Mental Illness and Motherhood

Preface: I know motherhood is deeply personal and therefore a touchy topic. Please know as you read that I am speaking only from my perspective, of course, and have no intention of being tone deaf toward the very real struggles of motherhood, listed and unlisted below. I know there are women who are unintentional mothers, women who are dying to be mothers, and women who’ve perhaps made the tough choice of not having children despite all the pressure, chatter, shame, and invasive questioning that surround women aged 20-50 in general. Inside of each of these circumstances, I know there are women who are fulfilled, women who are heartbroken and, most likely, women who fall somewhere on the sliding scale between the two extremes.

Even without children yet, I believe that motherhood is the hardest job in the game. I am amazed and in deep admiration of my family members, friends, and mothers of the world who work this job 24/7 with no pay, no time off, and no 401(k), dammit! You are the true MVPS, the true queens.

I know that there are single dads and stay at home dads, too, but for this particular post I’m focusing on women because I am one and, again, can only speak on my perspective. I’d never presume to speak for men and their feelings on parenthood. But, in the immortalized words of Pamela Anderson, men can’t fathom the pain of squeezing something the size of a watermelon out of something the size of a lemon. :)

Anyway, I ask that you proceed with grace, knowing that I’m making myself vulnerable to share one point of view with the lens of mental illness.


I’m a 31 year old woman married three years, so it probably won’t surprise some of you that having children is something I think about a lot.

On paper, I think I’d make a good mother. I live my life with unwavering integrity, welcome nuance, am tender with loved ones (I’ve been told), have higher education, keep a sense of humor, cook great-tasting, healthy food, and have had life experiences that have prepared me for a child who experiences bumps in the road. Big bumps. I’m ready for ’em.

I have the usual hesitations, too, wondering if I’ll actually be a good mother in practice instead of in theory. I wonder if I’ll have the patience my child deserves for the minutiae of their infancy, toddler days, childhood, and the inevitable tween / teen years when they’re toots because they haven’t yet realized how much their parents have done for them (See: me. I was the worst, and that was on top of everything Alex was serving back then. Send Keith and Staci flowers.) I wonder if my body’s going to be unrecognizable after pregnancy and breastfeeding and if my and Rick’s marriage will stay strong. I wonder what will happen to my writing and professional ambition in general. I wonder whether the very real possibility of pre or postpartum depression will effect myself or Rick, cracking the foundation of what we’ve worked so hard to build. Will I resent my children for irrevocably altering my life? Will I resent Rick, after the fact, because he wanted children without waver?

There is so much I wonder about.

Everyone says “it’s different when it’s your child,” but on top of typical hesitations I suppose all mothers, potential mothers, and those who’ve decided not to be mothers experience, the issues with my mental illness are layered into the decision-making dough like crappy chocolate chips.

I am my mom’s “worrier,” as she’s always said. I worry about things that could happen, things that are unlikely to happen, things that will never happen, things that certainly will happen- all at inappropriate times. It’s exhausting. I wear myself out with anxiety-driven worry, and everything is put into overdrive in regards to motherhood. I’m working on leaning into a “let ‘er rip lifestyle,” as Rick would say, and it’s going… okay. My generous self-assessment will make Rick laugh, but I really am working on relaxing.

But, my friend Bailey (not some kinda weird usage of third person, this is an actual other person named Bailey) said that having a child is like having your heart live outside of your body. I feel like I’d never sleep well again after having a kid. Those who know me know how critical copious amounts of sleep is to my health and general life performance. Anxiety is clicking up a rollercoaster just thinking about it.

Will my touch of OCD short-circuit with a house strewn with toys and crumbs, the endless sticky hands, and the perpetually messy cars? Will I feel unusually sad for and guilty about my golden retrievers getting demoted after years of them been so critical to my mental health? Will I even be able to afford and have time to take care of golden retrievers anymore? Will my anxiety be able to stomach the inevitable vomit, and lots of it, kids often come with due to stomach viruses? THE GERMS. I think about germs a lot: hands on fast food restaurant floors, subway poles, public bathroom door handles. And then that same unwashed hand housing a handful of goldfish, lips to palm. At least, that’s how I eat goldfish. (Pepperidge Farm, please sponsor Bummed Out Baker)

Smaller items aside, the mental illness related consideration most important is the fact that if I am to carry and breastfeed, I would have to be completely off medication. This means no more mood stabilizing Lamictal, depression-warding Wellbutrin and Prozac, or Klonopin for emergencies. It also means no more Spironolactone for my skin, which may sound vain, but this is a part of the wonder of whether my body will ever be or look the same again.

