Mental Health

Mental Illness and Motherhood: Questions and Fears

April 7, 2014

 Mental Illness and Motherhood: Questions and Fears - Sweet and Savoring

Let’s talk about fear. I don’t mean scary movies, though I’d never turn them down, and I don’t mean fear of spiders or snakes or heights.

I’m talking about the kind of fear that lives deep inside your soul, the kind of thoughts we think in those quiet moments but don’t dare speak to others because if we do, it feels more real. And we certainly won’t be able to stop the tears once they start.

I used to say that I wasn’t afraid of anything. This was back in my reckless early to mid twenties. Sometimes I said that I had a fear of not being afraid of anything. These days, I have one particular fear that won’t go away. I imagine that many of you who also struggle with mental illness have had these same thoughts (at least, I hope I’m not alone in this).

Mental Illness and Motherhood: Questions and Fears - Sweet and Savoring

My fear is about having children. Some people enter into the decision lightly, easily. I’d say I am heavy with this decision, heavy with the fear that I will either pass on my depression to my child or that I will struggle too much with depression and anxiety myself to be a good parent.

I worry that I (we) will make the wrong decision. I worry that I will suffer from debilitating postpartum depression. Would I recover if I had a traumatic birth experience? What if I can’t handle the pregnancy, since I’d have to be temporarily off antidepressants? Would I ever grow so sick of the baby’s crying that I want to do something drastic, as I’ve read in stories of women with PPD?

Passing depression on to my offspring is a real possibility. Some form of depression has been present for at least the last three generations in my family. Seeing my child go through what I have would be unbearable. I can’t begin to imagine, save for witnessing friends’ suffering, what my mother has gone through when I’ve been at my lowest. Would it be selfish of me to have children, knowing that they might suffer as I have? (Is having children ever not selfish?)

I’ve often thought about fostering and adoption. I love the idea of giving a home to a child already in the world, over bringing in a new life when we already have such problems with sustainability and overpopulation. This possibility has always run through my mind, in a Well, if we do decide to have children, this would probably be the best way sense. Of course, adopting or fostering only takes care of the passing-on-mental-illness fear, not the what-if-I-can’t-handle-it one.

Mental Illness and Motherhood: Questions and Fears - Sweet and Savoring

I never thought about having children much before I was seriously involved with Andy: it didn’t even cross my mind much when I was single, when I didn’t yet know what it was like to be with someone who not only made a good partner but who I could foresee becoming a wonderful parent. Now I’m in my thirties and Andy is in his forties. It’s time to make peace with my fears, whatever direction that takes us in.


Today starts the second week of the Blogging A to Z April Challenge. My theme for F was fear. Last week’s themes were art, baking, currently, diaries, and England. Stay tuned this week for posts covering my trip last week to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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  • Sylvie Charment April 7, 2014 at 10:09 am

    It’s very responsible of you to recognize the potential problems to having children. I wish I could give words of encouragement and advice. I hope whatever decisions you make in the future, will work out more positively than anticipated.

    • Christy April 7, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Thank you so much for your words, Sylvie. I hope you’re right!

  • Vicki M. Taylor April 7, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I totally get what you’re going through. A day doesn’t go by that I have regrets and guilt for passing my mental health issues on to my children. Did I know about them when I was having children, unfortunately … no. I wasn’t formally diagnosed until 2003. My children were adults by then. I don’t know how many ways and times I can tell them how sorry I am. They lived with a bipolar mom who did some wild and crazy things while they were children. They didn’t have an easy life, neither did I. I wished I’d been diagnosed sooner. But, we can’t change the past. Only move forward and live now, in the present. And, you can’t predict the future. You don’t know what it’s going to be like and trying to make a decision like this based on what you “think” might or might not happen in the future is not the way to do it. Listen to your heart. Pray to God and listen to His response. Have a blessed day. Followed you from SITS.

    • Christy April 7, 2014 at 6:49 pm

      I appreciate your response, Vicki. You’re right, we can’t change the past and certainly can’t predict the future. Even if I could look into a crystal ball, it wouldn’t necessarily make things any easier.

  • Mocha Mama April 7, 2014 at 11:48 am

    I can relate on SO many levels! For me, I’ve made my decisions. . . (Coincidentally, I actually touched on this on my site a few days ago.)

    My first pregnancy, before I even realized what was happening, my OBGYN actually prescribed anti-depressants because he believed, firmly, that the benefits outweighed the risks at that particular juncture. . . I think back now & can see the significance of that. . . Ugh.

