Pregnancy and Mental Illness: Building a new brain while trying not to lose my own

Wow, so the last time I wrote a blog was four months ago – when I talked about doing Dry January! And while everything I wrote was true, I may not have been completely honest. 

While I did do Dry January, I’ve also been doing Dry February, March, April and May… because I’m pregnant! And that’s why I’ve taken such a long hiatus. Because, well, pregnancy is a lot harder than I thought it would be!

If I’m being honest, I really didn’t prepare for this at all. I’d always been on the fence about having children of my own. When I saw other people’s babies, I never had that tingle in my ovaries, thinking, “Oh my god! I want one!” Instead, I thought, “Oh, he/she is cute…okay, that’s enough, you can have them back now!”

But, for my husband – just like some people you meet and know they were born to be a singer or a scientist or whatever – I’ve always known that he was born to be a dad someday. Without a doubt, I knew that’s what he was meant to do. 

So, being with someone I could actually picture having a child with for the first time, I decided to “take out the goalie” (aka stop taking my birth control) soon after we got married – thinking, “Okay, whatever happens, happens!” Not knowing how my 35-year-old uterus would react, I thought I’d have time to prepare. But that ended up not being the case as, the very next month, I watched as the word “Pregnant” appeared on my plastic test. 

Don’t get me wrong, I realize how lucky I am that I didn’t have to struggle. I know for so many people that’s not the case. But, when it happened for me right away, I was not mentally or emotionally prepared AT ALL, and I had not weaned myself off my anxiety medication like I thought I would. So, all of the sudden, I had to cut myself off cold turkey. And, let me tell you, it was rough. 

I knew I was supposed to be ecstatic about the news, but instead, I felt so depressed that I, honestly, just wanted to die. Now I know that was because, on top of all the changes going on inside my body, I was also going through withdrawal. And, while it took some time to figure it all out, I found ways I could take care of myself and my mental health while being pregnant. 

There are still meds you can take

I found out from my gynecologist that I could keep taking my daily Celexa medication while pregnant. Celexa is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Certain SSRIs are an option during pregnancy because they aren’t linked to birth defects, and they have been proven to pose the lowest risk to unborn babies compared to other antidepressants. This has helped me continue to regulate my mental health throughout my pregnancy. 

Unfortunately, I did learn that the Xanax I was taking is a “Category D drug," meaning it could lead to complications for my baby, such as miscarriage, developmental abnormalities, preterm delivery and dependence on the drug after birth. My gynecologist advised that I stop taking that and also stop taking Trazodone, which I used to help me sleep.

My gyno told me that a good alternative for Trazodone is the over-the-counter drug Unisom, which is considered safe during pregnancy. And, while it took about a month for the Unisom to work – since I was still getting used to being off Trazodone – it has really helped me sleep ever since. If that doesn’t work for you and you need something stronger, other safe options for pregnant women are imipramine or amitriptyline, which can be prescribed to you by a doctor.   

Sadly, there isn’t really a safe drug comparable to the fast-acting effects of Xanax. But there was one thing my gynecologist told me that helped me feel a little better. After the first trimester, she said, “You can still take Xanax once a month AT MOST in case of an emergency!” (Note: MAKE SURE to ask your own gynecologist before doing this). I’ve only taken advantage of this advice once since finding out I was pregnant – taking a 10 mg Xanax when I was about to have a full-blown panic attack in the middle of the office. But just knowing it’s there if I need it – even if I don’t actually use it – has felt like a relief and has helped me cope, at least more than I did when I thought it wasn’t an option at all.

Let others support you

I realized that besides, obviously, cutting out medication cold turkey, there was something else that was really harming my mental health during my early pregnancy. And that was keeping it a secret. 

While many people choose to wait 12 weeks to tell anyone, I decided to tell my close family and friends earlier than that because I really needed the support. I realized, why am I waiting when, if anything did happen to the baby, these are the people I would tell anyways. 

So, if you’re feeling alone and want to tell your mom or your best friend right away, then do it! There’s no rule for when you should start telling people. Let people support you. 

I’ve also learned to ask for help. If I don’t feel good, I have no problem asking my husband to take on my fair share of the chores so I can relax. And I take full advantage of the fact that, if I tell my husband I’m craving a milkshake or a Cinnabon, he will rush out to get it for me. I will also always let a friend or a stranger pick up something heavy for me, and, most importantly, I no longer feel guilty if I have to cancel plans last minute. Being pregnant is hard work, and you deserve to take advantage of all of the things that make it even the slightest bit easier. 

Remind yourself that your fears are normal 

As someone with anxiety disorder, my brain perpetually lives in “worst case scenario” land. Being pregnant, it’s even worse, and I find myself actively trying not to get too attached to the baby because I’m scared something bad will happen. 

When my stomach hurts, I freak out that something happened to the baby, and when I don’t hurt at all, I freak out that something happened to the baby. When this fear strikes – and it strikes often – it helps to go into a quiet room, lay down, close my eyes, and put my hand over my stomach. I try to focus on the flutters inside my belly to remind myself, “My baby is okay. He’s in there, and he’s moving right now.” 

I also try to remind myself that I’m not alone. While being pregnant may seem isolating, it’s something millions of women do each year and will continue to do until the end of human civilization. These fears I’m having, they’re not uncommon, and most women who are freaking out like I am do end up having healthy babies and healthy deliveries. 

Instead of Googling, remind yourself of this fact whenever you’re feeling particularly anxious. Continue to get your regular prenatal checkups and talk with your gyno about your worries. Make sure to ask your doctor about medication alternatives, and talk with a psychiatrist or therapist if you need additional help. Most importantly, know that you are doing the best you can, and you have a whole tribe of other mamas behind you who know what you’re going through. 

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