What I Didn't Predict About Pregnancy After My Paranoid Schizophrenia Diagnosis
Back in March 2014, after two years of bouncing between general practitioners, mental health teams and psychiatric wards, I was formally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The diagnosis, for me, didn’t change much. I was searching for the correct medication regiment and other than clarifying which medications I ultimately needed, my diagnosis just gave me something to call my life experiences for the past few years. Then, in April 2014, I found out I was pregnant. I immediately discussed it with my doctor, talking about medication and effects on my baby. It was agreed I could manage without medication, but with regular contact with my psychiatrist and care coordinator. I knew things would be tough. I knew the hormone changes in pregnancy would give me new challenges.
What I couldn’t predict was that I would essentially lie throughout my pregnancy.
This I think, is fairly commonplace, because my psychotic symptoms grew worse. My voices grew louder and my delusions grew stronger. But what also grew stronger within me was fear. Fear based in my illness and its symptoms, and fear based in reality. I was terrified if I told the professionals around me what was going on, I would be forced to take medication. I feared the medication would harm my child. I feared that was what everyone wanted. I feared “they” would take my child at birth. I feared social services would take my child at birth.
So I lied. I went to my appointments and told them I was coping well. I told them I was sleeping and taking care of myself. I told them I was using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to handle my symptoms. I made it through my entire pregnancy without anyone noticing I was ill. I even made it into the year after my daughter was born without anyone noticing. Until a traumatic flight experience made it so that I could no longer pretend. Instead of being in and out of psychosis, I was permanently there. I became so ill that the only way to start recovery was to be admitted to a psychiatric unit. I stayed for six weeks. I still find it hard to engage with people who will help me with recovery. But I try harder now. And I’m winning.
So, being a parent with paranoid schizophrenia — I thought I was prepared. I was wrong. I never struggled to be a good parent, even when I was significantly unwell. In fact I think I was, in some ways, a better parent when I was unwell. I was more attentive, more cautious, more protective than I think most parents are sometimes. The paranoia I had surrounding my daughter’s welfare actually taught me to love deeper, more fiercely. So while my story may be a fairly common one — paranoid schizophrenic relapses in time of change and stress — I think the outcome is somewhat different. It was wrong of me to lie to my caregivers. I could have avoided my relapse and subsequent hospitalization. I should have been honest. But I have learned so much from that experience. As a human, as a partner, as a mother. I am stronger than I think. I can love more deeply than I ever imagined. I can be a “normal” mother. A role model. I can pass my life lessons on to others and let them see they too, can be successful, whatever path they choose in recovery. It is possible.
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