One of the things that irritates the crap out of me is this obsession with putting perceived risks to babies’ (or fetuses, depending on your bent on the abortion debate) health over the mother’s needs at all costs. We see this in all aspects of pregnancy. We inform women of this long, long list of things that they can’t do during their pregnancy. When women rebel and actually eat, drink or do some of the forbidden items, we judge the hell out of them and ask them how they could risk doing that to their babies.
Why? Shouldn’t care be a measured balance of taking care of both the baby’s needs and the mother’s needs? Both are humans (or if you’re pro-choice, the mother’s a human and the baby is a fetus, which even further makes my point). Yes it’s nuanced, but that’s life.
In the interests of a good discussion, I’m going to pose some taboo questions:
When we put a baby ahead of a mother’s health, we’re creating a value system of human life. We are stating that the baby’s life is more valuable than the mother’s. Is that true? Do we value life on a sliding scale of length? The longer you live, the less valuable you become?
Or, we know that a baby is innocent, defenseless and vulnerable. Does that trump an imperfect, faulty woman? Perhaps the value scale is based on transgressions? Is that accurate?
So think on those more esoteric questions, but before you call me selfish, let’s look at how unbalanced concerns frame our mental health perspective.
This mindset has created a tendency to assume that you can’t take or do any type of medication if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Couple that with a pervasive viewpoint that those who struggle with mental illness just need to snap out of it, or choose to feel happy and you’ve got a ripe situation for unreasonable expectations. The result: women suffer for ‘the good of the child’ or try to just ‘power through’. But is that suffering really good?
Here’s what we don’t know. We don’t know if depression impacts a developing baby. We don’t know if stress does. We don’t know if antidepressants hurt a developing baby.
We just don’t know. We suspect that they can increase the likelihood of birth defects, etc., but we don’t know. That’s the problem with pregnancy. It’s very difficult to do studies and research on pregnant women for ethical reasons.
What we do know is this: women who have had a history of depression or have perinatal depression are suffering. When those women are suffering, it puts the baby at risk if they don’t get help. A woman with depression may be able to go off the medication for the pregnancy and be fine. Perhaps she had a history of mild depression or she has mild pregnancy-induced (prenatal) depression. But she might also have severe depression in either case. It’s very possible that her hormonal and chemical receptors aren’t doing what they need to do for her to be functional. That type of anxiety and depression leads to poor choices in many different forms. Depressed mothers can engage in dangerous behaviors that negatively affect the baby or even be suicidal – and act on it.
It’s critical for a mother with depression to do her own research and talk to several different providers. Your OBGYN is typically baby-focused, whereas a psychiatrist is typically mother-focused. I highly recommend seeing a psychiatrist who specializes in perinatal depression. They seem to bridge the gap between strictly baby-focused and strictly mother-focused. Don’t assume your doctor is totally up on the current research. They may be. But they may not be. They’re busy people. Take a look online and check some studies. If something seems interesting to you, bring it up to your doc. They can look into it for you, or talk to someone who knows more about it.
We have got to take care of our mothers. They’re people too.