I am sure some with a mental illness would agree with my opinion that raising a child can present a wide variety of challenges. Now throw into the mix the fact that said child was special needs with a mental disability. Now you do not just have challenges…you have pandemonium! I wrote my entire story in my book but suffice too say these were my circumstance. I had been suffering from an illness that had caused great destruction in my life yet here I was about to have a child. I thought God was playing some sort of silly joke.
My son has Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder. What it boils down to is high functioning autism. With it came serious behavioral disorders leaving him uncontrollable. I will do another post talking about the actual raising of my son but today I would like to talk about some of the thoughts I was consumed by when I discovered I was pregnant. You may have already suspected that it was not a planned pregnancy. I was a single Mom at the time and right from the get go I knew I would be. It was my gynecologist who was going to do the hysterectomy that found out I was pregnant when blood work was done. They always test before but I just thought that was funny. SURPRISE!!!!!
The first thoughts that ran through my mind was that I had proven time and time again that I was incapable of caring for myself. How was I capable of taking care of another innocent human being? All the questions I had are often shared by people who do have a mental illness when deciding whether or not to have children. I can testify to the fact that it is much more supported and there are more resources available now than when I was going though my struggles. But still there is often concern that we are not capable of being good Mothers or Fathers. That we will be punishing the child. My story is a sad one but it still does not change my opinion that Yes we are capable, especially today.
I can remember seeing a psychologist when my children were young. I think they were about 10 and 7. My youngest was having issues in reaction to his older brother. Added the fact that my psychologist saw me as a pretty desperate case. Of course he knew all about what I was dealing with at home. He was firm in his opinion. I should do something now when my boys were young to ensure they could never have children and my genes would be stopped. Now my genes may be a little screwed up but not so much that I would deprive my children of making their own decision as to whether or not to have children!
What made me different than those women who question it before pregnancy, was not only was I already committed but I had no idea what was wrong with me. That is when there is trouble. You are much better prepared to handle things when you know all the players. Being aware and understanding a person’s illness is what I consider to be key. I would advise against doing it my way. That did not work out so well for me. Chances are pretty good that if a person is questioning whether or not to have children…they know themselves. They know what their life is like, how they act and how they feel. But people always want to focus on the negative of mental illness. We are not all bad.
Compassion. We usually have plenty to go around. If there is anything we understand it is pain. We have lived it breathed it. We may feel more of it in a year than others may know in a lifetime. So we have a handle on that compassion thing. When the child hurts you know what it feels like. You also know what has helped you in the past. If you have never struggled how can you have learned any coping strategies? With all that kids face today one thing they are in desperate need of is coping skills. We have developed them as a means of survival. This is something we can pass along to our children and that is better preparation for their lives than we may realize.
What I just referred to says it all…what we have learned. We know all the emotions, at their worst. We have conquered demons, slayed them and sent them packing back where they belong. Can you imagine how far ahead a child would be if they went equipped into adolescence with those kinds of skills? We do have a lot to give our children…not all of it is harmful. It can take me a month to convince myself that I really am capable of doing something. I have to sort through all the negative crap first. Believe it or not we are capable of doing things right.
Now here is the big one…what if my kid inherits a mental illness? Sorry now I do not have all the answers on this one because mine did. Bipolar Disorder is often inherited maternally. Also most often passed on to the daughter. Although neither of mine have bipolar disorder, my oldest does suffer from high anxiety. As far as the Autism Spectrum Disorder they still do not know how that is caused so it probably has nothing to do with the fact that I have a mental illness. Too many parents who have no mental illness have children with Autism for there to be a certain connection between the two. My youngest son has no issues except trying too manage life. So I would say under the circumstances not so bad.
What I only was able to do for my son later in his life was teach him ways of coping with his anxiety. In all fairness he should be on medication but he is studying in Europe (yes he is my miracle child) so it is difficult to get him set up with the necessary professional. I am hoping that once he gets settled for awhile he will try and seek professional help. But he has come along ways. He used to have a meltdown, but now he manages it much better. Before an exam it always gets pretty hairy though. He had to deal with a breakup before he went to Sweden and I could not have been more proud of how he handled it.
The main point I want to make is that both my boys are happy. They know I am not perfect but they love me and know that unless I am dead I will always be there for them. Since I have learned about my illness I have been open and honest with them. It is more my youngest that has real compassion for me. My relationship with my oldest is a little more complicated but we are still close. I am proud of both of them. What I would really like to say is if I can have great kids turn out…hell anybody can but that may be assuming a lot. My parental abilities were in the negative zone. But we came thorough it together. Being open and honest is key. Children need to understand who their parent is. My youngest looks at me and sees not a bad Mother, but a survivor. He admires strong women. I am one of those women. Is there really much more I could ask for?