When you tell your doctor that you're pregnant, you might expect him to say, "Congratulations!" or "I'm happy for you!" What you don't expect him to solemnly say is, "If you have this baby, it will have birth defects because of your medications." That's what my psychiatrist told me when I was 26 and pregnant with what I thought would be my first child.
I honestly don't know how my then-husband felt. He was an unemployed pothead "musician" and was more in love with his guitar and drugs than with me; I worked as a secretary to support the both of us. I remember feeling devastated. Why couldn't they have warned me before I became pregnant? That no longer mattered, however. Now I had to decide whether or not to, as the doctors referred to it, "terminate the pregnancy." Apparently, that sounds much better than "have an abortion."
I'm the oldest of three, and the oldest grandchild. Of course my family expected me to bear the first of the next generation. That's what you do once you're married, after all -- have kids. I was also the only one to have been diagnosed with mental illness, specifically bipolar, anxiety, and borderline personality disorders. At the time, I had already been hospitalized for depression once, with more hospitalizations to come in the future.
My mother and grandmother are devout Catholics. I consulted with them about what to do. Surprisingly, they were supportive of my eventual decision to abort the pregnancy. I couldn't knowingly bring a defective child into this world. Is that selfish? Maybe. I also knew that, with the severity of my mood disorders, I wouldn't be able to properly care for a child, healthy or not, especially when at times I couldn't even care for myself, which continues to this day.
I know there are lots of moms who live with the same illnesses that I do, and are fabulous at taking great care of their children. I admire these women. Some of them decided to go completely off their meds to ensure that their babies were born healthy. Because of the severity of my illness, I knew that I couldn't be one of them. I couldn't not be on medication.
Was it the best decision I ever made? Probably not. Eighteen years later, I still think about what that child would have been like. I like to think that he or she would have grown up healthy and happy, but I'll never know. Would he or she be well-adjusted when I've been hospitalized many times for attempted suicides and depression so severe that I required electroshock therapy? I'll never know that, either.
What I know now is that having children is a choice. It isn't just "what you do" when you get married. But sometimes, I feel that the choice was made for me rather than by me.
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