Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Performance-Enhanced Parenting

The top story on my local news app this morning is titled "Moms Popping Pills to Be Better Parents."  Apparently, the late-breaking news comes from a report from the Centers for Disease Control on prescription drug overdoses in the United States. The report begins with the line "In 2007, approximately 27,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, one death every 19 minutes."  The report goes on to talk about the over-use of opioid analgesics to manage pain and the trend for patients to engage in "doctor shopping" until they find one that will prescribe the medication they seek.  This is, indeed, an alarming report.

The local news expanded on the CDC's report to shine a light on the trend for stressed out mothers to seek prescriptions for Adderall (a stimulant usually prescribed for ADHD) or Xanax (a highly addictive benzodiazepine prescribed for anxiety).  The article tells the story of a local mom who approached her doctor for Adderall after feeling the pressure of being a working mom of two with a husband away in the military.  The mom describes the effects of Adderall like a life-saver or a love affair. "I love the way it makes me feel. I have energy. I'm in a great mood all the time. I love it."  “I am a supermom, that is all there is to it," she said. "I am on my game for my kids.”  She goes on to admit that she may be addicted but she doesn't want to live without it. 

Now, after reading this article, I really want to blast doping mothers.  I mean, if Lance Armstrong can't do it, neither should we.  But, then, the splinter in my eye starts to irritate me.  Here is a Dr. Momsie confession:  I am not drug-free.  I'm a performance-enhanced parent.  Let me explain.

When Jr. was about 3 months old, as the end of my precious maternity leave was on the horizon, I started to experience extreme stomach pain.  Nearly every day, a couple hours after eating lunch, my stomach would clench and ache and send me doubled-over to the bed.  I would spend most of Jr.'s nap time guzzling Maalox and moaning.  Then, again, if I was brave enough to eat dinner, the same thing would occur.  This really started impacting my relationships and parenting.  I stopped eating anything but crackers and my weight fell to 90 pounds.  After many nights of tears and a trip to an urgent care center, I made an appointment with a specialist.  This GI guru slowly ruled out one cause after another.  He gave me about a thousand samples of Nexium and scheduled some exams.  Around Jr.'s first birthday, I had a upper endoscopy, which, again, gave me few answers. 

It was then that I put on my psychologist hat and realized my problem was probably psycho-somatic.  I knew I worried a lot as a new mother, especially when it came to the guilt associated with returning to work.  I could feel the tension I carried in my tummy, and tried progressive relaxation techniques, visualization, and deep breathing, just as I would one of my clients.  Still, the stomach pain continued.

Finally, I decided that I really could use a little serotonin.  Let me tell you about the beauty of this chemical.  It is a neurotransmitter in your brain that is associated with feelings of calmness, well-being, and happiness.  Serotonin is involved in the regulation of sleep, appetite, and mood.  About 90% of your serotonin receptors are in your tummy, so low serotonin often leads to tummy aches, ulcers, constipation, etc..  Serotonin is the chemical that says to your brain, "Everything is okay.  Take it easy.  So the dog just tracked mud in the freshly swept house?  No worries.  You can clean it up later." 

Yes, that is what I needed.  I was a wound -up, anxious mess of a new momsie.  I went to my doctor and asked for a prescription for Zoloft, a Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), which is often prescribed for anxiety and depression.  SSRI's like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Celexa and Lexapro inhibit the reuptake of serotonin in your brain, so there is more of it zipping around in there leaving calming messages behind.   We are a "Prozac Nation," with about 10% of all people taking an antidepressant, like my SSRI friends, sometime in their life.  Low doses of Zoloft and Paxil are often prescribed to nursing moms suffering from post-partum depression because studies have shown them to be undetectable in nursing babies' blood.

My stomach pain is gone and I'm a more easy-going momsie.  I don't stress out as much about little things and I'm less controlling and irritable.  I thank the good Lord for serotonin and for smart doctors who figured out how to put it in a pill.  Serotonin has truly enhanced my parenting.  So, judge not lest ye be judged.  Now, of course, SSRI's aren't a controlled substance like Adderall or Xanax, meaning they probably aren't addictive.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend any momsie look for immediate relief for stress in a pill bottle, and especially those that may be addicting and/or have harsh withdrawal side effects.  But, if post-partum anxiety, depression, or traumatic stress is impairing your ability to function, then please seek medical advice!  A little dose of serotonin might just be the fix you need!

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