How I’ve Been Taking Care of My Mental Health During Pregnancy

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Monica Drake

| 6 min read

Six months ago, I found out I was pregnant with my first child — only two months into the “honeymoon stage” of marriage. To be honest, even at 35 years old, I was not prepared at all!
I had always been on the fence about having children of my own. When I saw other people’s babies, I never thought, “Oh! I want one of my own!” Instead, I thought, “Oh, they’re cute…okay, that’s enough, you can have them back now!”
My husband was a different story. Just like some people you meet and know they were born to be a singer or a scientist or whatever, I’ve always known, without a doubt, that he was born to be a dad someday. Being with someone I could actually picture having a child with for the first time, I decided to stop taking birth control soon after we got married – thinking, “Okay, whatever happens, happens!” Still, I thought I’d have time to prepare. But that ended up not being the case as, the very next month, I watched as the word “Pregnant” appeared on my plastic test.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize how lucky I am that I didn’t have to struggle. For many people that’s not the case. But when it happened for me right away, I was not mentally or emotionally prepared AT ALL, and I had not weaned myself off my anxiety medication like I thought I would. All the sudden, I had to cut myself off cold turkey. Let me tell you, it was rough.
I knew I was supposed to be ecstatic about the news, but instead, I felt so depressed that I, honestly, just wanted to die. Now I know that was because, on top of all the changes going on inside my body, I was also going through withdrawal. While it took some time to figure it all out, I found ways I could take care of myself and my mental health while being pregnant.

There are still meds you can take

If you recently found out that you’re pregnant, check with your doctor to see what medication you can still take or if there are any alternatives. I had been taking the depression medication Celexa every day since I was 19. Thankfully, I found out I could continue taking it while pregnant.
Celexa is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). According to the Mayo Clinic, certain SSRIs are an option during pregnancy because they aren’t linked to birth defects, and they have been proven to pose the lowest risk to unborn babies compared to other antidepressants. This has helped me continue to regulate my mental health throughout my pregnancy.
Unfortunately, I did learn that the Xanax I was taking is a “Category D drug," meaning it could lead to complications for my baby, such as miscarriage, developmental abnormalities, preterm delivery and dependence on the drug after birth. My gynecologist advised that I stop taking that and Trazodone, which I used to help me sleep.
My gynecologist told me that a good alternative for Trazodone is the over-the-counter drug Unisom, which is considered safe to use during pregnancy by major medical groups including the FDA. While it took about a month for the Unisom to work – since I was still getting used to being off Trazodone – it has helped me sleep ever since. If that doesn’t work for you and you need something stronger, other safe options for pregnant women are imipramine or amitriptyline, which can be prescribed to you by a doctor.

Let others support you

I realized that besides cutting out medication cold turkey, there was something else that was harming my mental health during my early pregnancy. I was keeping it a secret.
While many people choose to wait 12 weeks to tell anyone, I decided to tell my close family and friends earlier than that because I needed the support. I realized if anything happened to the baby, these are the people I would tell anyways.
If you’re feeling alone and want to tell your mom or your best friend right away, then do it! There’s no rule for when you should start telling people. Let people support you.
I’ve also learned to ask for help. If I don’t feel good, I have no problem asking my husband to take on my share of the chores so I can relax. I take full advantage of the fact that, if I tell my husband I’m craving a milkshake, he will rush out to get it for me. I will also always let a friend, or a stranger pick up something heavy for me, and, most importantly, I no longer feel guilty if I have to cancel plans at the last minute. Being pregnant is hard work, and you deserve to take advantage of everything that can make it even the slightest bit easier.

Remind yourself that your fears are normal

As someone with anxiety disorder, my brain perpetually lives in “worst case scenario” land. Being pregnant, it’s even worse, and I find myself actively trying not to get too attached to the baby because I’m scared something bad will happen.
When my stomach hurts, I freak out that something happened to the baby, and when I don’t hurt at all, I freak out that something happened to the baby. When this fear strikes – and it strikes often – it helps to go into a quiet room, lay down, close my eyes, and put my hand over my abdomen. I try to focus on the flutters inside my belly to remind myself, “My baby is okay. He’s in there, and he’s moving right now.”
I also try to remind myself that I’m not alone. While being pregnant may seem isolating, it’s something millions of women do each year and will continue to do until the end of human civilization. These fears I’m having are not uncommon, and most women who are freaking out like I am do have healthy babies and deliveries.
Instead of Googling, remind yourself of this fact whenever you’re feeling particularly anxious. Continue to get your regular prenatal checkups and talk with your gynecologist about your worries. Make sure to ask your doctor about medication alternatives and talk with a psychiatrist or therapist if you need additional help. Most importantly, know that you are doing the best you can, and you have a whole tribe of other mamas behind you who know what you’re going through.
Opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan or its subsidiaries and affiliates.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Monica Drake.

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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