How will this lack of medication effect my marriage and relationships? Will my loved ones be terrorized by me for the duration of conception to weened baby, only to repeat it all again when the second child comes around? I’d have to taper off meds first, then conceive, then a year or two later, I imagine, I’d have to stair-step my way back up to the pre-pregnancy dosage. It’s all very Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, except no one will be having fun. I know one option is to carry and then not breastfeed in order to get back on my meds sooner, but I imagine that’d still be a mini rollercoaster, like Judge Roy Scream instead of the Texas Giant at Six Flags. In writing this I’ve discovered that motherhood is likened to theme park rides in my head. Is that an accurate assessment?

A year after Rick and I got married an aunt asked whether we planned to have children, and if so, when. It’s important to note that I did not find this invasive as she is family and it was in an intimate environment. I knew she’d accept me for whatever I said.

“I don’t know, maybe in ten years, or so.”

She raised her eyebrows. “You’re going to start having children at 40?”

My in-laws had Rick at 41, so I suppose I hadn’t thought of that being terribly late. Starting a family in early 40s is very New York City. (Side note- the fact that Rick and I got married at 28 is practically seen as a child-bride situation here. Rick was the first of his friends to take the leap, so to speak.) Now, I had new feelings to go home and drop on Rick for us to discuss.

At my last annual physical, my GP asked whether I plan to have children and, if so, about the game plan. I told her that I planned to graduate with my MFA, publish the sibling memoir I’m writing about my brother, and then Rick and I will begin talking about family planning.

“Okay, so we’re talking about a geriatric pregnancy,” she replied.

Yesterday I was 24, and now I’m looking at a geriatric pregnancy? I laughed.

She knowingly rolled her eyes, knowing what she just said sounded ridiculous. She continued. “There’s a higher risk of complication and birth defects. Now, plenty of women have successful pregnancies post-35, but I have to tell you this information so that you and Aldy can plan accordingly.”

Yeah, she calls Rick “Aldy,” which I think is hilarious. But the subject matter in that moment was not.

“Well, hell,” I said, wide-eyed and shaking my head, my favorite mock-serious response concluding our conversation. Again, I left a place with a lot of feelings to hit Rick with.

Anytime I get frazzled about family planning, Rick is very relaxed about the whole thing. He always says some iteration of “we’ll figure out the right thing for us when we’re ready.” I’d love to be more like Rick and less wiggy. What a life!

Rick is gung-ho on parenthood. He likes to joke that he’d like “school bus full of children,” which of course both my vagina and sanity have vehemently declined. If money became no object, though, I’d love to adopt and foster, not a school bus full, but a big family full of children. The idea brings me great joy. From what I know, teenagers, especially teens in the LGBTQ+ community, are the least likely to be adopted. I think I connect best with young people 12+, and would love to use my affluent white lady privilege to provide emotional and financial stability to young people with complex parental histories / guardian relationships. I believe Rick and I would make great pillars for these young, at-risk folks to always fall back on while navigating high school, then college, and then their own adulthood. In addition to their bio family or not, we’d cheer them on all the way.

A pro of my mental illness is that I’m better suited to identify it in a young person, but then my thoughts lead to the idea that if my child suffers from mental illness, will I feel guilty for bringing them into the world? I’ve warded off that rabbit hole, though, by remembering that mental illness can happen no matter whether we adopt or have bio children.

This has been a doozy to write, typically something that just runs through my head as I silently fold laundry or stand in the shower, or something.

I know I need to see a therapist who specializes in issues of family planning fo sho! Please don’t worry, I’m not going to just crowd-source my and Rick’s familial future on Bummed Out Baker, but your thoughts are invaluable to me. Like mental illness, the secrets and stigmas of motherhood should be explored, and the more open we are, the less shameful I think we’ll collectively feel.

