I’m So Glad I Took Zoloft While Pregnant
Thank God for the tiny voice in my head that convinced me it was OK to take care of myself.
I cried a lot when I was pregnant. I didn’t know why, exactly. I was excited to meet my baby. I had a roof over my head. I was well-fed. And I knew I was loved, even if I didn’t get to experience that love in person much anymore.
I’d been living in a camper, partially off-grid, when I found out I was pregnant. Months later, the sun rising behind a forest of fir trees, I was waddling my way down a hill in the rain — a bucket of my pee in tow — when I hit my limit. We’d been using a primitive compost toilet, which was fine before, but with my belly bulging and hips cracking, I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d been diagnosed with symphysis pubis dysfunction and was in a lot of pain. All I wanted was a normal bathroom. A toilet with a real seat that I could flush. A warm bath I could sink into to ease my pain.
A month later, I moved into an apartment 45 minutes from the homestead. Someone had to take care of the goats and pigs and chickens, so my boyfriend and child’s father stayed behind. He’d stay with me a couple of days each week, when he could, but juggling the homestead and a full-time job was a lot. The entire world had also shut down because of the pandemic. With nowhere to be and everyone hiding behind closed doors, I spent a lot of time alone.
I felt guilty for feeling so bad when there were pregnant women out there with much more to be sad about. But I couldn’t shake it. It was a whole-body heaviness that left me feeling like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs no matter how hard I tried, like I was always on the verge of a meltdown I was only just barely reining in. I spent so much time alone, my belly growing, my body changing, no one around to witness it. Sometimes it felt like a dream. Sometimes, it still does.
I slept too much or not enough. I couldn’t make myself do anything productive. I’d recently sold a book and was supposed to be writing, but I couldn’t make words. I ordered DoorDash for every meal because I couldn’t cook. I never left home; the world was scary and, also, there wasn’t much reason to. Everything was done online. Concerts. Author panels. My baby shower. Even my midwife either came to my house for routine checkups or held appointments on Zoom.
During one such routine checkup, my midwife was taking my blood pressure and stared at my face. I looked straight ahead, pretending I didn’t notice.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” I said with a forced half-smile. I didn’t feel like talking about it.
She asked me how often I was alone, and when I told her, she squinted at me. “Have you heard about postpartum depression?”
I would give her everything I never had. I would introduce her to a kinder world than I’d known. I would gift her a secure attachment.
“I have,” I said. In fact, postpartum depression was one of the things I feared most about becoming a mother. I’d seen headlines about mothers who’d never been violent suddenly killing their children, sometimes killing themselves. I knew these were more extreme cases that were rare (and technically called postpartum psychosis), but I feared it the same way that, as a child, I feared being possessed by the devil. She asked a few more questions: “How are you sleeping? What does a typical day look like? How is your mood? What are you eating?”
When she was through, she put her hand on my arm. “I’m a little worried about you. Nothing to be alarmed about, but you are showing early signs of postpartum depression. Have you considered medication? Low doses of Zoloft are considered safe during pregnancy, and it can help prevent it.”
“Oh. No,” I said. “I don’t do meds unless I absolutely have to. Especially not now. I don’t want her exposed to… whatever.”
I’d been spending a lot of time on my phone browsing threads in gentle parenting and crunchy mom groups. I was determined to do everything perfect for my daughter. No meds during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. A water birth and hours of skin-to-skin. Breastfeeding until she’s 2. Only products with the cleanest ingredients. Organic food. Bed sharing. Never letting her cry alone. No spanking. I would give her everything I never had. I would introduce her to a kinder world than I’d known. I would gift her a secure attachment.
My midwife nodded and took in a deep breath. “OK. Well, it’s an option if you need it. Let me know if you start feeling worse, OK? I’m here to support you.”
A couple weeks later, I was seven months pregnant, and I hadn’t gotten out of bed for days except to use the bathroom, get my delivered food from the front porch, or take baths. I’d been crying uncontrollably on and off and couldn’t force myself to function. I watched every reality dating show Netflix had to offer and had moved on to marathoning Nailed It! I had desserts from a local bakery delivered almost daily. Anything to check out.
Motherhood was nearing, and that was all I could think about. Baby clothes. Baby bedding. Diapers. But it was also unexpectedly bringing up childhood trauma I thought I’d gotten over, specifically being sexually abused as a kid. The memory upset me in a whole new way. It wasn’t just that it happened to me. It happened to a 6-year-old. Six. I’d never really thought of it that way before. But now, I would one day have a 6-year-old daughter. The thought made me sick, made it difficult to breathe. My heart raced and I thought it might explode. I couldn’t shake the thought of something bad happening to her. I couldn’t shake the guilt for forcing her into this cruel world.
I texted my midwife that I’d been crying more, and she said she wanted to have a Zoom appointment to talk about it. Before she could say much, I told her I was willing to try Zoloft. I’d given it a lot of thought and decided the risks, which were minor and rare, were worth taking if it meant I could get my mind back.
She looked relieved, and sent my prescription to Walgreens immediately. I picked it up that evening, the first time I’d left my house in weeks. I was afraid to go into the store, afraid to talk to people. Even driving was terrifying. None of this was like me. When I got home, I popped the little blue pill and hoped for the best. I started seeing a therapist that week, too.
My daughter is 2 now. She’s fine. More than fine. And so am I. All the Zoloft did was allow me to take care of myself so I could take care of her.
A month or so later, I was folding baby clothes in my underwear and dancing to Beyoncé’s “Formation.” I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, belly now massive, and I looked happy. Not only that, but I felt better than I had in months. The meds were working. I sat on the edge of the bed, next to the pile of folded clothes, and rubbed my stomach. It felt good to just enjoy the experience of pregnancy for a moment. I gave myself permission right then to make the seemingly selfish decision to take care of myself. I knew I couldn’t be a good mom otherwise.
After my daughter was born, even on medication, the postpartum depression and anxiety were like nothing I’d ever experienced before. The strangest things would send me into a panic attack: driving, packing a diaper bag, deciding whether to swaddle my daughter or not. I’d have moments in the night when my baby was sleeping that I’d stare at her, drenched in tears, wondering if she’d be better off without me. I told my midwife, and she recommended I up my dose. I said yes, despite still feeling conflicted about taking meds at all. I was still worried the meds might end up in her tiny body through my breastmilk. But I was desperate. I choked back the guilt and took the pills.
A few weeks later, I knew the meds were working when I was able to get my daughter into her car seat and drive her to the store without turning into a sobbing mess. I still struggled with PPA and PPD, but it wasn’t debilitating. I could function. I could be a good mom to my kid.
My daughter is 2 now. She’s healthy. She’s smart. She’s such a sweetheart. She’s fine. More than fine. And so am I. All the Zoloft did was allow me to take care of myself so I could take care of her. Thank God for my midwife, and for the tiny voice in my head that convinced me it was OK to take care of myself. Things are certainly not perfect. Medication is not a cure-all, and motherhood is hard. But it can help. It helped me. It might’ve even saved my life.