Yesterday, a letter to Dear Abby from a woman seven months pregnant received an alarming response. This mom-to-be states she never wanted to be pregnant. She goes on to share her inability to find any websites for women like her – only websites filled with women cooing over their bellies, etc. Her husband reacted negatively when she shared with him her emotions regarding the pregnancy. Mom-to-be is frustrated, doesn’t want to be pregnant, and flat out asks Dear Abby if there is something wrong with her.
Dear Abby responds:
“No, there’s nothing “wrong” with you. You’re just not particularly maternal.”
Now, I realize all women are not maternal. It’s okay to not be maternal. However. There’s a difference between non-maternal and a mood disorder. There’s also great potential for this situation to not resolve itself without solid professional help.
To Abby’s credit, she does recommend the mom discuss her emotions with her OB to ensure she’s not suffering from pre-partum depression. But then she goes on to share something very alarming with this new mother. “When your baby arrives, I’m sure you will fall in love with him or her as many other women have.”
Not familiar with the research showing Ante-partum depression as a risk factor for Postpartum Mood Disorders?
Not familiar with mothers who do NOT connect with their infants at birth or months afterward?
I’m all for providing hope. But to be unrealistic about it is downright irresponsible. Perhaps this mother will fall in love with her infant. But she may not. And now she, along with millions of other mothers in her situation who read this piece, are pinning their hopes on a potential unrealistic outcome which will only cause their guilt and shame to increase when they DON’T fall in love with their infants. No resources were provided. Nothing other than “Talk to your OB.” What if her OB is an idiot? What if he/she dismisses this mother’s concerns just as you have? This mother, and MILLIONS others like her are now left with only your words and those annoying cooing websites for cheery moms.
Postpartum Support International is a great place to turn to for support for Ante-partum depression. There are also several blogs with invaluable posts and insight into ante-partum depression. There’s also #PPDChat on Twitter for instant support regardless of where you’re at in your pregnancy or postpartum.
Thankfully, we’re talking more and more about this. Not nearly as much as we need to but it’s a burgeoning topic. Pregnancy does not always equal a glowing mama. Sometimes it equals a sad/anxious mama. It’s okay. You’re not alone. There is hope. There is help. If only Dear Abby had been responsible enough to provide some for this mom. Instead, she jots off a quick unresearched response which leaves her out in the cold.
Way to go, Abby. Way to go.
On April 29, I posted a piece entitled Thoughts on exploring a “Pregnant Pause” Focused on an article appearing in this month’s Vogue magazine, I methodically refuted and balanced the article’s bias against medicating with anti-depressants during pregnancy.
Yesterday morning I woke up to find an email notification regarding a new comment on the piece. The author? None other than Adrienne Einarson, one of the most dedicated researchers in the field of SSRI usage during the prenatal period. Adrienne currently serves as Coordinator for the International Reproductive Psychiatry group at Motherisk in Toronto. She has published several studies in her areas of interest which include psychiatry, nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, and alternative medicine. Her RN specialities include psychiatry and midwifery.
Adrienne’s comment deserves its own post. Her voice deserves to be heard. She states up front that she does not often comment or blog but that the bias of the Vogue article upset her so greatly she felt the need to speak out. This letter has been sent to Vogue but has not received any response as of yet. (I have also submitted my piece directly to Vogue but also have not received a response.) She has granted permission for me to share her letter directly with you.
“I do this because I care about women who have to go through this and if my research can help, I will continue doing it.” ~Adrienne Einarson~
Without further ado, I give you Adrienne Einarson’s response to Vogue’s “Pregnant Pause”:
I am writing to you on behalf of an international group of individuals who are involved with reproductive mental health, as either clinicians, researchers and in some cases both. We would like to voice our concerns regarding your recent piece entitled “Pregnant Pause,” which we felt, did not achieve a balanced perspective on this issue, which was surprising to us, coming as it did from such a highly esteemed publication as Vogue.
