When Your Mental Health Makes You Question If You Should Have Kids

When I lost my mom to suicide at age 19 following her lifelong battle with schizoaffective disorder, I subconsciously resolved to never have children. When I was 15, after my dual diagnosis of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), my mother wept at the news and blamed herself and her “lousy” genes. I didn’t know how to react, even though I never once blamed her.

Not six months after her passing, I was diagnosed with bipolar I. Thus began the trials and, mainly, errors of psychiatrist-devised medication cocktails. Through our doctor/patient relationships, we aimed to find a mix that would stabilize my moods without flattening or sedating me, or annihilating my creativity. At different points in my treatment, I’ve been prescribed upwards of six different medications.

I’ve consistently been in long-term romantic relationships since my high school years. This likely stems from a deep-seated fear of abandonment and an unstable sense of identity which has always been largely contingent on feeling loved and needed by another. Through the years, occasional talk of having children with my partner at the time arose. I was steadfastly determined that I had no desire, nor would I ever. I believed part of me was broken. I had no maternal instinct. Babies either terrified me, repulsed me or both. In my 20s, I never foresaw this issue being a point of contention. 

I met my current partner over five years ago, and for the first four years of our relationship, we were on the same page regarding children. Neither of us wished for one in the slightest. Just before my 33rd birthday, after years of deliberation, I scheduled tubal ligation. I knew I didn’t want kids, but I never delved deeply to ask why. I realized my fear of passing on the bipolar gene, but there was much more contributing to the aversion.

In some strange twist of fate, I fell ill a day before my scheduled operation and canceled the procedure. Soon after, I was shattered by a psychotic break during which time the desire to at some point bear a child emerged, seemingly out of the blue. This newfound inclination remained long after the psychosis ceased. During my illness, my partner and I separated, but got back together a few months following. I guess when his lifelong best friend had twin girls a year before, it sparked his paternal instinct. We spoke somewhat casually about having kids together, in the future. I decided I wanted one, if I intentionally thrust aside my fears. The reality was cushioned by the distance of the future where no immediate decisions were required. Here and there, I thought about the possibility of children and terror boiled up. Fear of not being able to go off my meds for the duration of the pregnancy. Fear of going off them and consequently going insane. Fear of birth defects if I continue to take them. Fear of postpartum depression. Fear of being hospitalized with a baby to care for. Fear of passing on less than desirable genetics. Fear of failing as a mother. Fear of, much like my mother, the harmful self-blame to accompany any mental health issues in my potential child. 

When my partner started bringing up the subject more frequently, I grew uneasy. My honest and valid apprehensions could no longer be ignored. When I voiced my myriad of concerns, they spread through him like a contagion. We found ourselves on the precipice of choosing to end our often turbulent, but extremely loving relationship because his desire to have a child had become non-negotiable. We both did some research. I found that most of my medications can be “safely” taken during pregnancy. We both know there is a chance that I could become depressed or manic in the future, but we will put safety nets in place in case this happens. Closer to the time we feel stable in our living and financial situations, we will schedule an appointment with my doctor and discuss all pertinent matters with her.

When I ask myself now why I didn’t desire children for so long, I understand that it is so much more than a mere lack of maternal instinct. There are deep psychological scars whose tissue endures and there are valid concerns to question and explore. 

I do want to have a baby. Not now. But once we have a house, are more financially secure and I’ve been mentally stable for a more extended period of time. I turn 35 this year and I can hear the biological clock a-tickin’. However, I know well that I will not have a kid unless I’m 100 percent ready to do so. Or at least 95 percent, because, hey, let’s be realistic — there’s always going to be a bubble of fear floating around in my guts. Time will dictate whether or not it is smothered out by a life that my partner and I choose to create.

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