Published on September 3rd, 2013 | by Dina Fiasconaro2
WOMEN AND MEDS: A Documentary About Women, Meds & Pregnancy
By Dina Fiasconaro
A year and a half ago, I started working on a feature documentary film, Women and Meds, about the options women face when they want to have children but take medication for mental illness. The process has been personal, and I hope it will be helpful and insightful to others as well.
I remember having social anxiety as far back as 3rd or 4th grade. I tell a story in the film about my pencil breaking during a test, and how rather than getting up and crossing the classroom to sharpen my pencil, I finished the test with the tiny stub of lead in my finger, because I was terrified to cross the classroom. I started having panic attacks in college, and then my anxiety became full-blown in graduate school, where I was faced with an enormous amount of pressure to succeed as a filmmaker. From there, I went through a period of heavy psychotropic medication use as well as recreational drug use to medicate the anxiety, and subsequent recovery. I have been learning how to manage and deal with my anxiety on a more positive and holistic level ever since.
A few years ago, my husband Gary and I began talking about having a child. We were approaching the ‘now or never’ point, in terms of age, and realized that it couldn’t just wait for a ‘happy accident’ because the medication I was taking at the time could potentially cause harm to a baby. Being an OCD, control-freak planner, I began researching my options: wean off medication and risk not feeling well, stay on medication and risk harming the baby, or not have a biological child at all. I began scheduling consultation appointments with therapists, psychiatrists and high-risk OB-GYNs. I studied my calendar to make sure everything lined up with my work schedule; as a full-time professor, I could optimize my summer break, and not miss too much of either semester. Along the way, I discovered that there was a lot of scattered and conflicting information, and no clearly defined path or source of information for myself or other women dealing with these issues. Some of the research material was outdated, or just didn’t exist due to the ethical complications of testing medication on pregnant women. Pharmaceutical companies, even those manufacturing OTC medication like sleep aides, were reluctant to say whether or not their medication was truly safe – so I got passed back and forth between doctors telling me to double check with the companies, and companies saying to consult a medical expert, or, my GYN telling me to check with my therapist, and my therapist telling me to check with my GYN. No one would take ownership or offer a clear answer, which was incredibly frustrating! And, even the most caring and informed of OB-GYNs and mental health professionals seemed to take an opposite approach from one another – the OB was ultimately concerned with the health of the baby, and the mental health professional with my mental state. I decided that making a documentary film which followed me on my journey and also highlighted the experiences of other women, would be the best way to consolidate what I was learning and communicate it to others .
Due to the stigma and silence surrounding mental illness it has been very difficult finding other women to share their experiences with me, both personally and for the sake of the film. I have been lucky enough to connect with a few amazing women who have been open and honest about their experiences. Kelly, who we’ve been able to follow throughout her entire 2nd pregnancy, experienced suicidal depression during that time and throughout an earlier pregnancy. Although she experiences mild anxiety on an average day, her pregnancies plunged her very deep into emotional despair for no apparent reason, which was then further instigated by family tensions at home and the stress of her full-time job. Upon delivering the news of her pregnancy to the father, Vickie found herself alone, without a job or health insurance. She struggles with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, and has decided that offering her baby for adoption is the best decision for her right now. She is due next week.
Two other women the film follows are bi-polar. One took Lamictal throughout her pregnancy and has a healthy 15 year- old son; the other is just beginning to look into her options, with the hope that she can stay on her medication and still have a biological child. The best decision for me, which the film has been documenting, was weaning off my medication, and I’ve been grateful and surprised that, at 6-1/2 months pregnant, I feel better than ever – even better than when I was taking medication, and I’m hoping that I won’t have to go back on anything afterwards. Of course, as an anxious person, there is always the thought in the back of my head that the other shoe will drop eventually, and that there will be a point where my anxiety becomes overwhelming again. I worry about post-partum depression, and just this week started teaching again and had a panic attack on the first day of class. However, I try to remain positive and just take it a day at a time. Mental illness is a very self-centered disease; you’re constantly in your head, thinking or worrying about yourself and what’s happening to or around you, and I’m really looking forward to having a child to concentrate on, to take some of that self-centeredness away. I also find myself being less of a perfectionist, and kinder with myself in terms of work and accomplishments. I’m obsessive, a workaholic and extremely ambitious, which has often been detrimental to my mental and physical state. I feel like I’m doing a good job of allowing myself to take a break and focus on the basics, like eating and sleeping well, and being as healthy and calm as I possibly can for my baby. Society leads women to believe that they need to sacrifice their career for family (or vice versa), but I’m feeling pretty confident that I can handle both. For me, the key to feeling well is all about balance, and I think that adding a family dynamic to my life will only help to balance things out even more.
Ultimately, I want Women and Meds to raise awareness and provide some guidance and useful information for other women and their families. I’m hoping that people walk away with a newfound sensitivity to what any woman might be going through, as mental illness and reproductive issues are two topics people are very hesitant to talk about publicly. I would also like other women to know they are not alone – there are many of us going through this, and there is help out there. I can’t tell you how many people have contacted me with their personal stories, or stories of others close to them who are dealing with the same issue. One high school friend contacted me to let me know she also discontinued her anxiety medication to have her son, and although she was optimistic about not going back on anything afterwards, found that it was necessary. Another friend who recently delivered a healthy baby girl, reached out to me about her decision to stay on Wellbutrin throughout her pregnancy. Another woman’s mother just today just contacted me about her struggle with mental illness. And said another woman, “Stigma is so ugly, and it makes us feel worse in our darkest moments. I know a film about this will be so wonderful and helpful.” It’s true that stigma and silence only hinder the process of getting well, and the more support from doctors, families and loved ones a woman has, the greater chance of a positive experience and outcome she’ll have.
We are currently raising money for Women and Meds, and have 3 weeks to reach our goal of $25,000 on Kickstarter. Please visit our page, spread the word, and donate if you can!
You can also find out more about the film on any of our social media sites: