I Took Medication During Pregnancy, and I'm Still a Good Mom
Motherhood and mental illness are two things that don’t seem to go well together in most people’s minds. The media typically paints a bleak picture by sharing tragic stories where postpartum depression is involved. You never hear about the positive outcomes, which is why I was very happy to hear that Amanda Seyfried opened up about her struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and the fact she chose to take medication during pregnancy. I can relate — I have bipolar II, severe anxiety and Crohn’s disease and had to take medication during my pregnancy.
When my husband and I decided to start a family, I was filled with excitement and then terror. I know many first-time moms are scared to a certain degree, but I had more than the first-time mom jitters. I was entering the world of pregnancy and motherhood with multiple chronic illnesses, all of which came with medications I chose not to stop in order to control the symptoms. Before getting pregnant, I did attempt to stop my anxiety medicine and tried to manage it with exercise and therapy, but I progressively began going downhill. After five months, I was back to having panic attacks multiple times a day and was filled with debilitating fear 24/7. My mind wouldn’t stop racing, so I decided I needed my medication.
We didn’t go into pregnancy unknowingly. We visited a genetic counselor, talked to a high-risk pregnancy physician, my OBGYN and my gastroenterologist. They were all very confident that the baby and I would both be fine and strongly felt the benefits outweighed the risks when it came to taking the medication during my pregnancy. However, I didn’t take their word for it completely, so I dove into researching the topic myself.
All medications are put into category A, B, C, D or X. The category indicates the likelihood that a drug will cause birth defects if used during pregnancy. Drugs are classified based on studies and documentation of the effects when used during pregnancy. The problem is there is no ethical way to test these drugs on humans, so much of the data is based on animal studies or small studies of women who opted to be followed by researchers while taking medication. My Crohn’s medication has been around for a long time and as a category B, the benefits outweighed the risks. However, my psychiatric medications were both category C, which was basically a gamble in my mind. Some small studies showed adverse reactions, while other studies showed no harm. After combing the research and speaking with all of my doctors, I followed my instinct and took the medication because I didn’t feel mood swings and panic attacks would be good for the baby.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was consumed with fear that I was hurting my unborn baby with every pill I swallowed. I tried to keep calm, but I counted the days until my next ultrasound so I could hear the heartbeat. That gave me relief for a short time. At the 20-week anatomy scan, I was terrified. The technician checked everything and as she got towards the end of the exam, she told us we were having a boy. But, all I remember hearing was “everything looks perfect!” I had never felt so relieved in my life. Of course, I knew nothing is ever guaranteed, but I felt like we cleared a major hurdle.
For the most part, my pregnancy was smooth and I attribute that to keeping my illnesses under control. I knew I had a little boy that needed me to take care of him and I was no longer living my life just for me. I did everything I could do to keep my anxiety level low because I wanted to bring him into the world in a calm, peaceful manner. On November 22, 2014, our son entered the world and he was 100 percent healthy. His eyes were wide open, taking in the world from the moment he was born. As his little hand grabbed my finger and he looked up at me, I finally realized I am on the planet for a reason.
No woman’s journey is the same, but I hope all who have a mental illness and want to have a child, find the education and support needed to get through pregnancy and motherhood. I found out firsthand that you need to do a lot of your own research and become an advocate for yourself and your baby. There should never be a one-size fits all approach to managing mental illness during pregnancy. Every situation is different and nobody should ever make a woman feel guilty about their decisions regarding treatment.
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Thinkstock photo via Pimonova.