Pregnancy and Mental Health

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Seventeen years ago I gave birth to a beautiful son. It was a decision wrought with what if’s and how to’s. Just like anyone else’s pregnancy would be. I was high risk for a number of reasons, part of them medical, part of them mental. It was a question of whether I would be able to handle a pregnancy, between the depression episodes and the propensity towards an eating disorder(this is years before the bipolar diagnosis). Would I need medicine? Should I, with my various health conditions, including mental, even have a child? Those were the questions in my mind.

I was never sure if I would have a child. Most girls grew up thinking of having children one day. I grew up debating it. Yes, there were social reasons I had against bringing a child into the world, but there was also a question as to if I would be a good mother. This would be another responsibility in my life and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. I knew the father had to be a man, who, more than being a good husband, would be a good father. He also had to accept the fluctuating moods and my ability to be less grounded at times. I needed, more than anything, to know someone would be there for the child in case I couldn’t.

When I was in my early twenties, and well into an eating disorder, a friend asked me how I would ever be able to get pregnant. How would I be able to handle the weight gain that pregnancy brings? When I became pregnant around the age of 30, my doctors decided to watch me closely to make sure I was eating properly. I’m sure my husband did too. At this point, it was a baby I was growing and I knew I had to be healthy. I actually gained more weight then expected in the beginning. I wasn’t eating due to extreme morning sickness, but I had stopped exercising due to my risk of miscarriage. When, in the seventh month of pregnancy, I started losing weight, my doctor berated me for not eating. She didn’t do it in a nice way. Thing was, was that I was eating. Almost gave birth to him in that month, and found out that some women lose weight before the birth of their child. I never said anything to that doctor.

I went off medications before my pregnancy. It was a difficult decision, but, at the time, the doctor’s couldn’t guarantee me that the pills wouldn’t affect the baby’s development. Going off the medicine wasn’t easy. Your hormones run amok when you are pregnant, that on top of my chronic depression, was a lesson in perseverance. It was closer to my sixth month that my depression began to tighten its grip on me. I was told that the baby could feel negative emotions. So, not only was I depressed, I felt guilty that I was hurting my baby. When I could barely stopped crying, my doctor urged me to take medication. She felt it was safe and that how I was feeling was not. Begrudgingly, I started meds.

I was worried about whether my mental illness would be passed down to my baby. Was it nurture or nature? How would my depression affect him? I wrote to him, almost daily, of my concerns. If it was nurture, I wanted him to be strong. To know that none of my depression was his fault. To not take other’s too personally, like I had. To be his own man. What I didn’t want is him to ever feel like I did. If it was nature, I wanted him to know it was not his fault. That genetics played a part as easily as it determined his eye color. I would help him through, teaching him along the way, how to deal with it the best way I knew how. Nature or nurture, I still do not know.

He was born with ten fingers and ten toes, no noticeable defects from my taking medication. Of course I was still concerned if it would show up later. Did taking my medication during pregnancy ever affect him? Not that I can tell. Has my depressive episodes effected him? Almost certainly. I remember crying at the table once, when he was about 7 or 8, as we were eating dinner. I told him and his brother that mommy didn’t know why she was crying, but it wasn’t because of them. He, who often kept things to himself, piped up and said, “Sometimes it just happens. Right, mom? No reason.”. If anything, he learned compassion for other’s with mental and physical illnesses.

I did, as you can see above, have another child. With him I also had the same dilemmas and made decisions based on my first pregnancy. With neither pregnancy did I suffer from the anxiety of my eating disorder. I ate healthy and I ate enough to nurture both the baby and myself. It wasn’t until after I stopped breastfeeding, yes, still on medication, that I went back to my destructive eating disorder ways.

Both children seemed to have developed normally. They seem to be well-adjusted boys. My oldest shows signs of depression and anxiety, my youngest none. With the older one we are dealing with it with compassion and the experience of being there myself. My husband has taken great care with us. If asked if I would do it all over again, the answer is yes. Would I have done things differently? Perhaps some things, wouldn’t we all?

pregnant woman

Picture Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

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