A few years ago, my husband Gary and I began talking seriously about having a child. We were approaching the “now or never” point (in terms of age), and realized that it couldn't just be a “happy accident,” because the mental illness medication I was taking at the time could potentially cause the baby harm.
So I started scheduling consultation appointments with therapists, psychiatrists, and high-risk OB/GYNs. The way I saw it, I had three options: wean off medication and risk not feeling well; stay on medication and risk harming the baby; or not have a biological child at all. As I worked out my decision, I discovered that there was a lot of scattered and conflicting information on this issue. Making a documentary about my experiences and those of other women felt like the best way to share what I had learned with others.
Women and Meds
I made the film Women and Meds to raise awareness and hopefully provide some guidance and useful information for other women and their families. While filming, I learned that some of the research material was outdated, or just didn't exist due to the ethical complications of testing medication on pregnant women. Pharmaceutical companies, even those manufacturing OTC medication like sleep aids, were reluctant to say whether or not their medication was truly safe – so I got passed back and forth between doctors telling me to double check with the companies, and companies saying to consult a medical expert, or, my OB telling me to check with my therapist, and my therapist telling me to check with my OB. No one would take ownership or offer a clear answer, which was incredibly frustrating.
What I've seen is that doctors are “scared” of pregnant women, and especially wary when you have a mental illness in addition to being pregnant. I'm hoping that through my film people walk away with a new found sensitivity to what women might be going through, especially since mental illness and reproductive issues are two topics people are very hesitant to talk about publicly.
Through the documentary I have connected with some amazing women who have been open and honest about their experiences. For example Kelly, who we followed throughout her second pregnancy. She experienced suicidal depression, plunging her very deep into emotional despair for no apparent reason, which was then further instigated by family tensions and the stress of her full-time job. Or Vickie, who struggled with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder, and decided that offering her baby for adoption was the best decision for her.
The main message I would like other women to know is that they are not alone – there are many of us going through this, and there is help out there. I can't tell you how many people have contacted me with their personal stories, or stories of others close to them who are dealing with the same issue. Stigma and silence only hinder the process, and the more support from doctors, families, and loved ones a woman has, the greater chance of a positive experience and outcome she and her baby will have.
Dina Fiasconaro has an MFA in filmmaking from Columbia University, and a BS in TV, Radio and Film from Syracuse University. Her short films and screenplays have been the recipient of multiple grants and awards, and her films have screened at a variety of festivals nationwide. Dina is currently an Assistant Professor of Film and Video at Stevenson University, near Baltimore, MD.