Today's guest blog comes from DC mom and former client Katie B. She shares her path to motherhood and her journey with medication to manage her anxiety and depression. She is an amazing mother and shares her story so that others can learn, grow, and feel safe about getting help in various forms when needed.
I have wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. Every time I see a baby I have an instinctual response to snuggle him or her, and I calm down almost instantly when I hold one. I couldn’t wait to get pregnant and start a family—so much so that for several years I have had intense dreams that I am giving birth or already have a baby. Yet for much of the time leading up to conception, I was terrified of actually going through with it.
For my entire adult life, I have lived with depression and anxiety, so I knew that I was at a higher risk of developing perinatal and postpartum symptoms of both disorders.
I have a strong relationship with my psychiatrist and also reached out to a psychiatrist who specializes in postpartum disorders to discuss medication options that are safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. While this relieved much of my anxiety of being medicated during this period, I went through months of processing my guilt and conflicted feelings over the risks of staying on meds vs. weaning myself off them. There are still many unknowns about the long-term effects of SSRIs (I’m on Celexa) on children.
What really solidified my decision to stay on meds was the constant message from my ever-patient psychiatrist: the negative impact of maternal depression on children is significant. He reminded me of my severe depressive episode several years prior to conceiving my son. During this period, I could barely function. I experienced disordered eating, had low self-esteem, barely interacted with my husband, and felt fatigued all the time. There were also times when I literally felt like I needed to jump out of my own skin because I felt so bad about myself. I knew that motherhood alone would be a shock to my system, and adding depression and anxiety on top of that would be devastating for my family and me.
I luckily had a healthy pregnancy working with the amazing Midwives of Medstar at Washington Hospital Center, and with Nicole as my doula. My mood remained stable and anxiety was at bay for the most part. A huge contributor to my feeling consistently positive about staying on meds was the overwhelming acceptance and support from my care providers to participate in ongoing psychiatric treatment. My midwives never questioned my decision and when they asked about my mood, it was without judgment or overreaction---what a relief.
When my son Eli was born, I felt the rush of many different emotions coming at me seemingly all at once, which was overwhelming, as it is for most new moms. The emotion that most surprised me was fear. I can honestly say that for much of the time in those early weeks, I was terrified of my own child, mostly because I didn’t know if I would know what to do in response to his distress, or if he would take to nursing without fussing.
I also did not feel completely attached to Eli right away, which scared me and contributed to feelings of guilt that I was a bad mother. At two weeks postpartum, I called my psychiatrist who temporarily increased my dose of Celexa, because I started to ruminate on the littlest things, and couldn’t fully rest even when Eli slept.
The med change helped, but what really made the difference was keeping in touch with Nicole in the early days, and having her help me during the day a few times per week once my husband returned to work. While being able to nap and shower while she was at my house was a lifesaver, what I truly cherished was the advice and support she gave me, as well as the reminder that I was doing a good job—and also at this stage all I really had to worry about was keeping Eli safe and fed!
When Eli was five weeks old, I joined a P.A.C.E. group with eleven other new moms who had given birth around the same time. P.A.C.E. (Parent and Community Education) has been around the D.C. area for 40 years and is an 8 week educational and supportive group facilitated by a mental health professional who also happens to be a seasoned mom. Within a few weeks, I was essentially gifted a “mom village,” where each week we shared our insecurities, fears, and early parenting triumphs. The group normalized my early experiences with Eli, and helped me avoid isolation in the house, which in turn kept my depressive symptoms in check. We still keep in touch over email and social media, and have monthly “Moms nights out,” which I truly cherish.
Eli is 5 months old now, and I just returned to work on a part-time basis as a Clinical Social Worker. While it feels like I’ve been a mom forever, this journey is only still just beginning, and my experiences as a new mom living with mental illness has inspired me to be a support to other women with similar challenges. I am forever indebted to my mom village, care providers, loving husband and family, and of course-- my trusty SSRI-- for helping me develop a healthy relationship with Eli, and also with myself as a mother.