Mental Illness and Pregnancy

by Birth Without Fear on June 4, 2013

“I’ve debated telling this story. I’m afraid of being judged and perhaps even… yelled at.  But my story is just as important as yours. My story is the one that no one talks about. My story is about being pregnant with a mental illness.” -B 

My story starts a good 10 years ago, when I was officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. In a nut shell, Borderline Personality disorder is all encompassing. Its not usually diagnosed, and some psychiatrists don’t even believe its exists. It includes things like fear of abandonment, mistrust, harmful thoughts, and fast moving emotional thought process that I have no control over. I have very little control over what I think, do, and how I react to things emotionally. Medication makes things easier, but these things will always be a struggle for me. Anyways… 

At that time I had no future. The world was dark. No one cared and everyone else was a hypocrite. I had no future. And honestly it was only a matter of time, before the drugs, alcohol, and cutting caught up to me. Sooner or later… and I didn’t care that much. 

Then I met my husband. He held my hand and offered me a choice. Did I want to continue being miserable, angry and alone, or did I want the future he was offering me? With a career, and a home and maybe even a baby? I had always wanted a baby. If I wanted that, I had to start medication. That was my choice. I was tired of all of it, and I had nothing to loose, so I chose him.   

I was stable for 3 years. Properly medicated with regular therapy and we both felt it was time to have a baby. We wanted a baby and we knew it would be hard. We knew it would be hard because of my illness, but we decided as a team to take the risk. We wanted a baby boy. Maybe it was selfish to want something so badly, especially since I knew I would not be able to go off my medication. My psychiatrist assured me it was safe though, so we quadrupled my folic acid intake to counter act the medication I was already on. And within a few weeks I was pregnant! 

We were thrilled. Nervous, scared. We were parents. There was life growing inside me!!! 

This lasted all of 2 weeks. Then I got sick. 

Typical pregnancy symptoms I was told. They will pass, “you have life growing inside you”. Not so simple for someone like me. For the first 3 months, I was so nauseous I couldn’t eat. I lost 15lbs. Luckily I had enough to spare. Something as simple as not being able to eat was hard for my mind to accept. I cried often. 

The second trimester was worse. “Its ok, it’ll pass, its just part of being pregnant, you have life growing inside you!!” I had a migraine for 3 months straight. Nothing I did alleviated the pain. It only went away when I was sleeping and I wasn’t sleeping all that well either. I cried because I was in pain and tired. 

Please don’t misunderstand. Of course I had moments of elation. Every time he moved. Every time we listened to music together and he danced. We still dance! He amazed me. He was growing inside me and it truly is an amazing thing!  These moments gave me the strength to carry him longer then I wanted to. These moments were very special for me. 

The third trimester, although relieved by the fact that finally after 12 weeks my migraine had went away and I was able to eat again, now the depression kicked in. I hadn’t slept in God knows how long, I was miserable every single day, I ached everywhere I could hardly move. I cried every day because I felt so sick of life. My mental illness had taken over my thought processes, and more then once I threatened to cut my baby out of me! People thought it was funny for me to say that. “You have life growing inside of you. It’ll all be worth it in the end.” They all said. But I had never had a baby before, I didn’t know what they meant, and as far as I was concerned at that point, nothing was worth the pain I was feeling physically and emotionally. I was so unhappy and so depressed and my thought processes were so disturbed. I felt bad for how I was feeling because I knew my son could tell. Every time I cried he got quiet and I knew he knew how I felt about him. So I also felt ashamed. I should love my baby. I grew him and he’s special, but I didn’t. I didn’t even like him anymore! He had put me through a lot already and I was very angry at him.  

At 40 weeks 2 days I called my doctor and begged him to induce me. Once again stating that I was totally serious about cutting him out myself. He finally obliged  and I was scheduled for an induction the next day. I was so incredibly grateful! The induction worked and within a few hours I was in full labour! 

It hurt like a bitch but I was so happy to finally be in the final stretch of things. Morphine, epidural yes please!  

Time is a daze but I think I was in labour for about 14 hours before I started pushing. The nurse has mentioned that I could up the epidural so I did and by 9:00am I was ready to start pushing but I couldn’t feel anything so I did the best I could. 

My doctor showed up and tried to vacuum. It didn’t work, it fell off 3 times and baby wasn’t bugging. Finally he concluded that baby was stuck and we had to have an emergency c-section. Up until this point I was doing fine. My mood had elevated for obvious reasons and I was in the home stretch! This baby that had been tormenting me for 40 weeks would soon be out and maybe then we could start our relationship over.  

They said C-section and everything changed. Now I got scared. I turned to my husband and said, “can you call my parents?” Now I was crying, for the first time throughout the entire labour. I had prepared myself for everything except that. Everyone told me that I had the hips to birth a baby, but my baby was now stuck between them and was not coming out on his own.  