We appreciate that you decided to do a piece on this often controversial issue, which can make deciding whether or not to take an antidepressant when pregnant, an extremely complicated decision for both the patient and her health care provider. However, we were very disappointed by the extremely biased approach that you took when writing this article. First of all, the data that you quoted is not as recent as you stated, these studies were published in 2005/2006, they were preliminary and the results have not been confirmed in more recent published papers, which you brushed off as not being important.
It is unfortunate that the women you quoted in your piece, thought that they had a baby with a heart defect because they took Paxil® and are suffering unnecessary guilt because of it, as if women don’t have enough to feel guilty about already in these complicated times. You acknowledged that there are probably 250,000 pregnant women taking antidepressants in the US, and you must understand before you can make any conclusions, that 1-3% of all pregnancies involve a baby with a birth defect of some kind, whether a woman takes any medications or not and 1/100 babies are born with a heart defect. That is why, researchers who conduct the best quality studies, use a group of exposed women (taking an antidepressant) with a group of unexposed woman (not taking an antidepressant) and compare the rates of adverse events in both groups. The studies that were conducted in this fashion, did not find a difference in the rates of malformations between the groups, including heart defects with Paxil®. Bottom line, if you do the simple math, it is evident that a large number of women would have had a baby with a defect whether they took an antidepressant or not, including the women in your article.
Another disturbing theme that came up several times in the article, is that physicians hand out antidepressants like candy, and physicians in our group were most offended by this statement as they are very careful about prescribing antidepressants and would not give them to someone who not does not require treatment. Every decision is made with great care, all the while weighing the risks/benefits of antidepressant treatment, and especially with pregnant women, ultimately to ensure the best possible outcome for both the baby and the mother.
Finally, and I am sure this was not your intention, several of our group members who are psychiatrists have reported that their pregnant patients have decided to stop taking their antidepressant since they read your article and I will leave you with one example of the damage you may have caused by this highly biased and often inaccurate article.
After reading this article, a woman called her psychiatrist and informed her that she was not going to take her Prozac anymore. She had had no less than seven consultations with psychologists and psychiatrists and all had agreed that she needed to be on medication because of her severe depression and possibility of suicide and concern in the post-partum period. She had finally agreed to go on the medication and at 34 weeks she was doing very well and looking forward to the birth of her baby and then read your article…………
Adrienne Einarson, Coordinator, The International Reproductive Psychiatry group
Finding yourself faced with depression during pregnancy is a confusing prospect indeed. How do you treat it? Do you tough it out and hope there is no effect on your pregnancy? Or do you risk medication and the potential effects that course may have on your baby as well? In addition, many care-givers are hesitant to medicate a pregnant mother for depression or even worse, are not familiar with ante-partum depression and negate the mother’s concerns over her mental health. If your caregiver brushes aside your concerns as normal pregnancy ups and downs yet you know in your gut it’s more, get a second opinion or ask for a referral to a therapist at the very least.
A recent study by Dr. Katherine Wisner, M.D., M.S., found that continuous exposure to either SSRI or Depression during pregnancy results in pre-term delivery rates in excess of twenty percent while mothers with no exposure to either depression or SSRI over the course of their pregnancy experienced rates of pre-term delivery at six percent or lower. The study looked at 238 women with no, partial, or continuous exposure to either SSRI treatment or depression and compared infant outcomes. They found that exposure to SSRI’s did not increase birth defects or affect infant birth weight but the importance of this study lies within the finding that the pre-term delivery rates were the same with depression exclusive of SSRI treatment, leading the researchers to state that it is “possible that underlying depressive disorder is a factor in preterm birth among women taking SSRIs.” You can read more about this study by clicking here.
“This study adds evidence that depression in pregnancy can negatively affect birth outcome. Although women treated with SSRI’s throughout the pregnancy may experience pre-term birth, the factor causing the problem may in fact be the depression and not the SSRI. More research is needed to tease out what is causing the changes in the uterine environment. As research comes forth, what continues to be clear is that treatment for depression in pregnancy is important. ‘Treatment’ doesn’t necessarily mean medication, but for everyone’s sake the pregnant woman needs to receive a plan for wellness.” Dr. Shoshana Bennett shares when asked about her take on Dr. Wisner’s research.
