August 25, 2023

By Sarah Merritt Ryan

Illustration of miother and child

When I was in my darkest hour, amid psychotic episodes, there was light pulling me forward. I just knew I had a future ahead of me where I would get married and become a mother. This desire and calling, at times, led me forward and gave me direction into my future.

I have now been in remission from any symptoms of schizophrenia for 11 years. I’ve been married for five years and my son is three years old. Our trio family is happy, content and thriving. There is so much meaning behind parenthood for anyone, but for me especially, when such a positive outcome was unlikely.

I’ve learned some takeaways from my experiences so far about the meaning of giving birth and raising a toddler while in recovery from serious mental illness (SMI).

What Having a Child Means to My Recovery

Having my son has helped me move on with my life after schizophrenia. When you are caring for an infant, you have very little time to dwell on the past or think disproportionately about yourself. To me, parenthood is putting yourself second to the needs of your dependent. Instead of allowing myself to experience feelings of sadness over the lost years of my life, I focus on the new life in front of me — a life in which I am constantly needed. That importance gives me direction, purpose and peace. Instead of continuing to wonder why my life had to be the way it has been, I am completely focused instead on how to make sure my son has the best life possible.

I take joy and pride in every opportunity my husband and I can create for our son to have a healthy childhood and successful life. My dream is no longer that I could have had a different life, but that my son can have a different life than mine — a life that is better. By making his life better, focusing on him and being the best parent I can be, I am growing, healing and improving in the process as well.

I Have No Regrets

At this stage in life, there are no more “what ifs.” There are no more nagging regrets like, if I only had never gone off my antipsychotic, if only I hadn’t had psychotic breaks, maybe that would have made me a different person now with a different kind of life.

My son is so perfect and precious, sweet and delightful —and this beautiful human could not have existed if everything in my life did not happen exactly how it happened, literally down to the day. If I hadn’t had those psychotic breaks, in which my life was on hold for years, the timing would have never worked out to meet my husband, either.

That something so perfect and precious could come out of my life is confirmation and proof that my life is on the right track — that everything that once seemed random and bizarre and painful could come together in a way that still produced good things. My husband and son are second-to-second reassurances in my life that all my decisions, even the regrettable ones, ultimately led to a desirable outcome.

My Son Has a Clean Slate

Often, it amazes me that we could have created someone so wonderful and special. I’m still in awe that, out of so much pain and supposed missteps in my life, we still created a beautiful life that is untouched and unscathed by everything I went through. It feels redeeming. I love that my son has this clean slate and fresh start that I don’t necessarily have myself. I can use everything I’ve learned in this life of mine to give him the best life possible.

Maybe this outlook is, in fact, a stage of grief — bargaining, perhaps. But I truly feel that my life will be complete and make sense if my son’s reality is less painful than mine. If my son’s life is better, my circumstances feel fair, and my soul can be at peace. Even if he has a slightly higher chance of experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia than the average person, he is in good hands. I am ready and prepared for any signs of SMI, and our family will learn from my mistakes. I also take comfort in the fact that by the time my son gets older, we will see medical breakthroughs, better treatment and encouraging discoveries that will be able to change the lives of those with mental illness.

I’ve heard before that deciding to have a child is the ultimate act of optimism, and that has certainly been true in my life. Before we tried to get pregnant, I had to believe that I knew how to make another person’s life better than mine. I had to believe, in spite of everything I experienced, that my life would be “worth it.” I had to decide that even if my son does get a mental illness like mine, that his life is still worth living, just like mine.

Ultimately, I am hopeful for the future.

Sarah Merritt Ryan is a writer covering mental illness topics like stigma, recovery and hope. She is an ongoing NAMI Blog contributor and Connection Support Group Facilitator based in North Carolina. She is a survivor of schizophrenia and is now a wife, mother and small business owner.

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