how i got this baby

The Mom Who Had to Decide Whether to Take Medication During Her Pregnancy

Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

When Nili was in the earliest stage of pregnancy, she and her husband traveled abroad. Their vacation came just before the Zika virus — and the birth defects that can result if pregnant women are infected — became international news. About two weeks after they returned to the U.S., the CDC publicly announced the travel warning, recommending that pregnant women postpone travel to over 13 countries, including the one they had just visited. After a scramble for knowledge and testing, Nili learned in the first trimester that her pregnancy was unaffected by the virus. Her second trimester, however, came with its own stresses. She describes what happened when mental-health issues arose, reckoning with conflicting medical advice, laboring in a cab, and why she’s so grateful for her son.

On pregnancy and expectations. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a mom. But there was a point in my marriage where I woke up one day feeling like it was time to have kids — and my husband wasn’t, because, well, life’s a bitch. It took us a while to get to the point where he felt comfortable. But gradually, we got there — and we were off.

To me, it’s always seemed like there’s a great deal of education about how not to get pregnant. Growing up, we’re taught how to use condoms, birth control, you name it, but there was never a great deal of education about how to get pregnant. My husband and I stopped using any form of birth control and were like, Let’s make a baby. I had no idea that getting pregnant can be a bit more complicated than that.

In the end, I got pregnant after four or five months — which isn’t bad at all. It’s just that when you’re trying, you’re like, I’m ready now.

On being a newly pregnant person in the world. When you’re in your first trimester, especially if it’s the first time, it’s the strangest feeling: You’re bloated, you have a bizarre headache-that-never-goes-away feeling, and you’re vaguely nauseous at all times — but you can’t tell anyone. This calamity of unpleasantness occurs all at once, and yet you somehow have to rise to the occasion and not share this information with anyone.

On evaluating a risk. Right before I found out I was pregnant, we were in Colombia. This was when Zika was particularly scary — the travel warnings for pregnant women came out right after we got back. Once we were advised to get tested, we went through a lot trying to work our way through a system that had no precedence or guidance for us. I had a litany of doctor visits early on in my pregnancy, because the CDC kept issuing new guidelines — it was a challenge to assess our risk level.

Finally, I got the call at work: The test came back negative. I remember falling under my desk in tears trying to fully digest the news. This meant that I could emotionally accept that I was going to be having a baby.

On a previous pregnancy. When I was 22, I had an abortion. I try to be as open about it as possible because I feel very fortunate that my then-boyfriend was supportive, I had the money to be able to do it, and I lived in a country where I could safely make the decision. I was so young; I look back and have never regretted that decision. The love and dedication I’m able to give my little boy now is largely due to the fact that it is the right time in my life to be a mom.

On mental health during pregnancy. I’ve been on SSRIs for most of my adult life for a combination of anxiety and depression. For years I’d wondered about going off and when we were about to start trying for a baby, my husband and I agreed it was time. I found a Dartmouth- and NYU-educated psychiatrist who specializes in women’s mental health and reproductive psychology. Together, we formulated a plan for getting off of SSRIs in anticipation of getting pregnant. And the shocker was: I was okay. Everything was fine. The world had not collapsed around me.

Until it did. Like a lot of jobs, my job can be stressful. There are constant deadlines and high stakes. The people that thrive have to understand how to keep a measured approach; something I’ve carefully honed after many years of pitfalls. But when I was pregnant I was vulnerable: My hormones were all over the map. I was like an open wound that got infected, and I was unable to contain this surge of anxiety. I tried everything that wasn’t off-limits for pregnancy: acupuncture, therapy, long walks, long baths, lavender.

But the worst started to happen. I stopped sleeping, I was concerned my cortisol levels were too high and my son would be affected. Once, in the middle of the night, I left my sleeping husband behind and took myself to the emergency room. Then, another time after a stretch of not sleeping, I called my psychiatrist in the middle of the night begging her to see me the next day. I kept thinking about the worst. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to manage my onslaught of thoughts.

