Documentary takes aim at pregnancy and mental illness

By Taylor DeVille
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

A Baltimore-based filmmaker and associate film professor at Stevenson University has created a documentary called “Moms & Meds” that is aimed at eliminating the stigma around pregnant women who suffer with mental illness.

“As a person struggling with anxiety since childhood, who had been medicated for over a decade, I soon realized I had important decisions to make,” Dina Fiasconaro says in her opening lines of the documentary. “Should I stay on my meds and risk harming the baby? Should I get off my meds and risk my own mental health? Should I have a child at all, given my family history of mental health issues?”

“Moms & Meds” follows the stories of five women (including Fiasconaro) over the course of their pregnancies as they struggle with mental health problems and other issues.

Spanning a four-year period, the film examines women who have lost their jobs, given children up for adoption, and suffered either because they used the wrong medication or could not get the drugs they needed.

The idea for the documentary came three months before Fiasconaro became pregnant, when she decided to flush her medication out of her system before trying to conceive.

Dina Fiasconaro, a Baltimore-based filmmaker and associate film professor at Stevenson University, has created a documentary called “Moms & Meds.” Photo by  Taylor DeVille.

Dina Fiasconaro, a Baltimore-based filmmaker and associate film professor at Stevenson University, has created a documentary called “Moms & Meds.” Photo by Taylor DeVille.

Fiasconaro filmed herself as her body and mind adjusted to life without medication, and for a while she woke up every morning with a panic attack.

Fiasconaro decided to go med-free after receiving little to no information about the potential effects of her medication on a developing fetus from various doctors, most of whom were content to pass her on to the next expert without giving any real advice.

“No one just wanted to claim ownership of a piece of information that would’ve been helpful for me,” Fiasconaro said in an interview. “It’s not that they don’t want to help, it’s just that they’re only trained in the one small portion of the larger experience that the pregnant woman is having. None of them are talking to each other.”

According to the New York Times, a meta-analysis found from observing 30 studies that “as many as one in five women develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or a combination” in the year after giving birth—and many women become depressed during their pregnancy.

Not much research has been conducted, however, on mothers who have already been diagnosed with and prescribed medication for psychological illnesses, Fiasconaro said—and perhaps for good reason.

“You can’t give a pregnant woman a medication as a test just to see what happens,” Fiasconaro said. “A lot of the data is circumstantial.”

Another thing, FIasconaro said, is that medication affects women differently, making it nearly impossible to determine which medications will negatively impact potential moms.

“Because you’re dealing with brain chemistry, it’s a very kind of individual and case-by-case scenario,” she said. “You could give five women the same medication, and they’re all gonna react differently to that medication, which makes it really hard because there’s no standard for anything.”

Fiasconaro said that while she was interested in “gain[ing] data and information” on medicated potential moms, “the doc became about just giving a voice to women who normally don’t talk about these types of issues because of stigma.”

“I learned that women are really resilient,” Fiasconaro said, smiling. “Although all five women in my film struggled to various degrees, we all still kind of made it, and we’re all raising our kids to the best of our abilities.”

Fiasconaro’s daughter Sailor turns  3 in December, and Fiasconaro is still medication-free.

“I think [Sailor] allows me to stop and enjoy moments in a way that I usually can’t because I’m anxious,” Fiasconaro said. “So she’s kind of therapeutic in a way.”

“Moms & Meds” is available now on Amazon and is free for Amazon Prime users.

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