At my initial appointment with a reproductive psychiatrist, I explained my concerns and personal history with depression and anxiety. I told her that while I wasn't diagnosed until my late 20s, based on what I know now, I've probably had depression since I was a kid.
Both of my depressive episodes have happened after dealing with a major loss. I detailed the ways I “held it together” even during the worst of times. I was never suicidal, hospitalized, or even missed more than one day of work. There's no doubt that I have depression, the way the SSRI popped the gloomy bubble I’d been living in confirmed that. But, I could live in that bubble again if it meant I'd have a healthy baby.
The psychiatrist noted my resilience (a compliment I'd clearly been fishing for) and said that although I could “white knuckle” my way through pregnancy, I would probably still be depressed. Depression is not a feeling I can repress, it is an illness.
While more research must be done to determine the effects a mother’s antidepressant medication has on her offspring, psychiatrists do know that if a woman has experienced depression before pregnancy, she is at much higher risk to have an episode of depression during and after.
Untreated depression during pregnancy not only sucks for the mom, it can lead to premature labor, low birth weight, and a lower Apgar score (which judges a newborn’s appearance, heart rate, breathing rate, reflexes, and muscle tone.)
Even as a mental health advocate, those words were hard to hear. I instantly felt ashamed. Whether I continue taking my SSRI, or go off my medication to avoid negative outcomes, my depression could still affect my baby.
It’s ridiculous to feel guilty, especially considering that I’m physically far from perfect. If I am lucky enough to become pregnant, there’s a good chance my kid will inherit my asthma and allergies, which have always been far worse than my depression. Yet I’ve never felt ashamed of having asthma.
I still have time to make up my mind (Read: I am not pregnant), and the risk vs. benefit question still remains. The question about whether I’ll be symptom-free is off the table. I’m trying not to feel bad about that. But stigma, even self-stigma, is still a unnecessary side effect of mental health issues. Our “super parent” culture and the stereotypes of blissful pregnant ladies amplifies it even further.