Get Well

Self and the City: The First 30 Days

by Jessica A. Rose, LMHC

I believe women inherently know their bodies. Though, medicine and magazines have subverted our trust in ourselves. Trust that we understand that all-knowing “gut” feeling that is our body speaking to us in a language we’ve lost. 

I had just turned 30, made the decision to make a baby, and had no vision of what this would look like, aside from the certainty that it would look like how love feels – full and secure. I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that the person on the other end of this baby-making was just as in love with the idea of pregnancy and parenthood as I was. Excited and certain in the way two people are when they are in the nascent, hormone-latent blur of the early days of love. And, early days they were. Ninety days of love and certainty and hormones and a baby was made in a midnight bloom of potent and colorful impatience. 

April 1, 2012.  The universe chuckled as I stared at my pregnancy test that read positive.  My neuro-electricity came to a screeching halt.  I stood there in my Manhattan bathroom and stared at a stick that acted as a plunging stake in a fertile ground of new, adult territory.  I stood looking at myself in the mirror and cried.  I cried and I laughed, in unison and in rotation. I grew up, sped up and met my numerical age in a New York minute.  Just before, in every preceding second of my life, I had known only how to be selfish; selfish that sometimes served me and many times hurt me. Now, in this moment, I am not just Jessica, I am host to the genesis of a new human.  For this brief period, my soul had grown, doubled. Like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes in one night and joined all the Whos in Whooville for their Christmas feast.  In this moment and for every moment in a future that doesn’t exist, though imagined in perpetuum, I will think of someone else before I remember to think of myself. This moment was sobriety.

I abandoned each vice I had grown to covet, and I moved into a life that would prove to be far more challenging, both physically and emotionally than the one I existed in just a moment ago.  I left behind Lexapro, Clonazepam, Kettle One martinis, Parliament Lights, tanning beds, friends who only skimmed the surface, sprinting to keep up with the energy of NYC, and failed attempts at joining the masses.  I struggled to learn to walk again without all of the social and emotional stilts I had come to rely on.  

I should clarify, I was prepared and relieved and eager to leave behind the booze and cigarettes and the vices that were the proverbial Uber ride through my 20’s. What I was by no means prepared for, relieved by or eager to abandon were the medications that were able to mitigate my (sometimes) debilitating anxiety; anxiety that had been my shadow – inescapable, always there, not always seen – since my late childhood/early adolescent years. I was prescribed an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) for the first time during my Freshman year of college. From ages 18-30 there were periods of time that I needed the support of medication and periods of time when deep breathing, yoga and a good night sleep were enough. When I found out I was pregnant I was taking 20 mg of Lexapro and .5 mg of Clonazepam – a medication routine prescribed  three years prior when I was in my first year of graduate school – in school full-time, bartending full-time, and doing a deep-dive into my own therapy (not required for those in school for counseling, though it should be). Three years later I had been taking the same dosage of two medications to manage anxiety that had largely abated but that my body had become reliant on. 

I had been to the OBGYN the previous week to confirm my pregnancy with bloodwork. The next week they called, they confirmed, they asked if I was still taking Lexapro and Clonazapam. They admonished me for still taking it (didn’t I know better? Didn’t I know that this could hurt my baby?). They told me to stop taking both medications immediately. They told me this was protocol. Terrified, I moved my two orange plastic bottles with white child-proof lids to the back of the hall closet and slid, back to the wall, down to the floor, where I sat and cried the kind of tears you cry when you are utterly and completely lost and have no compass and no phone and no one speaks your language. This is where I could take you on a trip down the rabbit-hole that is “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome”, or the staggering need for medical professionals who are versed in deprescribing, or the public health crisis that are the “protocols” for pregnant and birthing women in America – but that’s a (horror) story for another day. 

By August it was clear I would not be able to survive this pregnancy without the assistance of anxiety medication.  A self-imposed surge of guilt and shame arose in me and shoved my head under the water I was feverishly treading.  I had known for at least a month that it was inevitable, yet each day that I managed to escape the grip of panic I convinced myself I could make it to my due date before resuming medication.  As someone who has had a lifetime of therapy and two degrees in psychology, I still judged myself with a fierceness that only aided my emotional paralysis. I went too long, under emotional circumstances too strenuous. I knew my break was imminent when I woke up that morning.  

I sat in the examination room waiting for my obstetrician; ashamed of the conversation I was about to have.  My insides grumbled with commentary about how broken my mind was.  I couldn’t stay sane long enough to grow my baby.  I couldn’t just muster the strength needed to keep my body free of toxins, prescribed and indigenous, for nine months.  I was selfish.  I was acting like a child, unable to effectively emotionally regulate.  I sat meditating on this hateful rhetoric. I’ve always been expert at hiding the torrential panic pummeling my body when in mixed company.  Some would say it’s survival, I’m inclined to say it’s shame.  My doctor spoke words to me that mostly soared over my throbbing head. She spoke about risk-benefit ratios and Category C medications, and the fact that my body was being flooded with stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine and this was also potentially (absolutely) damaging to my growing baby. I left the doctor’s office with a prescription for 5 mg of Lexapro. Face red with shame, body begging for relief, I dropped the prescription at the CVS in Union Square. Within 48-hours the panic subsided, the relief was ripe, and I met my pregnancy for the first time, free from the shadow that had grown larger than my self.  I was having a baby! A baby that I would teach her to trust herself, to trust her body, to dismiss anyone who vied for control over her knowing herself. 

It’s going well so far.  

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