It’s impossible to parent without being assaulted by recent studies appearing in every crevice of the internet. Prime example: A recent article on The New York Times’ Motherlode blog highlights the agonizing decision of antidepressant use during pregnancy, linking it to autism in children. I read it, and of course, it made me a little anxious. But it also made me laugh, because though the choice is indeed agonizing, it’s not everything.
I know from experience: I’m a mom with anxiety. I don’t mean the endearing kind—the predictable, prepackaged worries we all face when entrusted with a human life, like I’m a little nervous about the color and texture of my infant’s poop so I’ll just drink a sangria or two to take the edge off. I mean the nuanced kind, the biting kind, the staying up all night huffing essential oils in the bathtub because I’m afraid I’ll forget how to breathe if I sleep kind.
I’ve done (almost) everything to alleviate it naturally: therapy, healing prayer, Chinese medicine, all the essential oils, excessive diet changes, yoga and mindfulness, natural supplements. For me, all these things were like taking ibuprofen for a debilitating migraine: It took the edge off, but the pain lingered, inhibiting my ability to thrive, let alone function.
That’s because something is off in my brain. Some part of my body chemistry is on overdrive, hyper-vigilant in warning me that danger is near, and it hinders my livelihood and my ability to live and love well. So every morning, for nearly two decades, I’ve taken a little pink pill, and instead of surviving my life, I live.
Then I got pregnant, and in that landscape, the struggle, as we all know, gets real. So that familiar pink pill, the one I’d relied on for so many years, became burdensome. Suddenly, I was anxious about both my anxiety and the pill that alleviated it. How perfectly meta.
With the support of my husband, midwife and doula, I continued taking my antidepressant, which I use for my anxiety, and I’m so glad I did. The decision was fruitful. I’ve been (mostly) stable throughout pregnancy and postpartum. But the actual act of deciding about antidepressants and pregnancy, no matter what I ultimately chose, taught me some valuable lessons:
I Can’t Control Everything
Vaccines, cow’s milk, daycare, nap schedules, crib mattresses, TV—there are so many reasons to be anxious and so many opportunities to destroy my kid’s life. And now, the remedy to my panic attacks became an opportunity for the same. At the end of the day, we all do what we can to ensure the safety, health and happiness of our children, but no matter how careful we are, we don’t get to determine their fates. So we make the best choices for the here and now with the resources we have, one day at a time, always with love and humility, while believing the grace to deal with issues that might arise will come when we need it.
It’s OK to Need Help
Enter self-care diatribe, because I think we all need a pep talk here. We moms are so good at giving other people breaks, but we’re way hard on ourselves. Here’s what I mean: If a friend confided in me about her mental health, I’d absolutely tell her to do what she needed to stay stable. For some reason, though, I struggle to stomach my own advice, as if my pregnancy or my life is the exception. But I know I’m human, and I can’t do it all. So I have to continually surrender to my own “weakness” and ask for help, knowing I’m a better mom for it.
Haters Gonna Hate
Someone I know cringed when I told her my medication plans: “How could you let those chemicals poison that tiny little life?” Lesson 1: No two situations are alike, and we can’t judge until we’ve walked in each other’s shoes. Lesson 2: Don’t tell overly-opinionated-granola-yogi friend my 18-month-old has already had macaroni twice this week, and I don’t mean the organic kind.
Take Care of Yourself First
This wouldn’t be a parenting story if I didn’t mention the “put your oxygen mask on first” airplane speech, because it’s totally true. I’m a more attentive mom when my physical and emotional needs are met—when I can breathe, literally and metaphorically. (Obviously, I understand there are circumstances where kids come first, but I’m talking actual survival here.) Similarly, I’ll always remember something a friend told me: “If you were diabetic, you’d take insulin. Take your anxiety medicine.” I think we all know what “take care of yourself” means in our particular contexts. The hard part is actually doing it.
We’re All Doing Our Best
We’re anxious because we care—we all want to be good moms and dads. That’s why decisions like this feel so burdensome. I was afraid that taking the medicine I needed at the risk of my son’s health made me a bad mom, but in retrospect, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The fact that the choice agonized me showed me where my values are. I want to mother well. I care enough about my son’s health to step back and consider my choices. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a win. A really sweet one.