When a Psychiatrist Suggested I Shouldn't Have Kids

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2012: A Massachusetts woman with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia was forced to have an abortion before being sterilized. 2013: A woman in the United Kingdom has her baby forcibly removed by caesarean section and taken into child services because of her mental health issues.

As a woman who is married and still deciding whether or not I want to have children, the stigma toward pregnancy, motherhood and mental health is concerning. But until two years ago, these were just stories.

It was December, my birthday actually, and I had a consultation with a new psychiatrist. I’ve said it before: I’ve never met a psychiatrist I’ve liked. So while I didn’t go in with high hopes, I never thought this visit would be among the worst in my life.

As I sat in the waiting room, I knew who was waiting for me. It was undoubtedly going to be a man. (They’re always men.) He was going to have glasses. (They always have glasses). He was going to be slightly disheveled. (They’re always disheveled.) He was going to ask me questions about my history. I was going feel guilty and embarrassed. I’d then start to cry. He’d ask me why, and I’d incoherently try to explain myself through tears. It’d be awful, but then it’d be over.

When my name was finally called, I followed him into the office that now felt claustrophobic with the two of us inside. I quickly launched into the gory details of my illness.

Getting a psychiatric assessment is not like having a doctor glance at your mole. You’re sharing your most personal, and more often shameful, experiences of your life.

Imagine your most embarrassing moment. Maybe it was that time you farted during your sixth grade presentation, or when you walked around with your skirt tucked into your tights all day. Whatever it is, remember the fear of judgement, the embarrassment and the shame. Now, imagine retelling every mortifying moment to a stranger on the bus.

And this isn’t a passive audience. Your listener is asking questions: What did the fart smell like? What did you have for lunch that day? Have you ever farted in public before then? Does your family have a history of public farting?

These questions make you relive not only the embarrassing moment itself, but all of the moments leading up to it. Now you regret eating beans at lunch because you should’ve known better. Your family has always whispered about your Uncle Frank’s 1965 broccoli incident.

And as you’re answering, he takes notes. Endless notes. You try to peer over his clipboard to see what he’s scratching, but he holds it close to his chest. With those notes, he’ll make files – files you’re never privy to, even when you ask. (Trust me, I’ve asked.)

It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid – do it quickly and the pain lasts only a second.

When I’m done, we sit silently for a moment as I dig through my purse looking for a tissue. Just as I find an errant tissue, he inhales and asks, “Are you thinking of becoming pregnant?”

I pause, momentarily stunned by the question. I’d seen a lot of psychiatrists, but none of them had asked me this before. After a moment, I reply. “Not any time soon.”

“You know it’s dangerous to become pregnant while on these medications,” he replies, ignoring my response as he makes more notes on his clipboard.

“Yes, I know the risks involved.” My back is up, I’m feeling defensive. “But I’m not thinking of getting pregnant soon.”

“Good, because it’s dangerous and not just for you. We don’t know the risks of medication on the fetus. It could cause birth defects and other issues. It’s not 100 percent, but there’s still a risk. You need to know all of this before you become pregnant.”

“Yes, I’ve spoken to my doctor about it before. But since I’m not planning on getting pregnant any time soon, we figured we could revisit the issue when I’m making that decision. I don’t even know if I want kids anyway.”

He looks up at me, cocks his head to the side and adjusts his glasses before looking back down at his clipboard. “You know your disorder is genetic.”

I nod, feeling my cheeks flush. He interprets my silence as misunderstanding.

“That means that it’s passed down,” he speaks slowly, emphasizing every syllable, “through the family…”

“I know what genetic means,” I spit through my teeth.

I stare at him aghast, floored by the words coming out of his mouth. Apparently he thinks I’m some kind of monster who shouldn’t procreate! Would it be so terrible if I had a kid and they had bipolar disorder? While of course I wouldn’t wish my disease on anyone, my life isn’t horrible. And I imagine if my child did have a mental illness, I’d have the tools to help him or her cope.

I suddenly tried to imagine my life without children. Where once it seemed like a choice,  it now seemed like something being forcibly taken away from me.