    Whatever decision you make, I pray you have peace in it. Thank you so much for sharing. I am sure I will drop back by soon. . .
    Mocha Mama recently posted…God Will DecideMy Profile

    • Christy April 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      So nice to see all these new ‘faces’! And thank you for sharing your experience, that really means a lot to me. I’m sorry you went through such a hard time during your first pregnancy. I’ll have to look back for that post you’re talking about!

  • Tami Principe April 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Wonderful blog that addresses a very important issues. Although you have a lot of fears surrounding the birth of a child, your doctor may help you eliminate some of those fears. I would start with a talk with your doctor first. Find out if you could be off your medicine for an extended period of time. If so, what are going to be the effects of going without your medicine? See if he has statistics or percentages of it being passed on. These are just a few questions, you get the idea. You can always do some research on your own as well. Wishing you the very best!

    • Christy April 7, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      Thanks for these practical suggestions, Tami. Research and educating oneself is a great way to combat anxiety.

  • Shana Norris April 7, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Christy, your strength and bravery in the face of depression never fails to impress me. I wish you wisdom and continued strength as you ponder these questions and the peace of knowing that whatever decision you arrive at is the right one.
    Shana Norris recently posted…Ask Away Friday with Tamara of Tamara (Like) Camara.My Profile

    • Christy April 7, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      I don’t think you could have left a more perfect comment, Shana. I’m humbled and flattered! Thank you so much for your support, always. xo

  • Tamara April 7, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    I’m giving you a virtual hug, as lame as those are compared to the real thing.
    I never had time to have this fear before I got pregnant the first time wasn’t expected. With my second, I had plenty of time to be afraid, and I was. Luckily I had no issues with my pregnancy, for the most part.
    I’m wishing you a lot of clarity in whatever you decide.

    • Christy April 8, 2014 at 10:43 am

      Thank you for the hug, not lame at all. I haven’t spoken of this to many people, so it’s not to have gotten it out there and received so much support.

  • Linda Gygax April 7, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Christy thank you for your honesty, bravery in sharing, and really good thoughts on this important matter. I wished we lived closer and could sit down for your coffee or tea and my nalgene. (I don’t even know what you drink!! :() or bake you a nice batch of cookies and discuss life. I have wrestled with these same thoughts and have decided (quite obviously by the plethora of Facebook posts of, ahem -if I do say so myself-adorable boys) to have the children. I have so many thoughts to share with u about this/these experiences!!! I don’t know if my thumbs could type that much!!! The only thing that has gotten me this far/through/helped with each overcoming step, is God. Wait, no I can’t say “only” bcs He has sent so many to help me grow, change, move- like Chris, my counselor (like 6 yrs, wait over,…? stopped counting!), some dear friends who usually know nothing for themselves of mental illnesses but I he to share my experiences/thoughts with them and they listen & challenge me to go on. (No particular order and some left off this list!)
    You raised some great questions. I often like to think of different or earlier interventions should my babes encounter the same depression and anxiety I have. Or the ADD that Chris has dealt with. Time will tell with this.
    I will be praying for you on the journey you and Andy are on presently.
    Love you cousin!
    And thank you again for sharing.

    • Christy April 8, 2014 at 6:38 pm

      Oh Lin, you’re welcome! Thank you for clicking and reading, and responding in such an open-hearted way. (I drink water most of the time, but enjoy coffee now and then with coconut oil, cinnamon, and maple syrup. And tea as well! But usually a night)
      I’m glad you’ve had such wonderful support and such close friends to help you through the tough times. Having a support system is another big consideration when deciding to have kids!
      Love and hugs to you.

  • The Dose of Reality April 7, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Oh, hugs to you. I feel you. I’ve had those same fears. I was actually on Paxil when I got pregnant with my first and I worried all about that in addition to everything else. I was *really* worried about post partum depression, but didn’t suffer from it with either of my pregnancies.

    I feel like knowing this about myself, I am *really* on the ball with looking for signs and symptoms in my own kids. In a way, I think it’s actually better for my kids than if they had parents who didn’t understand it. One day if they do have a problem with depression, I will be able to spot it and understand them and what they need in a much better way than if I didn’t experience it myself. I think that’s a plus!

    But, all parents pass along *lots of things* to their children. Some things are neutral things, some are fantastic, and some things you’d wish you didn’t pass on…but all parents pass traits or predispositions along no matter who they are. The fact that you have are aware of something you potentially could pass along means you would be totally on top of it, and to me, that’s a good thing.

    Good luck with thinking through everything. The fact that you are so thoughtful about this let’s me know that you would be a fantastic parent if that’s the path you choose. –Lisa

    • Christy April 8, 2014 at 10:47 am

      Hugs right back! I love how you re-framed what I was saying into something more positive- being able to understand your kids in ways no one else could, knowing how to help them if they did develop some anxiety/depression issues, etc. Thank you so much for your sweet, thoughtful words, Lisa!

