Two pink lines on the pregnancy test came with more than the usual dread for me. They signaled another kid, yes, but so much more was at stake.
I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Usually, I take Strattera, a stimulant to kick my stimulus-seeking brain into semi-normal function, and Wellbutrin, an anti-depressant for the mood, depression, and anxiety symptoms. The mix helps me focus, chase the depression away, and kick the anxiety back into the dark corner where it belongs.
“These are some serious drugs that have not been properly tested in pregnancy. You have to stop taking them. Now. Today.” My obstetrician explained.
What?! I wanted to yell and cry. Clearly, she didn’t understand. Not taking my medication was NOT an option.
Without medication to treat ADHD, depression, and anxiety, I stay up all hours of the night worried about strange scenarios that are too wild to ever come true, but not too wild to entertain my conscious at 3 a.m. I start fifty thousand things only to finish after wasting a tremendous amount of time and money, or never finish at all. I forget where I leave my things and when I'm supposed to be somewhere. I'm generally late, or I never show up at all. I feel paranoid and moody.
There was no way that I could just stop the meds. I needed a second opinion.
“You could also terminate the pregnancy.” That was the second opinion.
The psychiatrist responsible for helping me manage my medication proposed a different idea. While Wellbutrin is not usually recommended during pregnancy, I could continue to use it with medical supervision. It would help with the depression and anxiety. And while medication might not be good for a baby growing in utero, neither are depression and anxiety.
Quitting the ADHD meds cold turkey while also experiencing wild hormonal fluctuations in my first trimester was rough, to say the least. I started seeing a therapist for help with focus, time management, and memory issues. He basically helped me to keep up the outward appearance of normalcy while the Strattera raged its way out of my system.
I was okay for the first few days after my last dose. By the end of that week, however, I was really feeling it. I remember lying in bed at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, after sleeping 16 hours. My brain had been telling my body to get the hell out of bed for hours, but my body only responded NOPE each time the request was made. It took another hour of my husband coming in to ask if I was okay and delivering several cups of coffee to get my body moving. But by the time I was up and finally dressed, I was tired and ready for bed again.
The worst part was taking place in my mind. The brain fog was thick. Thoughts would disappear without warning, leaving me standing mind-conversation with nothing to say, and no clue what we were just talking about. I would attempt to clean the house despite the fatigue, but would lose sight of the task by distraction, or by simply losing the willpower to finish.
I remember walking into the bathroom with a roll of toilet paper in hand and immediately forgetting what I was doing there, or even why I had the paper. My original task was to change out the empty roll. That point of the task did not resurface from the fog until the next time I had to take a pregnant pee break -- two hours later.
Fortunately, my therapist had a plan.
I would carry a small journal and write in it whenever I needed to remember things.
I'd take long walks in the morning, outside in the sunlight, to help me chase away that fatigue, and break through the brain fog in my head.
Plenty of healthy snacks and lots of water were also prescribed.
I set annoying alarms on my phone to get me out of my bed in the morning, and scheduled walks with a persistent friend who would help hold me accountable.
I took prenatal vitamins regularly and consistently.
Slowly, I came out of the clutches of Strattera. By the second trimester, I was felt good, and I could function.
The more widely celebrated happy ending might be that I stopped taking my medication permanently, and lived happily ever after. Well, no.
Moments after I gave birth, I handed the Strattera script to my husband and asked him to fill it. I also chose not to breastfeed. My new baby needed his mom, and my ADHD brain needed support so that I could be that mom.
I knew that if medication could successfully help me keep my shit together before adding the complicated dimension of parenthood, it would definitely help me as a new mom.
It takes a village!
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