Maternal Fetal Mental Health Choices – My Story

By: Danielle Workman

“It’s not complicated. It’s easy. You just have to make a decision. Are you going to hurt your unborn child because you are going to kill yourself?”

Those words rocked me to my core. Those words sat like a ton of bricks on my mind as I left and drove home from that pharmacy. Those were the words that numbed me and caused me to sit back and feel hollow as I contemplated how deep the issue at hand was.

I had just found out I was pregnant eight hours before through a series of ultrasounds. A few months before I had endured a miscarriage and mourned the loss of a child. Just a few weeks after that, we discovered we had a miracle, and we were ecstatic.

We screamed.

We danced.

We embraced and celebrated the victory of our family beginning.

And then, as I had wandered into my pharmacy to check with the pharmacist about my medications for my depression (my only diagnosis at the time) and how it would affect my pregnancy, he presented his “advice”. That “advice” shattered the happiness we had felt.

At home, I plopped down onto our ugly black futon. Pieces of my emotions seemed to flutter through my mind, and as I sat there I studied them, feeling each emotion carefully as the thoughts jumped into my forethoughts. I was numb. I was thinking. 
‘Was I going to allow my child to live with injuries or illnesses…because I would kill myself?’

Suicidal thoughts and actions were actually common for me. That’s why I got put on antidepressants in the first place. I had no idea that feeling that way was unnatural or uncommon for most adults, and I had no idea it was a terrible thing. But my doctor and my husband both suggested that I go on them, and both were wary for me to go off of them, which is why I asked my pharmacist about his thoughts with the medications. His response is what scared me the most. I was between a rock and a hard place.

Take the medications and risk permanent harm and damage to my unborn child; don’t take them and likely take my own life.

When I asked my husband for advice he shook his head. “I’m not inside your mind. You are inside your mind. You have to decide this. Not me.” Even if I wanted to pawn it off on someone else, I couldn’t.

The weird thing I have found about my mental illness is that I always want to hurt myself, but never harm others. I don’t want to hurt even my own worst enemy, but I could care less if I cut, scratch or harm myself in other ways. That thought crossed my mind as I started into day three of trying to make up my mind. But that was when I realized it…

I had someone else inside of me. I was taking care of another person. Anything I did to myself would affect this tiny baby. Hurting myself…was hurting this tiny baby.

It seemed to wrong, so out of the ordinary to take on this mentality, but I found comfort in that train of thought. I found peace in knowing that I could not possibly hurt myself during the next eight months because of how it would affect this child. It felt empowering to realize I had found a loophole in my own mental illness, a loophole that I would take all the way until the day I delivered a wonderful little baby boy.

I chose to go off of my medications while I was pregnant, but I don’t know if it was a good idea. I’m not even sure I would make the same decision again if I ever chose to have another child. The things that I said and did while off my medications for my depression (and ultimately undiagnosed with bipolar disorder) were awful. I yelled at my spouse more than I ever have yelled at another human being. I slept only 2 hours at a time, spending literally weeks at a time nesting. I ate very little, and hallucinated at times (hearing noises that weren’t there at all). Then again, despite all the unrelated complications and problems we had, we still had a perfect baby.

Ultimately the only choice I could ever recommend anyone make that I did make, was the one my OBGYN and I made during my last week of pregnancy. She and I agreed that she would prescribe me with high-dose antidepressants starting the last week of my pregnancy and going until three months postpartum. This didn’t cure the baby blues, but it sure helped the blues not be so deeply blue. However, it made me ( an undiagnosed bipolar woman) very manic. But being a new mom I actually appreciated the mania and hypomania. When the baby cried, I happily got up to help because I wasn’t sleeping anyways. I had the energy to be a brand new mom and to give my baby all the care he could possibly need or want. And I loved it.

Until the crash.

One thing I would do if I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, is have spoken to my psychiatrist. When my husband and I were discussing if we wanted more children or not, I found that a lot of my hesitation came from my bipolar disorder. The next time I saw my psychiatrist and told her my hesitations, including discussing options if I did want to get pregnant again. Her words on that topic are words that I took into my daily life.

‘It’s a mountain to climb one day at a time and when that day arrives. Until then, just review your own life and take it day by day, minute by minute. We will talk about it and do what we need to do when we need to do it. I’ll make sure you’re doing what you should.”

I wish I could offer up something more than my story. But right now, my story and the advice of my doctor is the most I have to offer.

Don’t let Bipolar Disorder stop you from doing things you love. This includes starting a family. 

Don’t let your mental illness run you more than it already does. 

But do talk to your care team.

Do seek advice.

And do trust yourself.

‘Despite your mental illness, you know yourself and your circumstances better than anyone else in the world.

You’ve got this.

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