I found out I was pregnant at my psychologist’s office.
The signs had been evident, but it just felt outside the realm of possibility. I couldn’t face reality unless I had a doctor with me. I’d managed to work up the nerve to buy a pregnancy test, and during therapy, excused myself to the stark restroom and peed on a stick.
And then did it again. I set them side by side on the counter while I washed my hands and stared at myself in the mirror, and then glanced back down at the sticks. Positive, both of them.
Somehow, I managed to walk back into the office and showed my doctor the results. She looked at me for a moment, then strongly encouraged me to meet with my psychiatrist as soon as possible, and suggested I stop taking the 18 pills I’d been prescribed to take daily.
She said I needed to make some significant decisions as quickly as possible. She did not think it was a good time for me to consider having a child.
We said our goodbyes. I took the elevator from the 17th floor back to the lobby and returned to my car. It was November. I’d just turned 31. Thanksgiving was the next day. I don’t remember driving home. I don’t remember telling my husband.
In my anxiety-riddled mind, it was my job to maintain a sense of control, despite recognizing that “control” was never an option. I was a woman who had previously been told that bearing children was not even possible physically -- by two different doctors, no less.
I was a woman recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. I had only been off disability for two months, and been employed at my new job for merely a month, having taken a 60% pay cut in an entirely new industry for the sake of my sanity. And now there was a baby inside me.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not this way, and certainly not at this point in my life.
Approximately seven months prior, I’d been trapped on my couch in a near-constant state of panic. I cried all the time, and I was petrified that any action I took would have a negative reaction.
Plus, I was convinced that anything I did would cause pain to someone I cared about. I would fail my husband, my parents, or my friends. Someone would be let down. My biggest concern, though, was that I would cause someone to worry.
It was during an evening in late March that my husband determined I needed to be in the hospital. And to be honest, I knew I was supposed to feel relieved, but instead just felt like I’d let everyone down. I’d lost.
After months of rebuilding myself, learning to apply coping strategies and being cognizant of my feelings, I convinced myself I could do it. We’d finally found a balance of medication involving mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety medication, antipsychotic medication, and a variety of self-care tools to move forward.
I had note cards taped around our apartment reminding me I was a smart person, well-liked, and competent. I had a routine written down in a notebook along with a crisis intervention plan in the event I should slip into an unhealthy place again. I felt like I had the potential to be successful, and useful.
And right when I felt I’d really hit my stride, I learned I was pregnant.
I’m very fortunate to have a husband who supports me. When we first talked about the pregnancy, I was convinced the smartest, most responsible choice would be to abort.
Mind you, I didn’t want to have an abortion, but I thought it was the right thing to do. I assumed people with mental illnesses like mine weren’t supposed to have kids. He took me to Planned Parenthood and sat with me quietly in the waiting room.
There were posters all over the walls with statistics about STDs, and pregnancy, and “options.” No one made eye contact; everyone just stared very intently at their own clipboards, filling out personal information.
When my name was called, I went back to the counseling office alone, where I proceeded to have a 10-minute conversation with the most disinterested, unengaged guy I’d met in a long time. He pushed pamphlets across the desk to me, and never actually looked at me. It was unsettling.
Once I got back into the car with my husband, I looked at him. “Maybe this isn’t the right thing to do,” I muttered. I started crying.
He turned to me and said, “I don’t know, honey. You know I’m good with whatever. Maybe we should just go for it. Maybe this is our miracle.”
By the time we got home a half hour later, having successfully negotiated the ridiculously narrow side streets of Capitol Hill, I had come to peace with the idea, kind of. We were going to have a baby.
Fortunately, for whatever reason, the hormones in my body were a fantastic replacement for all the medications I’d been on to treat my mental illness.
The decision to stop taking all my pills was discussed with several doctors, and I had alternative medications to consider if going cold turkey wound up being problematic.
For some individuals, maintaining and/or modifying medications during pregnancy is a better, safer choice. My psychiatrist monitored me closely, and I found a new psychotherapist who was supportive of me and the pregnancy, and I kept working full-time.
There was never a point when the anxiety and depression fully disappeared. There were plenty of moments spent wondering if all the pills I’d been taking the first six weeks of my pregnancy had done irreparable harm, but they were mostly fleeting. Meeting regularly with my doctors was definitely important during the entire time.
It was probably around six months into my pregnancy that I also decided to walk away from the whole universe of expectant mother instructional guides. Living with anxiety and being constantly reminded that being anxious can harm your kid is ridiculous.
There’s a 3% chance I could have multiples? There’s no way we can afford twins.
Having a turkey sandwich could lead to listeria, and 240 people a year die because of this?
Much like the chunk of time when I was on disability, I had to accept that life happens, and it’s not my job (nor my ability) to control it.
I’m beyond happy to report my daughter was born, on her due date, no less, and she was perfect. She’s eight now, and well aware that I do live with anxiety and depression.
During Spring Break this year, I ran into the daycare program to drop her off on my way to work, and learned that the group was going to go swimming, and I hadn’t brought her suit.
I cried, because I had ruined my daughter’s day. This is how my mind occasionally works. My daughter took it in stride, gave me a hug, and told me it was OK. Because it was.
And it is.