So they did the c-section and everything went smoothly. I was embarrassed because I was laying on the table completely naked and exposed. Nothing covered except my head, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I pushed it down like I had pushed all my feelings and emotions down for so long and just let them do what they had to do. 

They tugged and pulled and the anesthesiologist commented over and over again, “just a little bit more tugging.” I guess baby was really stuck. I felt my body move with each tug, but they eventually got him out and he cried and we were happy. I was so happy he was finally out! 

My husband held him for the first half hour while they stitched and stapled me up. My parents came right away because the C-section was a shock to them too. Apparently my mother was hysterical, “my baby is being cut open!!!”. So they held him too. I don’t remember if they held him before me. I wasn’t opposed to it. I guess I was happy. I was more relieved. 

The one thing I remember is how invasive the nurses were. They wanted to put me on Demerol so I would stop shaking because of course by this time my body had gone into shock. My OB said no right away (the one good thing about the entire experience) and just put me under a heated blanket. Within half hour my shaking had stopped. 

As the nurses cleaned me up, my body completely numb and still fat from pregnancy, one of them commented on my scars. I have about a dozen that are noticeable because of my mental illness and the first thing I thought was, didn’t you read my file?  Must I explain this to you? But I quickly did. Calmly. It was not what I needed to hear, nor was it something I wanted to explain at that precise moment. I mean I had just had a baby literally ripped from my body. Clean me up and keep your comments to yourself! 

newborn after cesarean

Well from here on in, nothing went right. I didn’t sleep for 4 day, because they insisted on having a bright night light on all night long. I was exhausted! Baby wasn’t eating and was unable to nurse because my milk refused to come in.  I looked and felt like shit and this baby would not stop crying! We supplemented. We had to. 

Because of all the drugs, my face broke out in cold sores. I’m prone to them to begin with, I get them quite seriously actually but this time, I had over a hundred! I had them in my eyes, on my cheeks, on my nose, my chin. The glands in my neck had swelled up so much I could hardly move my head, and since the herpes virus can actually kill newborns, I was restricted in how often I could hold my baby. Needless to say, we did not bond..

Now the depression hit a high. We were finally home, still not breastfeeding, or sleeping. I couldn’t move because of the surgery, he was crying because he was so hungry. I was crying because in my mind, I was a failure. I couldn’t birth my baby, I couldn’t feed my baby, I couldn’t even hold my baby. I said to my husband, “if your’e holding him, who’s holding me? ” And I meant it! I felt so incredibly alone and shameful. I thought often of just stuffing the baby in the freezer. Often. If it wasn’t the freezer it was the washing machine… Often. And that scared me.  In my screwed up mind, this baby was the cause of everything bad that had happened for the last 42 weeks of my life and if he just wasn’t here anymore… I felt horrible. What made me feel worse was the fact that I knew he knew exactly how I felt and it was obvious that he didn’t trust me.  

I still cried every day. It was a very difficult time for my husband. I put on a brave face for all the family that came to visit us, but as soon as we were alone everything fell apart…. 

So here’s where the story gets better.

We were sitting on the couch one night, just hanging out watching tv. He was 2 weeks old, and I just looked at him. This was the first time I had actually just looked at him. He looked back and I said, “there is something so familiar in your eyes.” As I looked harder, I realized he had my eyes. I was looking into a mirror! My heart melted. I said, “I guess you aren’t so bad…maybe this isn’t your fault.” And his glare did not faultier. “Can we start over?” And turned his head and started rooting, “You want to try just one more time?” So for the first time I nursed him.

He latched and he drank big gulps and he looked at me and I could tell that for the first time he forgave me. He understood and I promised him then that no matter what I thought, no matter what the voices told me to do I wouldn’t do them. He trusted me now and I couldn’t betray that. The thoughts haunt me on a daily basis even now but he trusts me and he loves me and he cuddles me and he forgave me and now he doesn’t even remember and as time goes by, the thoughts dwindle and they aren’t as strong. That night I fell in love with my son for the first time. He looks just me, so how couldn’t I love him.  

Some days for me are harder then others. My son is my reason now. My reason to stay strong, to take my medication and to go to therapy. He needs me  to do these things not only for myself but for him. Every time I look into his milk chocolate eyes, my eyes,  I’m reminded of where I was, where I could be and where I am now I’m more confident as a mom and more secure as a woman, and its all because of him. I’m so lucky. My husband has been incredibly supportive throughout this entire journey and I have him to thank as well. 

I still don’t know how I’m going to explain things to him as he gets older. Why I need to take medication, what the scars mean, why I get so angry sometimes or cry uncontrollably, and why I can’t control certain aspects of my emotions. I don’t know. But I figure I’ll just take every day as it comes. As a blessing. I grew him inside me. He’s mine and regardless of how I felt about him in the beginning, its not how I feel about him now. He’s the absolute love of my life and I tell him every single day. 

mother and son

pregnancy and mental illness

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