“I don't think I would be here today if I hadn't found effective drug therapy,” says the 34-year-old of the crippling depression and anxiety she endured. “Not because I wanted to die, but because I couldn't live day after day with so much pain and suffering.”
The mother of two continued to take her medication through both pregnancies.
“I knew in my heart that I didn't have a choice,” says Alderson. “I genuinely don't believe that I could go off the medication for the duration of a pregnancy and survive. If I didn't feel like taking antidepressants was an absolute necessity, I might feel differently about it.”
Though she used to be open about her depression and anxiety, Alderson says she’s learned it’s easier to keep it private.
“There is a double whammy of shame when you take antidepressants when pregnant,” says Alderson. “First, there is the ‘You have mental health issues and you are taking an antidepressant’ judgment, and then there is the ‘How dare you risk your fetus’ judgment.”
It’s easy to see why some would-be moms might feel incredible societal pressure to go off their medication for the sake of the baby, yet many experts say this can do more harm to the child than good.
Why? Because there is plenty of evidence suggesting that untreated depression during pregnancy can also be harmful to the child. Most of this evidence suggests a secondary connection—it’s not the depression itself that will hurt the infant, but rather the fact that a depressed mom is less likely to stay healthy and take good care of herself during pregnancy and more likely to engage in negative behaviors like drinking and smoking. And in the severely depressed, there’s also the possibility that the mother may not survive the pregnancy.
It was this knowledge that convinced Vancouver mom Zoe Le Good to continue taking medication through both her pregnancies—first Prozac and then Zoloft.
“I felt that the drugs were the safer way to go,” says Le Good of her decision. After consulting with a psychiatrist at Vancouver Women’s Hospital’s Reproductive Mental Health Clinic, Le Good decided that being severely depressed during and after pregnancy would be more risky for her children than staying on her medication. Her pregnancies were both easy and her children are healthy and happy, yet she can’t help but worry.
“I was nervous during my pregnancies, and I still am,” says Le Good. “Any sort of behaviour difficulty my children have—even if it’s probably normal—will make me wonder: ‘Is it because I took antidepressants while I was pregnant?’”
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, and so the trick then becomes teasing out what makes sense for each individual.
Several months ago, after a painful tapering-off process accompanied by awful withdrawal symptoms, I took the last few grains of a drug I never fully understood. Even if the risk of harm the drug posed to my future children was relatively small, for me, it felt like an unnecessary risk, and I was convinced the drugs weren’t doing much anyways.