Let’s Talk Prenatal Depression – It’s More Common Than You Know
Note: So, heads up to the males reading this blog post. This is a post about prenatal depression. Generally, I like to keep topics on Still I Run relevant for both genders, but I really felt the need to speak about this depression during pregnancy. It’s something that the women in your life can experience, but it’s a topic that’s talked about even less than just “normal” mental health. Even though this topic has to do with pregnancy, I hope you’ll stick through it. It reveals the power of the brain and gives insight to those of you that may have a wife/girlfriend/sister dealing with prenatal depression. Most importantly, it continues to add to the positive conversation around mental health.
When I found out I was pregnant with my first child this May, my first thought was “holy shit” and my second thought was “what about being on antidepressants”. Since I wasn’t expecting a child so soon after getting married (hello honeymoon baby!), I thought I had time to learn more about antidepressants and pregnancy. All I really knew about the topic, before a couple months ago, was what I’ve heard from others: It has risks.
When we think about depression and pregnancy, we only think about it in terms of postpartum. To be honest, prenatal depression wasn’t even on my radar since I was so entirely focused on what to do AFTER baby comes because I have all the risk factors for postpartum. Well, there’s more to pregnancy and depression than postpartum depression. There’s also prenatal depression (also called antenatal depression) and it can affect 20% of pregnant women.
Pregnancy and Antidepressants
When I found out I was indeed pregnant, thanks to the confirmation of the nurse at my doctor’s office, she and I had a quick conversation about continuing my antidepressant medication. She said that being pregnant would actually increase the level of serotonin in my brain so chances are I could go off my medication until baby arrives. When I told her I had an appointment with my psychiatrist two weeks later to discuss all of this, the nurse suggested I get a head start on titrating down on my medication by doing one day off the pill and one day on. That sounded alright to me since I was just informed my new pregnant brain would start to compensate for the lack of serotonin my normal brain makes.
Only, it wasn’t alright. Even though I was still taking my antidepressant medication, I realistically cut my dosage in half. I started getting horrible headaches and brain zaps. The physical problems weren’t that bad though. I could deal with those. It was the thought processes that started creeping into my brain that became worrisome. My depression was back in full force. All of a sudden, my excitement about bringing a new life into the world went away. I no longer wanted to have a baby. I felt clouded, sad, and weepy and I simply did not want to exist in any capacity anymore. Sleeping became my go to because it was better than being awake and depressed.
It feels awful to say I didn’t want my baby, but depression is a strange thing. We definitely don’t give the brain enough credit for how powerful it is. It can change what should be the best moment of your life and cloud it with thoughts that are not reasonable.
Going to the Psychiatrist
When I finally had my appointment with my psychiatrist, I filled him in on everything. With the type of medication I’m on and the dosage I take, very little of it makes it to baby (about .01% makes it to the placenta) and there’s no scientific evidence of it affecting baby’s intellect or behavior. Additionally, the medication does not increase the risk of birth defects above the standard 3-5% population risk.
Even though we talked through this all, I still wasn’t comfortable with being on an antidepressant because of what I’d heard from others. That was until my psychiatrist started telling me that sometimes it’s an even greater risk to a baby in the womb for the mother to let depression go uncontrolled. Untreated depression during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, preeclampsia, low birth weight, and a plethora of other harmful things. So, with knowing all of that, the two of us came up with a plan to titrate my prescription down MUCH more slowly than what the nurse at the doctor’s office had suggested.
I tried this for two weeks and unfortunately, it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. I was able to titrate down to a certain extent, but definitely not all away. Everything I’d felt earlier in the pregnancy came flooding back. Any excitement I had about the baby, went away. I wanted nothing to do with planning a nursery, making Pinterest boards, starting a registry etc. My self-worth went down and I suddenly felt super claustrophobic; like I had no control in my life. It was awful. Then, on top of that, I started feeling mommy guilt for not being able to completely come off my medication.
Getting Even MORE Confirmation
So, I called my dad. Not only is he an anesthesiologist, but he’s currently in the home stretch of getting his Ph.D in Psychiatry. He echoed everything my psychiatrist said and assured me that staying on a low amount of my prescription was just fine for me and baby. In fact, the person that faces the biggest risk staying on the medication is me, but I’m fine with that if the end result means I can carry and deliver a healthy baby. This isn’t about me, it’s about baby. As if reassurance from my psychiatrist AND my father wasn’t enough, I also got the ok from my OB to continue just the way I am.
I’m feeling better than ever now. Baby is kicking up a storm (probably a future runner) and I love it every time I feel movement. Our baby registry now has more items on it than it probably should and my Pinterest board is full. Annnd I pretty much talk about baby every day. I can’t wait to raise this child.
Having said all that, I’m super thankful I’ve been able to get out and run to help with my mental health this whole time. I don’t think I would have been able to get to the dosage of medication I’m currently on without running. It’s been so instrumental in keeping both baby and I healthy. So far I have just over 250 running miles under my belt since getting pregnant. I’ve also been able to run races every month and will continue to do so until I no longer can. No matter what, Still I RUN!
Why I’m Sharing
The reason I talk about this so candidly and in the open is because when I first mentioned prenatal depression and my struggles on Instagram, I was met with an outpouring of support and dozens of messages from other moms saying they’ve been there as well. That’s when I realized my experience of having depression while pregnant is not one of a kind. There are millions of other women out there that have been through the same thing! The unfortunate thing here is they probably felt so alone and ashamed. I mean what woman wants to feel depressed when they’re literally creating another human life from scratch. The good news is we don’t have to feel alone or ashamed! We’re not alone. My goal here is to communicate medical facts from medical experts, my experience, and to help others through this and I hope it did just that.
If you’ve ever dealt with prenatal depression, I’d love to hear from you. How did you cope? Did you titrate down on your medication? Did you take up running? And more importantly, how is your beautiful little one?