I open the bottle and shake a single pill into my hand. I stare at it: light blue, oblong, tiny yet powerful. Adeline hears the rattle of the pills and comes running over. She’s standing by my side, pulling on my leg and reaching up. She wants to see what I have, to shake the bottle. I stare at her for a moment. I know that I’m doing this for her. For myself, yes, but more importantly for her: I need to be present for her, to have the energy to play with her and the lightness to smile and laugh with her. I need antidepressants.
I’ve been resisting this for months. When Adeline was a tiny baby and not sleeping, I told myself I’d feel better once she started sleeping. When she finally started sleeping, I told myself I was still adjusting to life in a new city and I’d feel better eventually. But instead of feeling better, things just got worse and worse.
I hit rock bottom a few weeks ago. We were having a relatively ok day when one of the dogs went potty inside the house. Suddenly everything was terrible. The rage consumed my whole body. For one moment I thought it would pass and then I started screaming. I was shaking and swearing, slamming doors and throwing things down. I was, for the first time, afraid: I couldn’t control myself. The dogs ran away from me, tails between their legs and heads down. Adeline looked at me with her face full of fear and then started crying. Seeing her tiny, innocent, beautiful face distorted by fear and confusion and covered in tears finally broke the rage. I held her close to me and told her I was sorry and soon I was crying too.
That night she was up in the middle of the night and as I sat in the dark in her room, waiting for her to go back to sleep, the depression settled on me like a ton of sand. I looked at her little body, curled up in her crib, helpless and vulnerable, and I thought about how much she still needed her mama and I knew I had to get help.
When I finally got in to see a psychiatrist, we talked through the issues: I’m still breastfeeding and I’ll probably want to get pregnant again in the next year or two. I’m resistant to taking medicine while breastfeeding, and I certainly don’t want to take anything while pregnant.
As we looked through the studies on breastfeeding and antidepressants, one study caught my eye. Taking a decrease in weight gain as a sign of negative effects, the study found that babies of mothers on antidepressants didn’t show any decrease in weight gain. But when mothers fell into a deep depression, babies did show a decrease in weight gain. In other words, there might be risks to taking antidepressants while breastfeeding, but there are also risks to mothering while depressed.
I don’t want to scare Adeline with my anger anymore. I don’t want to be so depressed that I lay on the floor of her room while she plays and can’t even manage to sit up and read her a story. I don’t want to lose this time to the haze of depression that settles over memories, making them vague when you look back once the depression has cleared. I need to be here, now. I need to be well.
So I take a deep breath and swallow the pill. I pick up Adeline and kiss her on the nose. “I love you,” I tell her. “Things are going to get better, I promise.”