I know I say this on every single “mom” post I write, but I’ve wanted to be a mom since I was a kid. I can’t explain it, I’ve just always loved babies and kids and I have always wanted to raise a whole bunch of them. So when my mental health started going south, I got really nervous. I started researching obsessively, looking for positive stories about moms with mental illness who could successfully manage their illness and take care of their kids at the same time.
All I found were horror stories.
The internet was overflowing with reasons mentally ill women should not have babies, and maybe shouldn’t be mothers at all. There’s the risk of passing your illness onto your child, and the increased risk of postpartum depression, anxiety, or psychosis, or the risk of your hormones shifting and making your illness even worse than it was before, and even if none of that happens, a lot of people on the internet seem convinced that being mentally ill would make it impossible for me to take care of my kids “the way they deserved.”
I was young, I was depressed, I was scared, and so I believed them. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was ethical for me to have kids. Wasn’t it selfish to have kids just to fulfill my own wishes if I was just destined to wreak havoc on their lives with my illness?
I panicked and panicked and panicked, obsessing over everything that could go wrong and grieving my childhood dream of being a mom that had stuck with me through the years. But then my mental health started improving. I got on the right medication, I found healthier coping mechanisms and actually used them, and I thought maybe things would be okay if I had kids, eventually.
Then, bam, pregnant.
My fears went into overdrive. I was certain I would experience debilitating postpartum depression, and I suspected I would be a terrible mother, unable to take care of my baby. But I still wanted to be a mom so bad. It was a confusing time. I was excited and fearful and confident and so, so unsure.
When my son was born, I was so unbelievably happy. I didn’t even mind when he cluster fed for 7 hours the second night. He was finally here and I loved him so much. But I was still ready for the postpartum depression to hit soon enough.
But it just…didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies, and those first few weeks were incredibly hard, but they were also so beautiful, and I was able to appreciate that beauty. And month by month, I have continued taking excellent care of my son. I’m not perfect (I accidentally let him get a little sunburned the other day, the poor thing) but I hold him and sing to him and change him and love on him all the time. I’m a good mom, regardless of my mental illness.
If anything, having a baby has actually helped my mental health. I’m not sure if my hormones changed for the better rather than for the worse, or if I just feel like I have more of a sense of purpose now that I have to get up in the morning to feed him and change him and snuggle with him, but I am definitely happier now than I have been in a long time.
This is the story I needed to read when I was younger. I needed an account of a mentally ill mom who didn’t make her own health or her baby’s worse simply by being who she was. But I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I assumed it never happened.
It happens sometimes, I promise. I’m living proof. I had my son four months ago, and I’m nearly symptom-free for the first time in years.
I want to be sure to add that this may not be the case for you. You might experience postpartum depression or anxiety or psychosis, and having a baby might make your mental health worse, and you may struggle to take care of your child on your own. But there is nothing wrong with that either. None of those things mean you will be a bad mom, or that you’re selfish for wanting to be a mom at all.
Guess what? I don’t take care of my baby all on my own. No one does. Family, friends, even neighbors are always happy to help out if you’re having a bad brain day and just need a little help. And even though it’s scary when our illnesses worsen, it is possible to continue treating them. You will try a new med, or go to therapy more often, or reach out to your support system more, and you will get through it.
When I was younger, it felt like there was no hope for me as a mom. I want to be that hope for someone else out there. Mentally ill moms can be absolutely wonderful mothers, no matter what the rest of the internet has to say about it.