I wouldn’t be a mother without modern medicine. This has a different meaning for me than you might be guessing. I didn’t face challenges getting pregnant with my three children, but I faced other challenges in getting them here. Those challenges were inside my own mind, and I truly believe I am alive today because of modern medicine.
I experienced perinatal depression during my first pregnancy. I felt fatigued, sad, and unable to do many normal activities. I waited for each day to pass with pangs of anguish. I couldn’t see a future where I could be happy. I wasn’t myself.
My husband convinced me to talk to my doctor about my symptoms and after a lot of resistance, I finally did. She listened and validated my feelings, and we came up with a plan to get me feeling better which included prescribing antidepressants. Slowly, I started to feel better.
But what if that interaction never occurred?
So many times I have wondered how my life may have been different if I was born in a different time period or even just a different decade. Would my doctor have listened? If so, what treatment would have been available to me? Would I have had any support? Would I even be alive?
That last question sounds extreme, but in reality, it’s not. Many people with mental illness, myself included, have thought about suicide (suicidal ideation). Some of these thoughts are fleeting and the person has no intention of acting on them. Other thoughts are more extensive. And sadly some thoughts go even further to lead the person to develop a plan to end their life.
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What would have happened if I did not receive medical treatment and intervention at the time I did? How bad would this disease have become? Would I have survived?
These haunting thoughts come to my mind each time I hear stories of mothers ending their lives or read articles about how mental illnesses were handled in generations past. So many mothers were overlooked or given treatments that made them worse. Some former treatments had such severe side effects that negatively affected the health of these mothers or left them with no quality of life. Some survived, but some did not.
That could have been me. I may not have survived to become a mother.
If I did, I doubt I would have been able to go on to have two more children while I continued to suffer depression. My third pregnancy was by far the worst; I was barely hanging on during that time. It gives me chills to think about what might have happened without medical intervention.
The risks of untreated depression and other mental illnesses are real. And they are dire. What starts as symptoms of fatigue, low mood, and avoiding everyday life can progress to hopelessness, never-ending thoughts of being a burden to your family, and a mental pain so deep and real that it feels like physical pain. The pain combined with a broken record of negative thoughts makes you feel like the only way out, the only way to make it stop, is suicide.
Maybe I would have gotten through depression without any support. But maybe not. I am grateful to not know the answer to that question. I feel like modern medicine saved my life in more ways than one.
Not only am I physically here to be a mother, but I have the mental clarity to enjoy it (most of the time).
Some mothers are not so lucky. Whether they were born before the time of adequate mental health treatment or lived in circumstances that prevented them from seeking help, I mourn the loss of these women. I have felt some of what they felt. I know why they did what they did.
Depression is still a part of my life, but now I have the proper tools to live a full life. I live to fight another day. And I will never forget that is a privilege that some do not have.
If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)