In that moment, and for the first time in my life, I desperately wanted children. I wanted a hoard of them. I wanted to raise them to be healthy and happy and then I wanted to thrust their beautiful cherub faces at him as proof. See they’re fine! I can be a mother!

I was so angry, hurt and completely shocked by his implications that I don’t even remember how the appointment ended. All I can remember is leaving the hospital with tears streaming down my face, thinking, It’s my birthday. He ruined my birthday.

It’s been two years since that appointment and I’ve shared this story repeatedly to illustrate the pervading stigma and fear existing toward those with a mental illness. My experience is nowhere near as traumatic as someone who was given a forced hysterectomy or abortion, but I tell this story to illustrate that medical professionals can be deeply uneducated when it comes to discussing mental health and parenthood. These comments came from a man who is supposedly educated in the field. This is a man treating a vulnerable population. This is a man who is using his authority to spread fear and misinformation.

Although my husband and I still haven’t decided if and/or when we’ll have children, the hurt and anger of this encounter lingers. Some days, when I see my friends with their babies, I think, “I could do that. I could be a mom one day.”

And then I hear his voice: But they could turn out like you…

A version of this post originally appeared on Mad Girl’s Lament.

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The Truth About Living Openly With a Mental Illness

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I will never regret my decision to write openly about living with bipolar disorder. Never. There is something to be said for reaching a point in your life when you take an important leap. One you can tell your kids about someday. When it hurt too much to keep it bottled up inside, I realized that was the moment I wanted to let people know I’m not perfect, but I still love my life just the way it is, mental illness and all.

I love the moments right before I fall asleep. My mind replays my day’s highlights, as if to ingrain the smile or giggle or kiss in a corner of my brain, so that I won’t ever forget it. Tucked away safe so that I can unwrap it again when I need that memory.

Lying still, listening to the steady rhythm of the one I love beside me, I think about the day that awaits me when the sun rises. I soak up all the sleep I can because chances are, I was up too late writing the night before. I no longer set an alarm; the sweet voices of my kids will wake me when the sunlight pours into their rooms.

The truth is, even though I will never regret my decision to tell the world about the chemical imbalance in my brain, I still wonder if I chose the right time in my life to open my heart.

Living openly with a mental illness means you’ll always wonder if the world is judging you. You’ll wonder if you will ever be looked over for a job you applied to or a promotion you earned because of the fact the employer knows you have bipolar disorder. You might wonder if you will ever work a regular job again now that you’ve written about the darkest and also the most manic times of your life.

These are the things I’ve been worrying about lately.

The truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that even though I know my husband loves me with his entire heart, someday he might not because my illness might get in the way one time too many. My entire world would come crumbling down around me.

And if my world did come crashing down, if I was left to manage on my own, how would I do that? Again, the future employment picture bubbles to the surface. How would I support myself financially when my loving husband has been the main provider for the last six years? And would my symptoms suddenly break through the surface again, like a volcano that has been dormant but now is ready to explode?

These are the big, scary thoughts that sometimes make me wonder if I did the right thing.

Because the truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that once you’re diagnosed, it’s yours to live with for the rest of your life. It’s yours to manage, to curse, to medicate, to appreciate. There is no erasing a mental health condition. Therein lies both the beauty and the beast.

The truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that it’s shown me how far I’ve come as a person. How I’m no longer afraid of showing my true colors. I love my brain and all the creativity it has allowed me to express. Even though it may break down from time to time, I love this piece of me that has shown me what I’m capable of. And that is overcoming my fears and insecurities.

For this I say, I’m glad I’ve decided to be open about the fact that I have bipolar disorder.

No looking back. There’s only the beautiful mystery of what lies ahead.

This post originally appeared on Bipolar Mom Life.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Can you tell us about the moment that made you realize it was time to face your mental illness? What was your next step? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [email protected] include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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When I Asked My Daughter Why She Told Me She Hated Me

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The other day, I was having a conversation with my daughter. It went something like this:

Princess: “Mom, I really hate to say this, but I think I love you more than Dad.”

Me: “What make you think that?”

