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 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 when deepening concerns about changes to my son’s thoughts and behaviors led to his first psychiatric evaluation. For the past 6 years he’s been under the care of both a therapist and a psychiatrist to treat clinical anxiety and depression.
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 will turn 15 tomorrow
On this specific World Mental Health Day, we’re all feeling pretty good about his current stability. The “blessing” of living through this global pandemic for him has been time and space removed from many of the things that trigger his cycles from anxiety to depression. He’s had time to heal, and relax, and remember what it feels like to be at peace in his body and brain. The time has allowed his psychiatrist to make needed medication adjustments with less concern about how any side effects will affect his days. The time has given him the strength and courage to begin fully owning who he is and in turn led us to deciding to make a change to his treatment team. In the past few weeks we’ve said goodbye and thank you to the therapist who got us all through the years of diagnosing childhood mental illness and transitioned my son to a new therapist where he can build a relationship on his own since we all recognize he’ll be 18 in the space of a blink.
It’s World Mental Health Day, but it is also his birthday eve. Tomorrow he will be 15.
On this day 15 years ago there was so much I did not know. I certainly didn’t imagine that our every day would include my child 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 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.
I’m out here. Find me. Find someone like me. Nobody has to walk through this painful part of motherhood alone.