From the moment my daughter was born, I felt Guilty. I blamed myself for her early birth and small size, thinking my body had failed her by not nourishing her properly and then going in labour almost a month early with my water breaking shortly before 5am one Sunday morning. I blamed myself for the troubles she was having with nursing, thinking someone my body wasn’t right for her or my milk didn’t taste good. I blamed myself for the feeding issues she continued to have, for her projectile vomiting when I started her on solid foods, and for not being able to get through to doctors who verbally patted me on the head and assured me that all babies spit up.
I felt guilty about my excruciating postnatal fatigue, which was intractable and seemed to linger for months and months after her birth. I used to look at other new mothers who seemed to have so much more energy and wonder why they had bounced back and I just couldn’t seem to. I felt guilty about needing advice from a local drop-in centre when she went into her terrible twos at eighteen months and neither my husband nor I could figure how handle to her. I felt guilty every time she got sick, thinking I wasn’t keeping her healthy enough to fight off infection.
These days, I feel guilty that she was born to a bipolar mother. When we decided to start a family, I had been off medication for almost six years, and tried desperately to convince anyone who would listen that I was well enough not to need it anymore, not necessarily because I believed that (or they did) but because I’d had quite enough of my life and self-esteem being compromised by difficult side-effects like weight gain and body odor. She didn’t ask for this, but she is stuck with me, and I sometimes wonder whether she looks at other mothers and wishes I was normal too, like them.
She knows that I am bipolar, because I made the mistake of leaving “Bipolar Disorder For Dummies” on the kitchen table one day, and when she asked about it I had no choice but to tell her the truth. I told her that Mommy has bipolar disorder, which means that sometimes I feel super happy when I don’t need to, or really sad for no reason, but I take medicine to make me feel calm, not sad, and only as happy as I should be. She has accepted this, at least for now. But I Worry that, when she is older, her acceptance will turn to anger or cause her to turn against me.
I worry that, right under my own nose, I have missed something in my mothering, not given her something she fundamentally needed, damaged her somehow. I worry that, in the midst of making school lunches and going on all her field trips and schlepping her to and from school every day, I somehow have not been there in a way that I should have been. Maybe, despite the multiple times I hug her and tell her I love and that she is my favorite person in the whole world, she somehow doesn’t know how much she matters, that she is the light of my life and the queen of my heart. Worst of all, I worry that she will have been so deeply affected by the awful winter and spring that have just passed that I will have somehow set her up for her own mental health difficulties, sending a fifth generation into its future for a lifetime of struggling.
I can’t change the past. Or my genetics. Or hers. I can commit, every day, to doing all that I have to do to reclaim my life and achieve true mental health. Of all the responsibilities I have as a mother, taking care of myself so I can mother is perhaps the most important. Maybe I should be kinder to myself, stop feeling guilty. Or maybe I am being realistic. I don’t know. In the end, all I can hope is that somehow, I have managed to be the mother my child deserves. I couldn’t live with myself if I was anything less.