Princess: “Well, I’ve been thinking. You know how I was always a Daddy’s Girl? I think I am now a Mommy’s Girl.”

And then my heart melted. I assured her she could love both her father and me equally, but she insisted she loved me more. On that day, I did not argue with her. I just basked in the sun of this newfound revelation of my daughter’s.

Hearing your child say “I love you” can melt any mom’s heart, but those words can eventually lose their novelty and specialness. I think I will cherish them a bit longer than most. It’s not because my daughter has been nonverbal — it’s because she was so unstable for years.

There were many days when my precious child screamed, “I hate you!” At the time, it hurt to hear that phrase even though I knew it wasn’t how she really felt. She was angry and confused. One day when she was upset with me over a homework battle, she etched the words, “I HATE MOM” onto our kitchen table. I shed a few tears over that one. We still have the table with those spiteful words embedded in it. My husband has not sanded them out yet, and I’m not sure I ever want him to. They serve as a memorial of sorts. They remind me how far my daughter has come since that day.

With the right medication and therapy, my child is now happy and thriving. Our home has become a peaceful one.

Gone are the days of aggression. Gone are the days when I had to lock myself in my bedroom just to be safe from my own child. Gone are the days when my child was someone I did not enjoy being around. Gone are the words, “I hate you, Mom!”

Those ugly, dark days have been replaced with cuddles. With random shouts of “I love you!” With my precious girl telling me she loves me more than her dad.

Recently in the midst of so much joy and peace, I asked this reborn child of mine why she used to say she hated me. She told me she never really hated me — she hated the way she was feeling. She was confused and had to take it out on someone. Since her life was in such a turmoil and she did not have the words for what she was feeling, it was easier to lash out at me.

I’m thrilled my daughter has learned how to express herself in a more positive manner. It warms the cockles of my heart to hear her say that one sentence I never thought I’d hear: “I love you, Mom.”

daughter kisses mother on the cheek

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The Day My Son Wrote Me This Note

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Last night was a rough one here at the House of AuSome. My son, Liam, got upset with me because he wanted to watch a certain movie, and I told him it was inappropriate for him. He got mad. So mad that he shut himself up in his room to pout. For an hour.

Liam is never too far from me. He won’t stay anywhere. He follows me around the house. You get the idea. So I was shocked. I let him pout. He even wrote me a letter on strips of paper.

It came time for his melatonin dose, and he still wasn’t speaking to me. I waited half an hour for his gummy to kick in, and I told him I was going to bed. He wrote me a note saying he wasn’t talking to me, and he was going to sleep in the living room.

Handwritten note that says, Fine I don't like you anymore.


Again, I was flabbergasted because we share a room. He can’t sleep by himself, and for any of us to get any sleep at all, this was our only course of action. I told him I understood. I bent and kissed his forehead and told him I loved him. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.

I walked back to our room. As I was standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I heard the pitter patter of little feet. Then two little arms embraced me with such force, I staggered for a moment.

I looked down to see his face. All red, tears flowing down his cheeks. He started to heave with heavy sobs. I quickly rinsed my mouth and managed to walk him, still grasping me with all his might, over to my bed. We sat, and he immediately climbed into my lap.

My heart sank. He hasn’t cried this hard since his last severe depressive cycle. That was last year. It could come at any time. We’re on pins and needles, fearing it could come every day.

I started softly asking him questions. “Are you OK? Are you still angry with me? Do you understand why I said no? Do you know how much I love you?” He wouldn’t speak, only answering with nods.

You see, if he were having a meltdown, I wouldn’t be barraging him with questions. I know that would only make it worse. With a dual diagnosis of autism and bipolar disorder, it’s usually one or the other, or one making the other worse. (Example, if he has a meltdown and screams nasty things at us, he sometimes then goes into a depressive cycle because he feels bad for his behavior. Or, if he’s in a manic cycle, he is so high energy and stimming off the walls.)

He started pushing against my body to rock him. And so, we rocked like that for a good 40 minutes. The crying became softer and then stopped all together. I took a moment, and I silently thanked God. Seeing your child in a major depressive cycle literally sucks all the life force out of you. I pray every day that it will skip this season, and we won’t have to watch our son in mental agony.

