As part of Jessica Grose’s series on prenatal depression, we asked readers to share their stories about depression during pregnancy. The final entry comes from a grad student who had to quit her program and eventually go into a psychiatric hospital to deal with her depression.
I was one semester away from finishing graduate school when I decided that I wanted a baby NOW. I had always wanted one, but I suddenly became overwhelmed by an urgent need that I couldn't resist. I began to taper off the Celexa I had been on for years, and lowered my dose of Wellbutrin—all without the knowledge of my psychiatrist. I have had depression and anxiety my entire life but it had been under control for years, so I figured there would be no harm in me getting off one of my meds. I was feeling good and almost entirely off the Celexa when I took a pregnancy test and saw the two pinks lines. My husband and I were elated.
Two weeks later, I started to throw up. The nausea hit me like a tidal wave and it continued to swell, unrelenting. I threw up all day and night, rejecting nearly everything I ingested. The sight of a glass of water made me gag. For two weeks straight I consumed nothing but Gatorade and Cheerios. I was also suffering from severe insomnia and it became clear that there was no way I would be able to finish my final semester of school, which would have involved full-time student teaching.
With no job and no school, I stayed home all day by myself, puking and crying and wishing I were dead. In my ninth week of pregnancy, the vomiting became so relentless that I went to the hospital for an IV. It was the worst night of my life. I was buried deeper in despair than I thought humanly possible and realized the only way for me to escape would be to either terminate my pregnancy or terminate my life. This thought gave me the only feeling of hope or peace I'd had in weeks. I eyed a bottle of klonopin in my medicine cabinet with excitement. It could be a way out for me.
When I left the hospital, I begged my husband to let me have an abortion. He looked at me with horror and told me it wasn't an option. I had never felt so enraged. Why did I have to go through this, alone? It was my body, MY suffering. That night after he went to bed, I looked up the information for my local Planned Parenthood chapter and decided I would have the abortion without my husband's knowledge. I didn’t think about how I would explain to him how I was no longer pregnant. All I thought of was escape and the idea of it was glorious. I got in bed and lay awake all night, as had become my new pattern, fantasizing about my abortion—my yearning to end the pregnancy I had wanted my entire life. When I got out of bed to vomit, as was my other pattern, I had my first hallucination. It was the voice of a child saying "Hi!" The sound of this voice was so loud and clear it made me jump.
The next morning, after having my second hallucination (this time it was the terrifying vision of my husband holding a baby on his hip), I became hysterical and told my husband I was going to kill myself. He called my mother and sister and they took me straight to a psychiatric hospital. By that point, I was in such hell that I felt relieved to be taken somewhere—anywhere—other than where I had been over the previous few weeks, suffering terribly.
For the next seven days, I attended group therapy sessions, stabilized my medication, meditated, read, slept, colored with crayons, played Monopoly, and watched a 60-year-old schizophrenic woman strip naked and run through the hallways screaming. I met people who were terribly ill, and others who had reached low points that had become dangerous. We cried and laughed together at our common madness. There was humor in it, and great sadness. My husband and sister came to visit me every day, and other family members came, too. As I started to feel better physically and emotionally, I focused on taking things one day at a time and being grateful for everything I had: a supportive family and friends, a husband who loved and accepted me no matter what, and the baby growing inside of me.
After leaving the hospital, I started to see an amazing therapist and continued my path to healing, albeit slowly. Things got better, but I still struggled with severe nausea and my depression, though greatly improved, lingered a bit. I felt sad about giving up graduate school and felt lonely staying home by myself during the day. As I entered my third trimester, the severity of my nausea diminished and I took on some freelance work to keep me busy. I became more and more attached to the little baby wiggling inside of me. I dreamed of what she would look like and what her skin would feel like, and I put ultrasound photos on the refrigerator.
As my due date neared, my psychiatrist and I, along with my OB-GYN, decided I would be best off not breast-feeding so I could go on additional medication and not have to deal the hormonal fluctuations and frustrations that come with nursing. I felt guilty for not being able to breastfeed, but was reminded by my amazing doctors that my own health and wellbeing was paramount if I wanted to be the best mother possible. And I did. "Healthy mom equals healthy baby," they said, and I understood that that was true.
After 9 long months—11 days past my due date—I finally gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She is the great love of my life and after I held her for the first time, the purpose of all my suffering made sense. It was a shifting storm that gave way to a beautiful, clear sky. When I think of how badly I wanted to end my pregnancy I still feel guilty, but then I remind myself that I was sick and beyond my capacity to cope. I needed help to get to a place of peace and healing—there is no way I could have done it on my own. I have nothing but gratitude for the doctors who took care of me and my loved ones who supported me every step of the way. And most of all, the beautiful baby girl who saved my life.
Previously in this series:
Entry #2: Overing Coming Hispanic Cultural Stigma
Entry #3: I Thought I Could Handle Going Off Meds