You may recall a recent study posted also regarding birth weight of infants. The study concluded that Prenatal Depression restricted the fetal growth rate. This study concluded that depressed women had a 13% rate of pre-term delivery as well as a 15% greater incidence of lower birth weight. This study’s results examined cortisol levels to determine risk of pre-term delivery and birth weight prediction, which leads us to another study examining the reliability of cortisol to predict short gestation and low birth weights. The study concluded cortisol levels were indeed a reliable manner in which to predict both.
So what’s a pregnant depressed mama to do?
Throw her hands up in the air?
Tough it out?
None of the above – she should work in partnership with her doctors to weigh the risks. There are other treatments available for depression and anxiety during pregnancy besides SSRI’s. Therapy is always an option. (Yes, more studies to be quoted ahead) A study examining the effectiveness of a Mindfulness based intervention for pregnant mothers found women receiving the intervention experienced less stress and anxiety during their third trimester and postpartum period. There was no data collected regarding pre-term delivery or birth weight in relation to this particular study.
There’s also a wonderful article at wellpostpartum.com that discusses how cortisol impacts mothers. Included in this article are some terrific (and natural) suggestions on how to keep cortisol at bay.
Alrighty now. You’ve shared your precious studies with us. What about some real life advice? What did YOU do when faced with the Hamlet conundrum of medicating during pregnancy?
The two biggest sources of help for me were Karen Kleiman’s What Am I Thinking? Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression and Kornstein/Clayton’s Women’s Mental Health. Karen’s book allowed me to realize my emotions were right on target for a woman facing pregnancy (expected or not) after surviving a PMD episode while Women’s Mental Health laid out the risk factors in a no-nonsense manner. I was convinced to stay on medication after I read my risk for relapse went up by 50% if I discontinued my medication during pregnancy. With my risk factor already 50% higher than women having never experienced a PMD, there was no way I was giving myself a 100% risk of traveling down that road.
I stayed on my medication. I stayed in therapy. I talked to my family and developed a postpartum action plan, spending more time on preparing for my possible fall than for my son’s arrival. And you know what, it paid off big time. I did not experience a PMD the third time around, even though (yes, more studies) having a boy may put you at a higher risk for developing a PMD and the risk for experiencing a PMD after two episodes is almost 100%. I beat the odds and don’t think a day doesn’t go by that I don’t give thanks to God for carrying me through.
I always encourage women I come in contact with to weigh their options with their caregivers. To educate themselves and make the best decision possible with the information at hand. Your doctor is on your team and should be willing to listen to your plan and at least consider your requests. If he/she does not respect your wishes, it may be time to find another physician for care during the prenatal period.
I would also encourage you to get a couple of books, the first being Dr. Shosh’s Pregnant on Prozac, in which she examines the relationship of psychiatric medications to pregnancy. It’s a must have resource for mothers facing the decision of psychiatric medication for an existing condition or a newly diagnosed condition. Also pick up a copy of Karen Kleiman’s Therapy & The Postpartum Woman. While this book is ultimately aimed at clinicians and the postpartum woman, pregnant women facing a mood disorder would glean quite a bit from this book as well and may consider gifting it to their caregiver as well, a paying it forward action if you will.
And if you’re interested in complementary or alternative treatment methods that don’t include SSRI’s, a great place to start researching is over at Well Postpartum. Run by Cheryl Jazzar, this blog has just about everything you could ever want to know about alternative care during the Perinatal Period.
The final thought on all of this? Do your homework. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or stand up for yourself (and your child). Above all, make the decision and agree not to second guess yourself or blame any outcome on yourself. As long as you make the best decision with the best information at your fingertips at the time, there is no blame. (And hey, the fact that you’re reading this article right now speaks pretty highly of your motivation to educate yourself!)
No matter how alone you may feel in that dark pit of depression during pregnancy or postpartum, you’re not. There are plenty of other women there with you and there are lots of us reaching our hands down to help you out. All you have to do is reach out and grab.