He asked for the Kindle, and we sat and played a few games together. We laughed. We giggled. I kissed his gorgeous forehead. He told me he was sorry. He told me he was sad because he was afraid he hurt my feelings, and he doesn’t like to do that. I smiled and assured him that I too, (believe it or not) was a kid once. And I too, had been in a similar place with my parents.

He handed me the Kindle, snuggled into my arms and fell asleep. I left him like that for a bit. Staring at his peaceful face. Silently wondering how I got so lucky as to be his mom. With all the struggles, the good days and the awful ones, I wouldn’t trade this child — or my life with him — for anything in this world.

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When Parenting a Child With Bipolar Disorder Seems Overwhelming

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I try so very hard to not let life get me down. We’ve been dealt a hard hand, but we persevere. It’s life, and that’s what you do. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there are days that kick me in the gut, steal my breath and stop my heart.

I give you the good, the bad and the ugly. I don’t sugarcoat. I won’t. I’ll respect my son and his privacy as much as I can while still trying to share our struggle — his struggle — so others know they aren’t alone. And so I don’t lose my mind by bottling it up inside.

About two months ago, my son’s psychiatrist upped his medications. It had adverse effects, and after two weeks, his doctor dropped him back down to the lower dose. But eventually, the low dose began affecting him like the high dose had — he’d cry and grow aggressive. Our doctor said this could happen with a dual diagnosis of autism and bipolar (and ADHD — and then some.) He said sometimes treating one will make the other worse.

He was right. So I took Liam off the medication, with the doctor’s permission. I won’t let my son live that way.

As I sit here tonight, and I see him sitting on the couch, I’m brokenhearted. He’s not playing. He’s not talking. He doesn’t want anyone to bother him. He’s refusing to play with his older brother. He’s merely a shell of the boy that I once knew.

It’s not fair. It’s not right. He is 8 years old. Why in the world does he have to deal with this? Why does his life have to be so hard? I always try to see the positive in life, but today I see none of that. Today I see a little boy who has more on his plate than those three times his age.

Yes, I’m thankful for my son, for our lives and for waking up to his beautiful face every morning. But I’m pissed that this life has to be so hard for him. For me. For his father. Being a parent is tough. Being a parent that has no control over your child’s life is even tougher. I can’t make the Bipolar go away. I can’t take away the pain. I can’t make the cycles stop. Autism has nothing on Bipolar. Bipolar is evil, and it robs my son of the happy life he deserves.

Today I’m wallowing.

Tomorrow I will get up and I will kick Bipolar’s arse.

For my son.

Because nothing else matters, and he deserves to be happy.

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How We Told Our Child With Special Needs the Real Deal About Santa

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My husband and I come from different backgrounds. I was a city girl. He was a country boy. I was raised by my single mom who depended on Welfare to help her meet our needs. He was raised without want by two loving parents.

Our families even approached the whole Santa thing differently. One of the things my dad told me before he walked out of our lives when I was around 6, was that there was no such thing as Santa and to stop believing in him. My husband’s mom still hangs stockings and fills them for every family member, young or old, claiming they’re from Santa. I was lucky to get socks and underwear for Christmas. My husband always got whatever was on his wish list — a tradition still carried on to this day.

When our daughter was born, my husband and I had a frank discussion about what role Santa would play in her life. Since I felt like I missed out on the magic, I was all in. And my husband wanted our daughter to experience the wonder and awe of Santa like he had. We agreed we would encourage her to believe in Santa.

We were experts at crafting this marvelous secret. My husband would make our daughter’s favorite Snickerdoodle cookies for Santa. I would buy the gifts and stocking stuffers. We found the perfect Santa with a real beard to visit. There were many Christmas Eves my husband stayed up until the wee hours putting together the latest and greatest must-have toy.

As she got older, we got more creative. When she awoke one Christmas morning, there was soot outside the fireplace where Santa had walked. Last year, my daughter even received a lovely letter on North Pole stationery from Santa telling her he couldn’t bring her a real live puppy but instead found her a large overstuffed one.

