“Were you frightened to have children with your history of suicidal depression?” a young woman asked me the other day.
“Did you have to stop medication while you were pregnant?”
In the last ten years writing about mental health issues, these two questions keep surfacing, especially among young women who dream of pushing a baby stroller to the park and disciplining a toddler and yet are daunted by a history of serious depression. Every time I answer them, I do so with a different perspective and new research.
Yes, I was terrified to have children.
Not only was I not crazy about passing on nifty genes that could predispose my offspring to depression and anxiety, but I questioned my capability to nurture a living creature. All of my plants were dead. However, I experienced in my twenties a period of relative stability. So I thought that the days of crippling anxiety were long gone, and that the suicidal ideations of my youth and teens had been permanently fixed through antidepressants, therapy, and exercise.
Truth be told, if I had endured in my twenties the kind of severe, suicidal, and treatment-resistant depression that I have experienced since giving birth to my son, I’m not sure I would have had children. It would have felt irresponsible. Pre-kids I didn’t know that staying alive requires so much work, time, and energy that depressed mothers don’t have. I love my kids with every fiber of my being, and I do the very best that I can. However, I feel that they deserve a mother who was emotionally present for them, especially in those early years. I have enjoyed a few good stretches over the years, and I am starting to feel good again now. However, for the majority of their young lives, I was merely existing—trying to survive—not living, not enjoying them. And that saddens me to no end.
Thank you for writing this article. It is a conversation and debate that I have in my mind and with my husband often. We have one child who is 4. My depression & anxiety increased significantly postpartum and got frighteningly bad. We are just starting to get our heads above water as parents and find ourselves torn on whether to have another child. It makes me sad that I can’t keep up with the other Moms, or have more children to love. I have a lot of love to give. I know I am a good mother. I want my child to have a sibling. It’s the guilt of her not having a sibling that kills me. Do I go off my meds and risk relapsing into a deep depression when I’ve finally come out of it just so that I can allow my body some time before getting pregnant? What if I crash? What if it’s worse this time? Is it better to be a good mother to one child than a paralyzed and deeply depressed mother of two? What if I can’t cope and heaven forbid I take my own life? My husband would be left with two children to raise on his own. What if I stay on meds and and we have a new baby and that child is born with birth defects or goes through withdrawal because of my meds? I would feel such guilt. What if we don’t have a child at all and our child grows up an only child and is lonely? I have so many questions and fears. No one can tell me what to do. Doctors don’t get it. They just say (a) don’t have more children, (b) take medications that are “safe” for pregnancy. I don’t buy that any medication is safe while pregnant. It feels like being stuck in a jail cell at times with three doorways that are all barred up so I can’t get out. I have options, but they don’t feel like true options. Most of them are not what my heart desires which is to have another child. Thank you for this piece and for allowing this important discussion.
Thanks, Hayley. I feel for you. But you are so much more aware than I was before I had children, so you have that going for you.
Thanks so much for writing something so very little has been written about. I recently found myself unexpectedly pregnant and facing all of these difficulties. I suffered terrible ppd with my son. Was medicated during his birth and he had awful colic for 18 months. I so wanted to be without meds this time around but went down the rabbit hole when I tried. This is a struggle and one I wish we never had to cope with. I Too fear passing these genes on to my children. It is all such a personal decision. I think that all that any of us can do is be as self aware as possible, and surround ourselves with top medical professionals and resources out the gazoo when the babies come if at all possible. Try not to feel guilty about any of the choices that we make- guilt is such a debilitating part of this illness. Thanks so much Theresa.
Thank you, Gracey. I will keep you in my prayers. You have so much self-awareness, and that will take you far. You are so right about the self-compassion part.
There is a school of thought that says we choose our parents. Now humour me for a minute…….Can you imagine God asking your kids ‘So who ya going to go with?’ and the reply ‘The blond woman who cries all the time but has a heart of gold and the cute bald guy who loves her anyway!’. Now I would presume there must be a reason for this? Maybe we don’t know and that’s perfectly ok!
🙂 your perspective is always fun.
OMG, LOL, on mi madre’s side of the family, we are very familiar with this school of thought. She suffered post-partum depression with me REALLY BAD…so much so that if it weren’t for my father I might not have been here. We often joke about why we chose each other given the history of depression. We made a pact that once we crossed over that we’d stay put. I know it’s a serious subject, but we were able to find the humor in it through love. And we really do love each other, in spite of the depression. But for myself I’m glad I don’t have children with my depression. I didn’t want them to suffer from my depression and PTSD.