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
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