Vaguely, I told my work what was going on. (Thankfully I had a good support system both at home and at work, though I wasn’t able to see that as clearly at the time.)

On using medication during pregnancy. My psychiatrist prescribed me a benzodiazepines to help me sleep. It was a challenging decision, to starting taking it. Much of the research surrounding pregnancy and medication is controversial and lacking because pregnant women do not want to be researched on — there’s too much at stake. Also, a lot of experts disagree. When I mentioned to my midwife what I was taking, she informed me that it was a “drug category D” for pregnancy, which means there is evidence of human fetal risk. She told me I shouldn’t be taking it unless it was saving my life. If two medical professionals give you contradicting opinions, whose do you accept?

It was so stressful — going through this experience made me realize very quickly that the women’s health community is not aligned. Research around the world has produced different results and there are conflicting opinions every direction you turn. And when you’re pregnant, you don’t want a risk assessment, you want a guarantee. Ultimately, there was one message that I walked away with: A happy mother produces a happy baby.

The thing that haunts me, to this day, is that physically, my pregnancy was normal. My son’s growth was fine, he was kicking, he was active, all the scans were positive. Everything was fine. In the end, I was my own worst enemy.

On giving birth. My mom had all her babies without an epidural. She told me once that she would have had a million babies if she could, she loved it so much. I was inspired to try to have this baby naturally, but make whatever adjustments were necessary in real time. We planned to use a birthing center within a hospital — I felt very comforted by our doula, our midwife, and the access to a hospital if anything went wrong.

I started having contractions at home. I told my husband to stay at work because I was like, You don’t know! It could take days. I remember I was trying to finish something up for work, having contractions while typing. But at some point it became clear that this baby was imminent, and I closed my laptop.

Eventually, like most New York birth stories, we called an Uber. Things start to get fuzzy at this point, but I remember my husband apologizing profusely for the blood on the backseat. I had what felt like a million contractions while we waited through red lights and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. The poor driver had no idea what to do — he asked at one point if he should stop and wait for me to be done. I was like, No! Get me to the hospital!

There’s a part of triage where you have to go through by yourself. At the exact moment when you arrive and realize you’re about to push seven-plus pounds out of your body, you are left to deal with this reality and the accompanying pain, alone. I remember staring down the length of the hall I had to walk thinking: I’m not gonna make it. And I didn’t. There was a moment where I was screaming in pain, and my husband sprinted down the hall to help me. Bless that man.

Finally, we went to the birth center, where basically everything that we had planned, rehearsed, and packed went straight out the window. At nine centimeters dilated, my water broke and there was meconium in it, so they transferred me to labor and delivery, where I got an epidural. I went from an all-natural, beautiful birth to being plugged-in and knocked out, surrounded by an army of doctors and nurses. I’ve been told that things got scary, his heart slowed down and an emergency C-section was looming.

But then we got to the point in the night where the midwives changed shifts. The new midwife came in and commanded the room like a football coach at the Super Bowl — she made that little baby come out with the sheer force of her energy (and a little help from me), all while the doctor was there, hovering, wanting to do a C-section. He waited through all three hours of pushing.

On early parenthood. After all that, my recovery was like clockwork. I’d been prepared for postpartum depression, but I got lucky — I was able to deal with the bad times, but be present for the good. In fact, my maternity leave was dreamy. I gave birth in the fall, and it was a wonderful time to be off work and in the city. I had nothing but time and a beautiful, healthy child (and many sleepless nights to boot, but I try to forget about that).

Our son wasn’t the easiest baby, though — he wasn’t one of those miracle babies who sleeps through the night immediately. And there were definitely times when I furiously googled “baby and SSRI, first few months,” in the middle of the night, trying to determine causality. It’s been difficult not to blame things on myself. I also need to accept the reality that I don’t know everything right now. The only thing that’s certain is this: Our son is a happy, healthy, constantly smiling little monster that I feel fortunate for, every single day.

A Mom Debating Medication During Her Pregnancy