Mental health issues and the decision not to have children

By Victoria Fryer 

“Oh, you’re glowing!” It’s a common remark made to pregnant women, particularly early on in the pregnancy. But the myth of the glowing mama is not only just that—a myth; it also reinforces the idea that, though pregnancy and motherhood can be difficult, women are supposed to enjoy every minute. It’s a privilege.

I just read an article in the New York Times online called “The Secret Sadness of Pregnancy With Depression.” Though that might not seem relevant here, on a site for non-parents, what it reminds me is that many of us make the decision not to have children, at least in part, because of our mental health situations.

The article tells a compelling story about depression that develops or worsens during pregnancy. Though postpartum depression has become a common talking point, little is known about antenatal depression. But, as many women know intrinsically, depression can be triggered by any major hormone change: puberty, menopause, birth control pills, et cetera.

I myself have struggled with depression, anxiety, and mood instability since puberty. And I would be lying if I said that, that struggle didn’t play a role in my decision not to have children. For one thing, because I, at times, have trouble functioning at one hundred percent, I know that I’ll be better off without the added stress and responsibility of a child. And I fear that my anxiety would make it near-impossible for me to function knowing that I couldn’t control every step my child took.

My issues are not severe. I can always manage to hold it together at work, even on the days that, when I come home, I flop on the couch and lie there for the rest of the night, staring aimlessly in the direction of the television. And I manage to lead a completely normal life—relatively speaking, I guess! But I do believe that the hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy and childbirth, in addition to the added stressors of having a child, would be too much for me.

Luckily, for the women who have children, more research is being done on safe ways to mitigate mental health disorders in pregnant women—as reported in the New York Times article. But I know that, for many women, their mental health situation has contributed to their decisions on whether or not to have a child. For those of you for whom that is true, I see you.

Unfortunately, there continues to be a stigma surrounding mental health disorders. The fear of being thought “crazy” often stops the sufferer from pursuing treatment. As options for treatment continue to increase, I hope that all women remember that it is not selfish to put your own health first—whether that be by pursuing treatment while pregnant or by deciding not to have children at all.

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

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