From mental illness

Should I? I Could I?

Still in pain and bleeding from a traumatic miscarriage, still trying to understand what had happened, I had the overwhelming need to be a mother, to be pregnant. Something I’d never felt before. I put it down to hormones but the feeling, the need, lasted for months. My life revolved around it.

From the age of fourteen, I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and joint problems. My whole life has been ruled by them, although at the time, I wasn’t fully aware of it. Growing up, when my parents took my brother and I out to the cinema or on holiday, I would always be ill in someway. A strange fear of crowds meant that at secondary school I did my best to escape assemblies. I never wanted to go out anywhere and when I did I was constantly nervous to the point where I thought I was going to be sick. As I got older, my life became restricted compared to that of my friends. I rarely went out, even with my closest friends and I never went to night clubs. Going out on my own didn’t seem to be an option, my head constantly filled with a stream of what seemed like a million “what ifs” and going to university certainly wasn’t. My mood seemed to get lower with every year that passed. I wasn’t happy and there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it.

My body contributed towards my depression; finding that my knees were usually painful and more often than not swollen. I dreaded P.E lessons at school, I could never keep up with everyone else and I would easily injure myself. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties I was diagnosed with hypermobility, a condition that affects the joints. By this time I was fairly certain that having children wasn’t going to be the right thing for me. How could I bring a child into the world and have it end up like me? In pain, depressed and too afraid to do anything or go anywhere. I couldn’t bring that sort of thing on someone.

By my mid  twenties, my viewpoint changed. Motherhood wasn’t something I was set against but nor was it something I was desperate for. I felt I would be happy whether I became a mother or not. I had also realised that if were to become a mother, I would be able to see any signs or symptoms if my child had any problems. However, I was certain that I did not want to actively try for a baby. If it happened, it happened, if it didn’t, it didn’t.

At twenty-nine, I met my husband. Early in the relationship we discussed our thoughts on having children, something he wanted. He respected my thoughts on not wanting to try to conceive, understanding the effect that stress had on my health and he was happy, when the time was right, just see if it happened for us. Within a year of meeting we were engaged, eight months later married and five months after that we were surprised to discover I was pregnant. I can safely say that I was happy but also terrified. Flooded with anxiety over the fact that I was now responsible for a life, I looked at changing my lifestyle. Fortunately, all I needed to do was to improve my diet slightly. I rarely drank alcohol, have never smoked and exercised regularly.

The pregnancy lasted eight weeks. I wasn’t going to be a mother. What was going to be my first born was ripped from me. The heartbreak and grief was on a level that I had never experienced before. My depression returned as I simply did not know how to deal with the emotions the miscarriage had created, my anxiety and panic attacks intensified. Feeling empty and lost, I became convinced that the only way to fill the void generated from my loss was to become pregnant, to be a mother. Not only had I been deprived of my baby, the miscarriage had changed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It defined me as a woman who, now, desperately wanted motherhood.

After a few months, my husband and I decided to actually try to conceive. Trying to get pregnant was something I never wanted to do but was now something I had to do as all I wanted was to be pregnant again. Becoming obsessed, I charted my basal body temperature in a bid to help determine when I was ovulating alongside using ovulation tests. Each and every month, my body convinced me that I was pregnant. Following what my body was telling me, I was filled with hope only to be in floods of tears at the end of every cycle. Being ruled by intense desire to become pregnant, I didn’t know who I was anymore.

It took almost a year until I fell pregnant for the second time. It lasted six weeks. Still grieving for my first loss, I was devastated that it had happened again.

After my first miscarriage, all I wanted, needed, was to become a mother, for that life inside of me to thrive, make it to full term and to hold my son or daughter in my arms. But since my second miscarriage, I have no idea what I want. I’m lost. I’ve been told that if I want children bad enough, I will keep on trying for however long it takes. I think, like many things, that’s easier said than done. If I had grown up knowing I wanted children, it would be more straightforward. But I didn’t. I’m convinced, even though there’s no reason to be, that any other pregnancy I have, is going to end the same. So what’s the point of trying? Although, the next time I fall pregnant, it could be the one. I need to decide what I want but I have no idea what I want anymore. The intense need to be pregnant, to be a mother isn’t there anymore even though that void is still there only bigger, deeper. I need to decide what I want but I don’t want to make that decision, I’d rather it was taken out my hands but it can’t be. I’m too scared, too anxious and I’m not sure I can cope with going through another miscarriage. It makes me wonder if I do want to be a mother, is it something I can actually handle? Am I strong enough?