All mothers, but especially mothers with with mental illness, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re feeling bold, it’d be awesome to leave a comment on this post to contribute to the conversation. If you prefer to keep your thoughts private, please message me.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Communicating Mental Unrest
Mental Health: My Lowest Point in Eleven Years
Mental Health: Weight Gain and Mental Medications


Do you love Bummed Out Baker as much as I love creating it? Want to help keep it going? Support here.

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Advertisements

Mental Health: The Stockpile of Gratitude

If living with mental illness is a struggle for you today, I have a piece of positivity to offer.

On my good days I find a stockpile of gratitude waiting for me because I know how dark things can get. I was just there, after all. While I wouldn’t wish having those dark thoughts on anyone, the payback of them is rich. When I come out of a dark headspace, it’s like the black and white to technicolor transition in the Wizard of Oz. When things are bad, and then they’re suddenly not, I find myself with a hyper-awareness of good.

While constantly considering my mortality is exhausting, it also manifests in all kinds of ways. I’m grateful for my physical mobility. I find myself with a wealth of mercy for people acting in any undesirable way, because life is short I have no idea what they’re going through. I feel fortunate to have such comforting, sweet-tempered golden retrievers, because dogs are an expensive luxury. I admire all the people who’ve shown me grace, supported me, taught me things, and have loved me when I wasn’t very lovable. I think about how grateful I am for a comfy bed and a safe, quiet place for me to sleep in peace.

When I’m mentally gridlocked, thinking of these things is like pushing on a button that doesn’t work. I’m numb. If that sounds like you, just know that when you emerge from the other side, and you will, you’ll have the stockpile.

It may not seem like much, but us mentally ill folk have got to stick together and take what we can get! And we get the stockpile.


Whenever I get a song stuck in my head I start to list the things I’m grateful for instead and it always does the trick to get the song out. With that being said…

Fun fact! Did you know that “Bug A Boo” by Destiny’s Child, a song in regards to an overbearing romantic interest, can also be applied to mental illness?

You make me wanna throw my pager out the window 
Tell MCI to cut the phone calls 
Break my lease so I can move 
Cause you a bug a boo, a bug a boo 
I wanna put your number on the call block 
Have AOL make my email stop 
Cause you a bug a boo 
You buggin’ what? You buggin’ who? You buggin’ me! 
And don’t you see it ain’t cool

“Bug A Boo” by Destiny’s Child

I would say “you’re welcome”, but the true accolades go to Kandi Burruss for her multi-faceted lyricism.

Related on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Communicating Mental Unrest
The Uncertainty of Mental Illness
Mental Health: Saying No in the Spirit of Self-Care


To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker and get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Twitter for sassy tweets and a sprinkle of nonsense.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: Communicating Mental Unrest

Whenever I’m not okay, I almost always look and sound like I am.

The confusion is likely furthered by the fact that when I’m at my best, I’m still wearing all black and moping around listening to The Cure, blaring Disintegration and praying for rain at a first promising clap of thunder. I suppose it’s all very misleading!

One of the worst things about mental illness is that it often falls into the “invisible illness” category. Since you don’t have on a cast, your inner torment is nonexistent, even farcical, to some.

Laughing about my afflictions is how I mask, cope, and survive. Even when I’m sparkling around others, my thoughts could very well be, and often are, in a sinister place. I’m not trying to venture into reportage, don’t worry, but in December 2018 CNN posted an article about “the sad clown” concept and comedians suffering clinical depression. A lot of the ideas presented resonate.

In lieu of a suicidal ideation blindside, my psychiatrist has instructed me to inform my loved ones by saying something to the effect of “My face and tone of voice seem okay, but I’m not okay.” That way, we can then work together to find an appropriate immediate action, a treatment plan to move forward, and a way to normalize communication via my mental health in future.

For me, and perhaps others, the humility involved in admitting mental weakness and the need for help is tremendous. My pride has, quite literally, almost killed me.

To actively normalize and destigmatize mental illness and conversations surrounding it, we must open ourselves to reinvented ways to communicate our mental states. The more we talk about it, the more people with mental illness will feel comfortable getting help when they need it, and people who don’t understand mental illness will begin to be better informed. Hopefully.

This whole process requires mercy and patience on everyone’s behalf, but these conversations are vital. In terms of helpful conversation, another way to support your loved one on with mental illness is to not assume well-being.

