On April 14, 2018, I became an aunt to the most beautiful baby girl, Mia, who was born to two of my favorite people in the entire world: my sister Phoebe and her husband Paul.
The week before she was born, I wasn’t sleeping, but, the day after Mia’s birth, I slept for twelve hours without waking up once. My rockstar of a sister had spent hours in labor, and here I was, sleeping like it had been me.
It felt like I had emotionally given birth.
When I was sixteen, fertility was the last thing on my mind. Doctors told me that if I didn’t sustain a regular menstrual cycle, it could, of course, later impact my ability to get pregnant. I don’t know if I want kids anyway, I remember thinking. And does anyone actually mind not having a period? At the time, it seemed like a luxury.
I’ll be 29 in a few weeks. It has been almost two years since I’ve had any sort of menstrual cycle, and the doctors can’t figure out why. I recently had my woman’s wellness exam and blood work done to test all of my levels, especially my hormones. And, according to my doctor, I am in a great state of health; I’ve even been maintaining a healthy weight for my height. So, he gave me a prescription that was supposed to jumpstart my cycle. No such luck. The next step is an ultrasound, but, to be honest, I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet.
I prefer to live in this sort of delusional hopeful expectancy, I suppose.
It hasn’t always been like this. And it wasn’t until recently that I even began to really consider being a mother. Not having a regular period means not having to use birth control, so Michael and I had been living by an “if it happens, it happens” philosophy—maybe not the smartest tactic, but it was my way of saying, God, if it’s your will, you’ll make it happen.
It’s been almost six years, so now I suppose I’m finally trying to figure out why. This is partially driven by guilt. I know this isn’t rational. That God doesn’t work by a karma-like doctrine. But, I did this. By not eating enough, I have deprived my husband and I of something that should be easier than this. I know that a huge number of woman have infertility issues, but I can’t help but be burdened by the fact that this is directly related to something I did. Of course, I didn’t choose to have an eating disorder. But perhaps I could have thought about me a little less.
Because I have both chronic anxiety and depression, my concerns are compounded by both this pressing guilt and self-doubt. Can I even be a mother? Perhaps God knows I can’t or shouldn’t. So he’s saving us both.
What is it like to be a mother with depression? Can I even handle all the hormonal changes? Will I have to go off of my meds? What about those days where I’m completely spaced? How many irrational fears will I have during and after the pregnancy? Will I even be able to sleep due to the anxiety? What if I’m a terrible, perfectionist-driven mother? What If I pass on my mental illnesses to a child? What if I like the idea of a baby more than an actual baby? How will I cope with gaining weight? How will I adapt to being hungrier? What if I’m too selfish? If we can’t have a baby on our own, will I even be allowed to adopt? How hard is it for people with mental illness to adopt a child? Will Michael be okay if we’re never able to have kids at all?
These are just some of the questions that run through my mind when I think of children. I know, “there is no perfect mother” and “it’s different when you have your own child” and “you’ll be a wonderful mom”—I’ve been told these things time and time again.
But, I honestly don’t know. And I don’t think you can know either. And that’s what makes it so scary.
All I can do for now is to actively practice treating my body with kindness.
And trust in God to do the rest.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.