October 10th…World Mental Health Day…Also My Son’s Birthday Eve

On this day in 2005, I was 37 weeks pregnant. It was one of those 90+ degree October days we sometimes get in Southern California, and when I entered the doctor’s office for a routine weekly checkup I can remember the receptionist asking me if I had walked up the stairs because I was apparently bright red. When the nurse took me back to an exam room she took my blood pressure, took it again, and took it a third time. Then she told me she’d be right back and left the room.

Within minutes, my doctor walked into the room and announced that she was sending me directly to the hospital and would be inducing labor. My blood pressure was alarmingly, dangerously high. The doctor suspected preeclampsia, and since I was already in the window of what would be considered “safe” for delivering the baby, she decided it would be better for both baby and mommy to be in the hospital, closely monitored and induce labor.

So it was on October 10, 2005, I found myself laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to monitors, and waiting for my son (although at the time we didn’t actually know if we were waiting for a son or a daughter) to enter the world. It would be 24 hours from the time they gave me the medication to induce labor, until my son finally made his entrance on the afternoon of October 11th. 24 hours where I thought about not much beyond who he/she would become. And naturally, my thoughts didn’t even come close to touching upon any of the dark or worrisome “what ifs”.

What I didn’t know on October 10, 2005 was that it was also World Mental Health Day. That bit of cosmic strange timing would not become important until 9 years later, and it wasn’t truly until earlier today that I connected the two different things occurring on the same day.

World Mental Health Day  is a day for global mental health education, awareness, and advocacy against social stigma. It was first recognized in 1992, and is an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries. If you do a quick Google search, you will find topics ranging from the tweets of celebrities voicing support for those living with mental illness, to news stories full of facts and figures about mental illness, and more. But I don’t  need to do a Google search learn about living with a mental illness, I don’t need to look any further than my son who tomorrow will turn 12.

On this World Mental Health Day, our day looked very much like any other day could look – I was part way to work when I realized he had not taken his morning medication, so I turned around and went back home to get it for him. His medication levels are not stable right now, so missed doses are a problem. Combine the fact that his meds are not functioning at their peak with the fact that he is still adjusting to the social pressures of middle school and most days lately are an emotional and physical roller coaster. Today was no different, so as I drove him to his weekly appointment with his therapist I had to talk him down from negative loop playing in his head. In just a little while we will get in the car again so I can drop him off at ninjutsu – he has decided he “hates” it there so I am anticipating another couple of rounds of talking him down and helping him calm down before I can drop him off.

It is World Mental Health Day, but it really could just be any day.

But it is also his birthday eve…tomorrow he will be 12, so tonight there are surprises to ready and celebrations to prepare. That part doesn’t happen everyday.

It struck me today as he waked into the office of his therapist, that this day is both World Mental Health Day and his birthday eve…and that is not ever going to change. It also struck me how little I actually knew on this day 12 years ago as I eagerly waited for this arrival. I certainly did not ever imagine that our every day would include that unborn baby living (thriving) with mental illness. And that means that somewhere out there this evening are other mothers, in other hospitals, waiting for their own baby to join the world – and evidence shows that approximately 20% of those unborn children will likely have a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives.

So to those expectant mothers I say this –

It will be unimaginable and frightening if your child battles a mental illness. You may question every decision you ever made about that child’s life and well-being. Your heart will break a million times as you find your way through a broken mental health care system and inch slowly toward a diagnosis and treatment plan. There will be dark days that you can’t even imagine until you live them.

But that child will always be your baby. And you will always be their mother and their best advocate. That love you are feeling for your unborn child at this very moment, will expand again and again – every time your heart breaks as you watch them battle their demons, it will piece itself back together stronger. You will find inner strength you do not know is there – and that strength will be fueled by your love for your child.

There may be a birthday eve in the future, where you will try to balance the daily routine of keeping your child mentally healthy with the joy and expectation of a birthday. You can do both. You will do both. And I hope you will remember that somewhere else in the world, there is another mother working through that exact balancing act. Somewhere out there in the word, there is another mother who genuinely understands what it is to feel both the pain and the joy of a birthday eve.

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