Catherine*, 37, works in public health and has suffered from severe depression for more than a decade. She takes Prozac but refused to let this stop her from pursuing her dream of having a family. This is her story. (*real name changed for anonymity.)
I was diagnosed with major depression in 2004, when I was 26 and I began taking Prozac. Four years later, on the advice of my doctor, I stopped taking my medication as I seemed to be getting better. Soon after, around the time my husband and I bought our first house, I relapsed so badly I was hospitalized. That’s when I realized how serious things were for me.
Shortly after moving into our new house and getting on track with meds, I found out I was pregnant. It was a surprise as my OBGYN had told me not to get pregnant until I stopped taking Prozac, but I was excited. However, I knew that coming off my medication was not an option.
The psychiatrist I was seeing said it was ok for me to take Prozac while pregnant, but he didn’t like the idea of me breastfeeding. But I got a second opinion from another psychiatrist who reviewed the research into the effects of antidepressants on breastfeeding.
In the end, I stayed on my medication and had my first child late in 2009. I began breastfeeding but it wasn’t easy. I was under pressure from both my husband and my pediatrician to quit breastfeeding as they were concerned about the effects of Prozac on our baby. I felt very guilty when I stopped breastfeeding but I knew I had to stay on my medication.
More knowledge the second time around
My little girl was a healthy, happy baby and I decided to try again with a second. This time, I talked to my husband a lot. I had to make him understand that this is my reality and, in the end, he accepted it.
I was also using a new OBGYN practice in which one of the doctors had a lot of doubts about Prozac. So I shared what it was like for me.
"Do you want to know what happens to me if I don't take Prozac?" I asked. “I won’t sleep, I won’t eat, the baby will be under stress as much as I am. I need to keep healthy for both of us.”
In the end, he understood.
When my second daughter was born in April 2014, I breastfed her happily and felt proud. It seemed as though attitudes were slowly changing.
Things still need to change
There’s so much stigma around depression and I wasn’t able to tell everyone about my decision to take medication while I was pregnant or breastfeeding.Things need to change. There needs to be more information about medications and more research needs to be done to clarify what is safe to take during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
My illness can be debilitating. I get very anxious and restless, pace the house constantly, unable to sit still, rest, or concentrate. I have panic attacks and thoughts of hurting myself. My body aches. I would never want to expose my unborn child to these symptoms. Nor would I be able to adequately care for an infant with this going on.
If both doctors and patients know about the effects of medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding, our options would be clearer.