  • Ellen April 7, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    You are so brave for writing this my love! Can I say a big DITTO for myself in this matter. Thank you for being so authentic and shining a light on this issue. This is such a heavy issue for women with mental illness and writing about it and bring it out into the open is so helpful. You are so inspiring Christy Milford!!! xoxo

    • Christy April 9, 2014 at 10:19 am

      So many hugs wifey! Thank you for being one of the first people that I spoke about this out loud to you, and always listening and being there for me with loving compassion.

  • Michelle @ A Dish of Daily Life April 8, 2014 at 9:00 am

    I have OCD and it worries me that I may have passed that along to my kids. It’s not something I would wish on anyone and I have dealt with it my entire life. But then again, we know so much more about it these days and I have found over the years, mine has become somewhat better. I think the best thing is just to pay attention…everyone has something. We pass along the good and the bad. No one is perfect.
    Michelle @ A Dish of Daily Life recently posted…Clean Burnt Pots and Pans in MinutesMy Profile

  • Sophie Bowns April 8, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    This was a really poignant post!

    • Christy April 9, 2014 at 10:21 am

      It wasn’t easy to write, that’s for sure. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Sophie.

  • Erika April 8, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Wow, Christy — yet again, let me say THANK YOU to voicing these vulnerable parts of yourself… the things that so many of us wonder privately but aren’t sure if anyone else feels the same way.

    This really resonated with me: “I never thought about having children much before I was seriously involved with Andy: it didn’t even cross my mind much when I was single, when I didn’t yet know what it was like to be with someone who not only made a good partner but who I could foresee becoming a wonderful parent. ”

    Having been raised by a single mother, I knew I wanted another person there. Not because I felt deprived, but because I’m so different from my mom. She’s confident, assured, and solid. She’s consistent, reliable, and always maintains the highest integrity. She doesn’t doubt, she’s steady, and she’s strong. She did a great job, but it’s not something I would want to do alone. And so I couldn’t even see the POSSIBILITY without knowing the potential partner first.

    It’s seeming way more possible, but I have the same fears. I wonder: what will I pass to this person? What if I just get tired of it but can’t get away? What if I feel trapped? What if it feels TOO sacrificial? What if it requires more of me than I am able to give on a day-to-day basis? What if I’m too selfish, or too emotional? What if my flaws have a severely negative impact on my child?

    But… the things I’m scared about, I am also trying my best to work on now. I’m trying to do the prep work to be a good mom and prepare myself for what that might look like. I know you can never be prepared, but sometimes deeply desiring to be a good mother and looking out for the interests of the child is enough, especially within a caring relationship. Not always, but from what I’ve seen and known of you (which, I know is only online), I don’t doubt that your child would grow up loved.

    And something to keep in mind is that… even though depression can put a dark cloud over life, life is still worth living. There’s still enough beauty to make it worth it, even if some days that’s hard to know or see. And I think we have to trust that if we bring another spirit into the world, they would find a way to figure that out regardless of genetics. In fact, I think that a lot of depression — or dealing with it, anyway — requires loving people who accept who we are and that that’s a part of us AND an understanding that who we are is enough, even with that. If you can teach that and model that to your child, then I think they would be more than okay. If we know we are loved just as we are, sometimes that’s all we need. 🙂
    Erika recently posted…The 101 Postcards ProjectMy Profile

  • Andrea Yancey Reyes April 8, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    I just want to give you a great big hug! You have a great head on your shoulders, and it is very responsible for you to think these small details out as you plan your future. I struggled with depression all of my life, then had my daughter- my depression went from bad to worse. It was a miserable time of my life. One day I reached out for help- I realized I don’t have to “handle” having kids. No one has to do it alone! I slowly recovered from my depression and I have been able to become a strong woman, even if I am raising my kids by myself most of the time. Am I afraid? Heck yes! I don’t know a good mother on the planet who doesn’t worry about how good of a mother she is being. Being afraid is part of being a good mother, I suppose, so you’ve got that one down already, no matter the path you choose to lead you their (fostering, adoption, or having your own children…).
    Andrea Yancey Reyes recently posted…Project Life Tuesday: Tijuana Road Trip March 2014My Profile

  • AwesomelyOZ April 9, 2014 at 7:44 am

    Having kids is no light decision, it shouldn’t be anyways. It’s bringing another life into the world – on that note, we’ve been doing it for millions of years so you can do this 😉 I have anxiety disorder and a history of depression when the anxiety takes its toll, which thankfully hasn’t been for years now. I’d say that as long as you have a great support system in Andy you will be fine – just take things one day at a time. You won’t be alone in this whole experience. 🙂 Have a great one Christy! -Iva
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