
One of the major decisions I had to make was what to do about the medications I’m on to keep my depression in remission. There’s a lot of anxiety flying back and forth about pregnant women taking any medications, let alone one as new and unknown as one of the meds I’m taking. Hell, if you order sushi in the US someone is likely to tell you off. I originally tried to do what I thought was the good, responsible thing and taper off my meds.
This went over like a lead balloon. I went down one milligram on one of my meds and within a few weeks I was passing the time by idly wondering how I would kill myself if, you know, I decided to do such a thing, not that I was planning on it, but I wanted to make sure I would know what steps to take if I did decide to, just because you never know. Because that’s a totally normal train of thought to follow while zoning out on the subway. Nothing crazy about that, no sir. (It’s my mental illness, and if I want to characterize the thought processes it entails as crazy, I will do so. I know it’s pejorative. I mean to be pejorative. My depressive thought processes are the product of mental illness and also should be condemned. They are detached from reality, incorrect, irrational, self-destructive, and corrupt. But if you would feel better if you mentally substitute “fucked up” for “crazy,” that’s fine by me.)
So I went to see a specialist in reproductive psychiatry (I live in New York City, don’t you know)—and again, believe me, I know exactly how lucky I am to be able to do that. She met with me during a four-hour consultation and at the end told me that whatever possible, minor, and even as-yet-unknown potential side effects my medications might have on my developing baby were completely dwarfed by the significant, major, and enduring effects my depression would definitely have on my developing baby. I was floored—I’d never before considered that my depression could hurt a baby I was making, but indeed, the doctor told me that they can test children even at three or four and still find significant differences—and not good ones—between children whose mothers were depressed during pregnancy and those whose mothers were not.
Why should I have been surprised? I think it’s part of the bizarre mentality in the US that somehow we can separate the interests of a developing fetus/soon-to-be baby—or even an actual child—from the interests of the woman making it or raising it. This has gone on for a while, to the point that scientists actually had to prove that if pregnant women are malnourished, their babies will suffer. The original incarnation of welfare in the US was just ADC—Aid to Dependent Children. No provision was made for their mothers—because as long as the kids get some food, having a starving mother won’t hurt them, right? Alcoholism is bad for the babies of pregnant women. Smoking is bad for the babies of pregnant women. Guess what? Alcoholism and smoking are bad for the women as well. But we don’t give a shit about women, so instead of understanding those things as self-destructive, and the women who engage in them as making the best they can of a difficult situation we run around acting as if pregnant people—people with wanted pregnancies—are willfully trying to harm their babies.
Depression is a whole body illness. It upsets eating and sleeping patterns. It dampens your immune system. It causes physical pain and difficulty as well as draining you of energy. It removes your ability to care for yourself. We can see it in the physical make-up of our brains. Why wouldn’t it affect my baby? To say nothing of my misery. I count too. I am not just an incubator.
The New York Times would not run an article encouraging women with asthma to abjure maintenance medications while pregnant. Or women with diabetes. Or women with any other chronic non-mental illness. But shortly after I made this decision, it did run one attacking the wisdom of staying on anti-depressants while pregnant. I know this because my grandfather helpfully emailed me and asked if I’d like him to send it to me (I said no thanks, I’d consulted with doctors and was perfectly happy with my decision.).
I think that’s irresponsible. It’s dismissive of mental illness. It’s dismissive of women’s suffering. It’s dismissive of the damage depression can do to mother and child.
And I’m glad to link to this rebuttal piece by psychiatrists specializing in the field.
Forgoing anti-depressants is not like skipping one’s daily latte (and quite frankly, unless you’re consuming superhuman levels of caffeine, having a latte is fine). It’s not like having seltzer with dinner instead of wine or beer. It’s not like skipping the sauna. Anti-depressants are not a minor indulgence, a luxury, a frill on my daily life. They are, for me and for many other people, an essential medication that prevents a debilitating chronic illness from consuming my life. I depend on them. That means everybody who depends on me—my godson, my family—depends on them too, because without them I can’t function. That’s what it means to have a chronic illness. And being pregnant doesn’t make that go away.
I’m writing this to provide information for anyone else out there who takes anti-depressants and is contemplating pregnancy, or is already pregnant. You have a right to your health, and so does your baby. You’re not being “selfish” if you stay on your meds—you are taking care of yourself and taking care of your baby too.