My Journey to Antidepressants While Breastfeeding

By Tara Charne

I remember sitting across from Dr. Catherine Birndorf, as her office was still being furnished. I was the second round of women to enter The Motherhood Center, a support center for new and expecting moms in Manhattan. I was very tired, and very skinny. I had lost a tremendous amount of weight, after the birth of my son. “The perfect Mom body” someone said to me. My response back was that I would prefer fat and happy.

I was so prepared

My body loved being pregnant and I felt great. I was a celebrity stylist and I would fly back and forth from Los Angeles to Miami and home to New York again, working 15 hours on commercial sets. I joked about going into labor on set and just assumed my life would continue, as is, after I gave birth. I had fantastic midwives and an amazing doula. I was so prepared.

My son’s birth was traumatic. I was given Pitocin after he was born because of all the blood I lost. My midwives came to check on me in the morning because they were worried about how I was handling the trauma. I was as happy as can be. I was able to breastfeed right away and I even took my two day old to brunch. My postpartum doula became my closest friend for weeks. We would go for long walks and talk about our previous lives, although I was still sure my life was going to stay the same. When our time came to an end she assured me I was doing great, and I agreed. Back to work I go. 

Things were not ok

My son never slept. He never stopped crying or throwing up. He was eight weeks old on my first Mother’s Day and I was spiraling. I would walk the streets of Brooklyn as a full time job to try to soothe him.I would take the train to Chelsea to do baby movement and breathing classes with him. I brought him, attached to me, to a meditation class as all the men got up and walked out. I stayed so desperate for some reprieve. I cried, constantly. I was losing it.

I asked around at Mommy-and-me groups about feeling so overwhelmed with anxieties and never thought it was postpartum depression. I was prepared, right? How could I have postpartum depression? My doula specialized in it and I was fine, she said. 

I rolled through my first summer as a mother, into the fall, and through winter feeling like a zombie. Between the lack of sleep and a checked out husband, my son had just turned one, and I finally admitted that I needed to do something. I made an appointment to see a therapist, but when the day came, I could barely get out of the house. As I sat on her couch with my wailing son strapped to my chest, I told her I wish I could go to Bellevue and just relax. To me, Bellevue seemed like a spa. 

She didn’t find it funny. She gave me the number for The Motherhood Center. I called and left a message. I just figured another voicemail unanswered. 

To my surprise a few minutes later a woman named Donna called me. She asked how I was and if I was sleeping. I said no. “Did you know sleep deprivation is a form of torture?” she replied. I did not know that. “Are you eating?” No. “Ok, let’s get you here and help you.” I started to cry. Someone was going to help me, finally.

The help I needed

As I sat across from Dr. Birndorf, spilling every tear I had shed in the last ten months, she suggested a low dose of Fluoxetine, or Prozac, to get through the anxieties and begin to focus on true healing after birth. I refused. I was still breastfeeding, and I had an intense fear about being judged by other mothers. And what would it do to my son? I had a bout of depression in my 20’s and had an awful experience with antidepressants then. Why would I give that to my son? I needed to be in control and I needed to have all of my functions. I felt the drug would make me completely lose it, based on my past experience. What I didn’t realize is that I had already gotten there. I had no control, I had none of my functions. All I had was fear, anxiety, and a crying baby strapped to my chest all day, every day. 

She explained that this drug is the longest antidepressant on the market and the most studied, especially as it relates to breastfeeding. While a little would get into his system, he was older, stronger and a healthy child, and there is no evidence that it was going to harm him. Wasn’t my happiness and emotional state just as important? I still said no. 

They were my village

Later that week in group therapy, I talked about my fears. I was so scared because of the last time I took them and what would that do to my son? All the other women in the group looked at me, nodded and shared that they were all on a low dose of antidepressants. They explained what it had done for them, positive and negative. I listened. I trusted these women. Together, we were in an intense personal and emotional place and I felt very safe. These women made me feel unjudged. They made me want to feel better, for myself and for my son. They were my village, my people. And I knew they would be with me every step of the way.

I called Dr. Birndorf on the way home and said, “Ok, I’m ready. Let’s do this.”