On Mother’s Day this year, I will be nine weeks closer to being a mother again. My husband Jack is thrilled. My five kids are ecstatic. I am filled with joy and nausea.
Two and a half years ago, when our youngest son Ben was born, my OB-GYN sent me home from the hospital with the words, “See you in a year."
I laughed. For the previous eight years, Jack and I had been on the every-other-year baby plan. Our five children were spaced anywhere from 21 to 27 months apart. Holding Ben in my arms, I told my doctor, “Five seems like a good number. I think we might be done.”
For a long time, I thought we were. Benjamin, who seemed at first to be a docile baby, roared into toddlerhood like an out-of-control train. Ben ran faster and climbed higher and got into more trouble than any of my other kids had. I couldn’t imagine taking care of an infant and keeping track of Ben. “By the time I finished nursing the baby,” I told Jack, “Ben could have the entire upstairs completely dismantled. That’s if he hadn’t broken out of the house and run down the street.”
Jack and I practiced our Natural Family Planning religiously, staying away from each other on any day that I might possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, be fertile. Last fall, I battled through a nasty bout of depression and started taking Prozac. The medication helped.
In January, I told one of my closest girlfriends, “You know, the great irony is that now that I’m on medication, I feel up to having another baby. I don’t feel so overwhelmed. Ben is starting to mellow out. I’m really enjoying my children. I feel like raising my kids is the most important thing I could ever do. And the kids, especially Rebecca, have been asking me for a baby brother or sister. I’m just assuming that I shouldn’t get pregnant if I’m taking Prozac.”
I talked to my doctor. “I’d like to start cutting back on the medication. Jack and I are thinking about having another baby.”
“I wouldn’t recommend cutting back,” he said. “Someone like you who’s had recurrent bouts of depression should stay on the medication for at least a year.”
“What if I should get pregnant?”
“Then we just have to balance the benefit of the medication to you against any possible risks to the baby.”
I went home and did a lot of research on the Internet. Some midwife websites said taking Prozac during pregnancy was as bad as shooting heroin. The actual medical research showed a slightly increased risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Later studies showed that the premature birth and low birth weight might have resulted from the mother’s depression, not the medication. In another study, children born to mothers who had taken Prozac throughout their pregnancies were followed up to age seven. The study showed no increase in physical or developmental problems when compared to children of mothers who hadn’t taken Prozac.
I talked to Jack about what I’d found out. “The general consensus seems to be that if the medication is helping the mother, the risks to the baby are less from the medication than they might be if the mother went off the medication and fell back into depression.” We decided to stop being so religious about our Natural Family Planning and let God decide.
On a Thursday morning in April, I stood out in the cul-de-sac in front of our house. The sun warmed my hair and the back of my shoulders. Johnny and Ben played with Lindsey and Morgan, the girls who live across the street, while I chatted with Tina, the girls’ mother. Ben rode by on his red tricycle. “Look at me, Mrs. Gast,” he called to Tina. “I’m goin’ fast.”
“That’s great, Ben,” Tina answered.
Johnny and Lindsey raced their bikes up the cul-de-sac, turned around, and raced back. “I won,” Johnny called out.
“I won,” Lindsey echoed him.
“You both won,” I said. “Good race.”
I asked Tina if she could watch the kids for a minute while I ran in to go to the bathroom.
“Sure,” she answered. “Turn around,” she hollered to Lindsey and Johnny, who had ventured too far down the street.
I stepped into the cool house and walked upstairs. I pulled the home-pregnancy test I’d bought the day before from the drawer beside the sink. With hands shaking, I peed on the absorbent end and replaced the cap. After I’d washed my hands, I stood and watched a faint pink line appear in the positive window. I looked up and smiled at myself in the mirror. I looked at the gray in my hair and the lines around my eyes. I thought of the baby growing inside me. Tears spilled onto my still-smiling cheeks.
“Mom,” I heard Johnny call from outside. “Can I have a juice box?”
“Sure,” I called back. I wiped my eyes, ran down the stairs, and stepped back out into the sun.