We were in deep.

This year we decided to tell her the real deal. Our fear was that another child would tell her. That, in our opinion, was worse than if we told her ourselves.

So on a Sunday afternoon recently we sat her down and presented her with this letter. Thanks, Pinterest, for the idea.

Princess,

We know you’ve asked us before if Santa is real. We know you want to know the answer.  After seeing how much you’re growing up, we know it’s time to tell you.

The answer is yes, Santa does exist — just not in the way you’ve always believed. I’m not Santa, neither is your dad. There’s no one single Santa, either. Santa is bigger than any one person and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. Santa is lots and lots of people who keep the spirit alive. He doesn’t live in the North Pole but lives in our hearts. Santa is the magic, love and spirit of giving to others.

Dad and I are the ones who read your letters, picked your presents with love and placed them under the tree. Dad and I did this just as our parents did for us. One day you’ll do the same for your children.

We know God can be hard to understand sometimes, but we hope you’ll always remember that we believe He sent us His son, Jesus, to die for us. That baby in a manger grew up to be a man who died on the cross for our sins. We believe that’s the greatest gift of all. Just as God sent the most perfect gift He could think of, Dad and I tried to pick the perfect gifts for you each year.

Here’s something really awesome: Dad and I spent about a month getting ready for Christmas but God is spending lots more time getting heaven ready for us.

We do ask that you help us keep Santa alive for any other kids who still believe. A child has to be ready to believe this kind of secret. A child’s parents should be the ones to tell them, just like we told you. Just as you found joy in believing in Santa, we can assure you that you will have that same feeling in watching others believe in that magic.

We love you very much, Princess. We hope you have enjoyed all of your Christmases and your presents.

Love,

Mom and Dad

We asked her if she wanted one of us to read it or if she wanted to read it. She said she’d read it. She made it about halfway through before her lip started quivering. By the end she was in tears. When she finished reading it, she went over to my husband and really started sobbing. I didn’t have rose-colored glasses on thinking she’d be totally fine with the concept of her mom and dad being Santa, but I didn’t expect her to be as upset as she was.

After she cried with her father for a few minutes, she came over to me and cried on my shoulder for a bit. She looked straight at both of us and called us liars. She was shocked, appalled and disappointed that we, of all people, had lied to her.

I tried explaining to her that we did it out of love for her, but she wouldn’t listen and instead ran off to her room to bawl her head off. I was worried this was the trigger that would be the end of over a year of stability for her. This would send her back to the behavior hospital. She was that upset. We hadn’t seen this type of reaction to anything in a long time.

After about 30 minutes, she emerged. She went to our family room and played quietly with her dolls. I sat in there with her for most of the day, just in case she needed me. My husband and I put our plans for the day on hold so we could be available to talk if she wanted us to.

Eventually she came around. I don’t think she’s at the point where she fully forgives us or even understands why we did what we did, but she has come to terms with the fact that Santa exists in our hearts. She grasps that parents play Santa for their children.

Since she was so upset and her heart was “shattered” (her words), we decided to have a family session with her counselor the next day at her regularly scheduled appointment. Seeing our family therapist helped all of us process this more.

unnamed (44) The true test as to whether or not she was moving on came yesterday when we went to see Santa. She passed with flying colors. She sat on Santa’s lap, told him what she wanted for Christmas but didn’t say a word to him about knowing he wasn’t real. As she and her BFF skipped off, I heard both of them whispering and giggling because they know a secret the little kids waiting in line did not.

My daughter and I are making plans to play Santa for another child who still believes. It may be one whose dad is incarcerated or one who doesn’t have much. Whatever the case, I know she’ll want to help another child believe in the magic and wonder of Santa, just as she did for ten glorious years.

What I’ve learned in all of this is that I must remember that because my child feels everything so deeply, I need to be prepared to offer her extra guidance and support. I cannot assume that because it wasn’t a big deal for me, that it won’t be for her. The other piece to this is to continue to utilize the services of professionals who can help my husband and I navigate these rough waters with our daughter.

This post originally appeared on Raising a Drama Queen.

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