Related on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: When It Comes to Someone’s Well-Being, Ask, Don’t Assume
Mental Health: Guilt and Golden Retrievers and Headaches
Mental Health: Dealing With Suicide


To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker and get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Twitter for sassy tweets and a sprinkle of nonsense.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: When It Comes to Someone’s Well-Being, Ask, Don’t Assume

Or, “well-bean” if you like it when people pronounce “being” like “bean” as much as I do. Dealer’s choice.

Initially queued up for this morning was a loose annotation of Destiny’s Child’s hit song “Bug-A-Boo” and how it’s actually one giant allusion to mental illness and not, in fact, about a smothering romantic interest, but I went ahead and pushed that poetic brain-buster to another week because something else came up.

Last week was a wreck, a revisitation of terrible events and feelings for me and my family, for those who know us personally and, most surprising and inspiring of all, for people who don’t know us personally. The fact that the vibrations of Alex’s story are being felt far beyond the reaches of my family and touching a wider expanse of people further assures me that the book I’m writing is important. Necessary, even. Sometimes, I’m not sure. The people who know my family reading a book about well, my family, might find it to be a healing reconnaissance, especially for those who’ve so faithfully been along the ride with us all. But, it’s the folks who relate to Alex’s stories outside of his realm of contact that make this story a book opposed to a blog. Every single reader and sharer is critical and I thank you for your collective, perhaps unwitting, reassurance. You’re the best.

Now. When I had Le Meltdown 2k19, I became closed off due to how weak I was in every sense of the word. When I felt I was ready, I penned the account I posted last week. I left the house a couple of times and even spent some time with Rick’s friends when they came through to see him. It’s largely been a low pressure environment.

I don’t know why I’m dancing around what I want to say here.

Someone’s voice, body language, activity, routine, or expression seeming to change for the better does not mean that person is okay or “now okay.” It’s crucial to give agency to the person with mental illness to express how their feeling via answering a question, opposed to having to counter a surface-level assumption, however innocent, thrown their way. It kinda makes things worse, to be honest, to have made a joke and then people think “Oh, there she is! She’s healed!”

The below series (you can click through it with he faint arrow on the right without leaving this page) is a sweet, succinct way to understand what I mean.

Of course, because I’ve been conditioned as a woman to be apologetic about everything, I now feel the need to say that I don’t mean to be a sassafras about how I want people to ask me how I’m doing. Rather, I’m writing to inform those who want to best support their loved ones, and beyond, living with mental illness.

As always, thanks for reading and for your open mind.

Related on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: No, You Don’t Have Anxiety
Mental Health: Compassion Fatigue and Hyper Empathy
Mental Health: Saying No in the Spirit of Self-Care


To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker and get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Twitter for sassy tweets and a sprinkle of nonsense.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: Mourning the Living

This post has been removed in order to submit to publications. Stay tuned!


Writing this post felt like flipping over a hard shell and exposing a big, soft belly to figurative daggers. For me, this is the essence of vulnerability. No matter how hard I work on this piece, how many times I revise and rework it, it’s still coming out emotionally discombobulated and, at times, confusing, which I suppose is a poetic parallel to the complexity of my and Alex’s relationship.

Something has happened to me, and I’m still feeling tidal waves of emotion like a meteorite landing in the ocean. My psychiatrist and I have made the provocative decision that, aside from edited events with my family, I need to distance myself from unnecessary engagements until this book about Alex fully emerges from my head. Unfortunately, it’s not a project I can turn on and off between birthday parties and happy hours with friends, but this is a story that needs to be told. It’s hard-earned content that needs to be exorcised for both the sake of my mental health and that of my relationships. It’s not fair to anyone, especially Rick, to drag this out any further. Also, Alex deserves it. What’s that saying? Something like you can’t go around it or over it, you just have to go through it? Well, I’m going through it.

The last time I saw Alex in person he said, “I hope you write my story.”

I’m on it, Ally.


Writing through PTSD helps me name my feelings and heal, and I encourage you to share Bummed Out Baker with anyone you think may find it helpful or relatable. I put days and days of work into it for that very reason, to create community and conversation around what are often painful topics.

Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.