More on Depression

Looking back, I know that it probably sounds a bit weird that I talked mostly about my mom’s reaction and not so much about my husband’s. In fact, I told her that I was going off the drugs before I told him; not an intentional thing, but I’m not surprised that it worked out that way. My mother currently pays for my antidepressants, and it took her a long time to figure out what was wrong with her strangest and most broody child—but once I ended up in the hospital, she really started to get it. She read a book called something like When Someone You Love Is Depressed and told me that she thought I must have been depressed even as a toddler. Certainly I don’t remember a time before depression.

My father knew David Foster Wallace slightly, and his death caused my parents’ concern for me to kick into high gear; Dave had apparently gone on and off the only antidepressant that worked for him often enough that it stopped working. I hadn’t known that that could happen, but my mom (a healthcare provider) has become terrified that it will happen to me. It’s not an unreasonable concern, I guess. I went through several brands that did nothing for me before hitting on a useful cocktail, although there are still a number of meds I haven’t tried. I have gone on and off several times, sometimes because my insurance has ended, sometimes because I feel awesome and totally don’t need them (yes, that is the one that freaks my loved ones out, because it’s sort of spookily dumb), and once because I was pregnant.

Part of the problem for the people who care about me is that I hate the idea of antidepressants. I used to worry that they would scoop out my personality and leave me some kind of Stepford Lady, but that’s not something I worry about anymore. I’m still me, just with more energy and less despair. When I was a teenager, it was hard to accept that my depression doesn’t make me interesting, but now I can accept that it in fact makes me phenomenally boring; I sleep too much and lose affect and withdraw. Wow, how artistic and enviable. But I still hate the fact of being on drugs, and no number of comparisons to diabetes/insulin is going to help. So my mother’s concern is twofold: she is worried that I will become suicidally depressed and she worries that I am glad to have an excuse. And in some ways she is right to—I certainly think about staying off until I’ve had two kids so that I don’t have to go on and off an extra time. Heck, that was my plan after Cricket was born: just stay off until I’ve had a baby of my own and weaned him or her to solid food! That was not a good plan; this one may not be much better.

There’s an online community I’m part of that includes a number of parents and pregnant ladies. One woman in particular wished to become pregnant, did, and then had a stillbirth—and then was yelled at by several people in the community for choosing to have a baby while having MS and being on several drugs known to cause birth defects. It was complicated, and I didn’t join in the screaming at a grieving woman, but I did worry (privately) when she got pregnant again about ten months ago. She had her son about a week ago, and was confident that she would not get PPD; once he got to be a couple of weeks old and stopped sleeping all the time, she fell hard. Luckily, her family had been expecting it, and she’s getting treatment, and it’s all going to be okay. Several woman in the community have gone through PPD, and my anecdata suggests that the thing most likely to end in PPD is a woman being 100 percent sure that it won’t happen to her. I’m trying to inoculate myself with self-awareness and concern. Also, I am completely onboard with a “sleep when the baby sleeps” plan; if the apartment looks like hell for awhile, well, we do not often entertain. As long as everyone’s eating and sleeping, we’ll get by. I do know that a high-needs baby can trigger PPD, and while Cricket was exceptionally mellow, I was a firstborn and exceptionally mellow baby—my next sister was a screaming, colicky infant. I’m trying to figure out which precedent applies to the little bird. I know, I know, there’s only one way to find out.

We are doing some things that may help—we are going to cosleep, I am more than ready to let the housework go and sleep whenever the baby does, and I can keep taking my prenatal, which is chock full of B vitamins. I’ve also got my loved ones keeping an eye on me, and if I start to go south, I’ll go back onto drugs and switch the sprout to formula.  It’s not what I want, but I know that I need to be able to function as a mom more than I need to be able to breastfeed.

This part is completely irrational, but I want to be protected by the fact that I’m super happy that I’m going to be a mom. It might sound goofy, since as my midwife so tactfully put it “You certainly have no problem with fertility,” but I spent a long time thinking that I would never be a mom, and this little bird feels like a miracle. Yeah, they’re all miracles—but he is my miracle.

That feels like a pretty good note to end on.


Before I knew I was pregnant—when I was about three and a half weeks pregnant, or about a week and a half after probable conception—I decided to kill myself. But, I decided, I would wait until I got my period, because on the off chance that I was pregnant, I wouldn’t be able to.

It’s funny; reading what I say on this blog, if it weren’t for my constant reassurance, you’d never guess that I’m pro-choice. I just apparently feel hysterically protective of anything that I’m growing myself—if this were a sitcom, I’d end up with a tapeworm. Hilarity!

Actually finding out that I was pregnant was a huge relief; I got to blame hormones for the way I was feeling, and that black depression is part of why I’ve tended to guess that I’m going to have a girl. I heard somewhere that girls do that. Things got slowly better after that, and I’m thinking about it now because yesterday I started tapering off my antidepressants and looking forward to a hopefully drug-free year or two. When I was pregnant with Cricket, I went off of one drug immediately after figuring out that I was pregnant and going to stay pregnant and the other around seven months. Neither of them is anything like likely to cause any problems, but that 3 percent chance is more than enough to worry me, and I’d rather go ahead and wean before birth so that I don’t suddenly have to cold-turkey in order to breastfeed.

When I was at my appointment, I omitted some information from the form the midwives gave me. I do check the “depression” box, but (for example) when they ask whether I’ve ever been hospitalized for any reason, I say no. I don’t want to be treated like a crazy person, and this is how I handled it last time, although I’m aware that the policy isn’t without its flaws. I really need not to be a high-risk pregnancy, and if I end up with gestational diabetes or some other condition that takes that out of my hands, so be it. But I just want to have a low-key birth where I push out a baby all drug-free and relatively peaceful-like, and I know that I’m capable of that, so why not help my caretakers to believe it?

I recently read Dooce’s memoir about having her first daughter and then having severe post-partum depression. I’ve also watched a few women in an online community I belong to be dragged down by PPD over the past couple of years. Trying to figure out from my experiences after I lost Cricket whether I would have had PPD if I had parented him is probably futile, but I keep flashing back to, e.g., the conversation where I finally told my mom that I was hearing voices—I was careful to qualify that, explaining that they weren’t the kind of voices that tell you to kill, and it took me weeks to realize that my qualifier was just further freaking people out. Live and learn. Ultimately I don’t think that my depression then is a useful indicator for what parenting a newborn will do to my brain, but I hate that I can’t know until I get there what will happen.

My mother freaked out when I told her that I was going off meds—she had been trying to talk me into not going off at all and not breastfeeding, which is huge when you know that she worked as a lactation consultant for several years and still has a drawer full of “Breast Is Best” and “Eat at Mom’s” buttons. She eventually calmed down when I made it clear that I’m open to going back on drugs if it’s clear that I’m coming apart. I will be sort of heartbroken, though, which isn’t a great place to start climbing out of one’s depression. My decision has been to hope for the best in a careful way; we’ll see how that goes.