A healthy mum is first and foremost the most important thing – that means your mental health too
You did what you thought was best.
Sitting next to your daughter’s incubator, seeing her surrounded by tubes and being unable to touch her was heartbreaking beyond comparison. The fear of whether or not she would recover is frozen in your mind, watching her tremor at hours old is a moment in time you will never forget. You look back on it with guilt, confusion and sadness. It’s not the start you wanted for her.
You were just fourteen years old when you were first prescribed antidepressants. It was after the break up of your first relationship. I know what you must be thinking, relationship? You were just fourteen and that was a hard time for you. The diagnosis of clinical depression came about after suffering a series of panic attacks and an attempt to end your own life. I’m so glad you didn’t or I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. This was put down to the fact you abused recreational drugs during pre and early teens, and of course everyone has heard of the effects cannabis and ecstasy can have on young minds.
Adolescence is a trying time without adding in substance misuse, sex and heartbreak, so when you mix all three you can expect to be met with appointments for child and family psychiatry and a prescription for some pretty hardy antidepressants. For a time you were prescribed an SNRI (serototin-norepinphrine reuptake inhibitor) but after spending a year walking around in a zombie like state, it changed to an SSRI.
In the following years you continued to take antidepressants intermittently. Your first serious relationship was at age 16. By age 17 you had moved out of mum’s house and were living with your-then partner. Your relationship was volatile and you would continue to rely on prescription drugs and anti-anxiety medicines to get through the days. You had counselling when you could afford it too, but it was never enough on its own. The relationship finally broke down in 2011 and you met your now fiancé in 2013. In 2015 you found out you were expecting your first child. You’d been experiencing a pretty good run in terms of depression. The harrowing and dark intrusive thoughts had been kept well at bay for some time, some would say you weren’t depressed anymore, but you were still taking antidepressants regularly. Concerned about how to proceed, you made an appointment with a GP. She advised us to change to a different antidepressant called Sertraline (Zoloft in the US) which was deemed 'safe' in pregnancy. There was no discussion about stopping taking medication altogether because it seemed to be working.
So off you went with a new prescription feeling great about pregnancy. Then came the hormones. A lot of people suffer negatively with hormones and not just during pregnancy. Some people love being pregnant, because of these fantastic, all-consuming pregnancy hormones. But for you these hormones were making you depressed. You were a total mess. To add insult to injury you were later diagnosed with the physical condition Symphis Pubic Dysfunction, a condition that affects the pelvis during pregnancy. On crutches by 16 weeks and then later in a wheelchair, unable to get out of the house unaided, sleeping on the sofa and feeling all things frumpy, certainly NOT yummy mummy!
Your depression spiralled.
So much so, that when you were around 20 weeks you was advised to increase the dose of Sertaline. And so you went from 50mg to 100mg, again with no worries as to what this was doing to the baby, because the doctor had advised it was safe.
In April 2016 a week before your daughter was born you were diagnosed with pre-eclampsia – talk about the pregnancy from hell. You rushed into hospital to be induced, and more medication followed. So when your baby girl was born on 5th April you were elated. So excited were you to start the journey into parenthood, pregnancy was over and you were ready to not feel depressed anymore. So you can imagine the surprise when 12 hours after your daughter was born she was rushed to NICU with severe withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms! WTF?!
She was scoring 7 and higher on the Finnegan Scale, which measures neonatal abstinence symptoms for babies exposed to drugs in utero. When you read about the Finnegan Scale and its use for scoring babies born to heroin addicted mothers, you were mortified. How could this be happening to your perfect baby girl? You weren’t addicted to drugs, you were just a normal girl with some emotional problems yes, but not an addict. This wasn't fair, you’d quit smoking, had done everything right. Why you? Why you?
You learnt later the withdrawal your daughter was experiencing was due to the Setraline taken during pregnancy, and worse, it was relatively common. The nurse in NICU said they have babies semi regularly admitted with antidepressant induced withdrawal.
So there your baby was, in an incubator, being tube-fed and fighting for her life. You were BESIDE yourself and every ounce of you felt like a failure. A failure because you had contributed to this, a failure because you couldn't hold your baby, couldn't feed her – your milk didn't come in and you were too frightened to try and breastfeed because you were still taking the Setraline. Surely it would only make things worse. Why you ask, didn't you stop taking it after seeing the damage it had done to your child?
The answer is simple, because you needed it. You needed it more than ever to not feel like you were teetering on the edge of a breakdown. You needed to keep the rapidly depleting serotonin in your brain at a comfortable level to remain strong for your daughter.
After two weeks of close monitoring and no need for drug intervention your daughter thankfully recovered fully. But the first nine months of her life were hard; she screamed 12 hours a day EVERY day, and you, along with her paediatrician, put a lot of it down to her difficult entry into this world. She still to this day is a child that goes from 0-60 in a nanosecond.
The message you want to share now is, a healthy mum is first and foremost the most important thing – that means your mental health too. You were doing what you believed to be right, trying to be better. You weren’t well informed and that is not your regret to burden. You grew up with troubles but you came through it. Don’t punish yourself further by worrying about what has been. Your daughter is safe and her mum is healthy, that’s far more important than anything you could have changed.
You have got this mama, you are living your best life with what you have, and your daughter is loved and happy. I won’t let you shoulder this guilt anymore. It’s over. You are strong, and you are loved and your little girl thinks you’re the dogs’ nuts.