I am not a mother. I have never been a mother. However, like many other women in the world, I have experienced the sorrow that comes with losing a child who never existed.
Growing up, I never believed that I wanted to have a child biologically. I felt very strongly that I wanted to be a mother by adoption only. I didn’t judge others who chose to go the biological route; I just knew in my heart that I would feel guilty creating a brand-new human being when there were so many children in the world who needed families.
And then I met my husband. I began to think about what it would be like to bring about something glorious–to bring about life itself–out of our love. My husband and I began to talk seriously about having children, and decided that we would have one child biologically, and then adopt afterward. We decided on a natural birth, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, home schooling. We even decided that if we had a baby girl, we would name her Eleanor, after my husband’s grandmother. We decided to wait a few years, and then begin trying to bring our little Eleanor into the world.
I knew that my pregnancy would have to be meticulously planned, because I am bipolar and the medications I take to control my mood disorder can seriously harm a growing fetus. My psychiatrist assured me that he could wean me off of my current medication, or switch me to something different, whenever I decided to get pregnant. So that was that: All I had to do was wait until it was time to get started!
Many, many months went by, and then … the symptoms of my bipolar started acting up. What had been a well-managed disorder for years suddenly became unmanageable. The chemistry in my brain changed in such a way that no matter how well I was taking care of myself psychologically, my meds simply weren’t working as they used to. After months of trying different medications and of me barely holding it together, we finally found something that stabilized me. Sweet relief … but with a hard lesson.
If I stay on my meds during pregnancy, I risk having a child born with a serious medical problem such as spina bifida. If I choose to go off my meds or to switch meds in order to be pregnant, I risk losing control over my mental and emotional stability.
That experience, the first bipolar “relapse” I had ever had while on medication, made me think long and hard about my choice to conceive a child. While I know that many women with bipolar have successfully made it through pregnancies, I also know that there are serious risks involved. If I stay on my meds during pregnancy, I risk having a child born with a serious medical problem such as spina bifida. If I choose to go off my meds or to switch meds in order to be pregnant, I risk losing control over my mental and emotional stability. Those risks are simply too large for me to take.
And so I find myself in a position so similar to that of many women. Yes, my body may be fertile and sound, but the fact remains that I simply cannot in good conscience attempt to conceive a child. It’s incredible how poignantly I feel the pain of losing a child who never existed — I have had to realize I will never feel a baby growing inside of me, I will never experience the natural birth I imagined, I will never hold my little baby Eleanor close while feeding her from my own body. I know she never existed except in my mind, but I’m grieving the loss of her all the same.
Adoption is still in my future, for as soon as my husband and I feel ready. I try to remember during these difficult times that though one child I imagined will never come to be, that does not mean I will never be a mother. My husband and I will still have the chance to create something glorious out of our love … just in a different, equally special way.