A Yorkshire lass born and bred, Kady Jo now lives in Somerset with her husband and their small menagerie. If she isn’t writing, Kady can usually be found with one of three musical instruments in her hands, or a book. Visit her website, Dive in My Dreams.

Depression or a Child?

Sheri McCord explores how long-term mental illness has impacted her decision-making around motherhood. 

It was the early 90s, Kurt Cobain was on MTV Unplugged, and I was a teenager. I was hospitalized for overdosing on medication for the first of two times in my life. I met someone while in the hospital who was living with postpartum depression. I watched her sob as her husband yelled at her in front of us, patients. He was an Alan Thicke look-alike, and she was diminutive, brunette, and fragile—a scared bird with hollow bones. Alan was questioning her, “Why did you do this to us? Why? Can’t you even give an answer? Why?” He stood there over her, holding both of their sons, one clearly the latest baby, and the other about two-years old. While she sat hunched at a table, he seemed to lord the now-crying babies over her while continuing to badger. She could not hold her littlest one, and I thought that she might have wanted to, but she just couldn’t. He could not understand, and her continuous crying infuriated him. It was the kind of quiet sobbing we do when we don’t want to attract attention.

Ten years later, when I considered having children, I remembered this woman, and I imagined myself in this same state.

Postpartum depression is only one of the reasons why I am afraid to have children.  

Depression is in my genes. Born in 1927 and brought up during the Great Depression, my dad had all the qualities of someone extremely depressed while also being paranoid and anxious and an alcoholic. He was explosively violent oftentimes to my mom and half-siblings and verbally abusive to us all. Children were to be seen and not heard, so in one of his lectures, he told a very stoic, steely eleven-year-old me that I “wouldn’t make nothing of myself” because I’d “have a baby in eighth grade and have to drop out.” This “pep talk” eventually drove me to do well in school. But he didn’t believe in “book learnin’” or psychology for that matter. Therapy was never brought up in our house, even when I began to throw books around my room in anger and sleep all day and night.  

I eventually did get therapy. I’ve been prescribed every drug on the planet for depression and anxiety as well as snapping a rubber band on my wrist when I had negative thoughts. Eventually, I realized the rubber band method was actually punishing myself.

My psychiatrists finally figured out my medicine, and I acknowledge the tremendous time and patience of trial-and-error for both patient and physician that takes place to find a suitable cocktail. After a few years, I plateau, and then I usually need to find something else. That trial-and-error period is frightening since I do not know how I will respond to the new drugs, or if I will be pulled into a deep depression with no getting out of bed. This uncertainty contributes to my reluctance to have a child.

My mom first saw a difference in me at eleven during menarche. The joy was sucked out of me, she said. I used to be such a happy child. From then on, I was a worrier. Suicidal thoughts have run through my mind since I was 17. They still occur today but they’re more like those annoying pop-up ads on the web; they stick around for a few seconds until I click “off” and then I’m back to whatever I was doing.  

Though I’m not suicidal, living with depression has kept me from attending class or work when I had no energy to get out of bed. I have been bed-bound for weeks at a time and unable to focus, read, or remember what I did day-to-day. A panic attack once sent me to the campus counseling center because I was so worried about the discussion in my Chaucer class. Most of the time, I am just trying to make it, much less form a complex thought about Middle Age poetry.  But I still managed to get through three degree programs and earn a Ph.D.

Some might look at me and wonder if I just didn’t choose school or a career over children, but I can tell you it is much more than that. Depression can be all-consuming. Depression is selfish, taking away time, motivation, and energy. Many of my relationships, and one marriage, have failed because of depression, anxiety, or a combo.

Sometimes the pressure to have a child is too much but how am I supposed to raise a baby when I feel like that baby is constantly me? I’m always monitoring my mood, and more specifically, my anxiety and level of energy. I was and still am raising myself. I know I am living with depression and anxiety and who knows what else, and I just can’t see bringing another human being into my world.

head-shot_mccord-1Sheri McCord writes creative nonfiction, studies seventeenth-century literature, and continues to research literature, medicine, and early modern perceptions of the body. She began her teaching career in 2001 and graduated with a Ph.D. in English in 2010. She has taught across the St. Louis, Missouri, area and currently is a writing consultant at Saint Louis University writing center.

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