Raising a child when you have depression

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Your friends keep popping out kids like there’s no such thing as global overpopulation. Your partner’s mum keeps showing you toddler shoes whenever you’re all out shopping, confidentially whispering “aren’t these cute?”, as if to gauge your readiness to extend the family. But you face a conundrum that most of your friends do not; all your depression help sources recommend that you focus on your own needs, & avoid taking on new responsibilities until you’ve learnt to manage the condition. Having a child is one of the most selfless & potentially exhausting acts you can possibly undertake – so is it wise when you’re living with depression?

If you’ve only just been diagnosed, it’s certainly worth avoiding pregnancy while you get to grips with this new aspect of yourself. However, with a little work, you can recover, or at least optimise your periods of remission. There’s no reason for depression to dictate your life choices in the long run.

You can’t ignore it, though. In fact, ignoring your depression is likely to make it demand attention even more firmly than before. And it deserves attention. As soon as you acknowledge an illness, you begin to learn what it needs in order to heal. The web is full of advice on how to “beat” depression, but that’s such an aggressive word. Depression isn’t evil. It doesn’t deserve to be “beaten”. There’s nothing wrong with having it – it’s just an illness. Learn to accept & work with it, & you’re far more likely to heal than when you’re trying to hide it, beat it into submission, drown it out.

So when it comes to having a child, your key to success is honest, open communication, with yourself, your partner, family & ultimately, if you decide to have one, with your child.

Many parents say that the love they feel for their kids is like nothing they’ve ever felt before, & that watching their kids grow up is truly rewarding.

But there’s tension, too. Pregnancy & childbirth can be mind-blowingly tough on a woman’s body. Post-partum depression is always a possibility. Hormones can shift after the birth & pre-menstrual syndrome can develop. Childcare decisions can put strain on your family relationships.

Having a child needn’t cost as much as some people claim (especially if you’re well supplied with gifts & hand-me-downs) but it’s still a financial obligation that you can’t take back to the shop if you decide you can’t afford it.

This isn’t an exercise in negativity – these are all just possibilities – but you should consider how they might affect you & your family. Being aware of them will help you work to avoid them, or recognise & manage them effectively if they do come up. If you’re at all concerned, sit down with your family (& close friends) & be honest about it. Hopefully, they’ll step up with offers of support wherever necessary.

You will also need to communicate openly with your child about your depression as s/he grows up. Your depressive symptoms can be taken personally by someone who doesn’t understand them. If you explain to your child that you’re unwell, they may want to help. Rather than implying powerlessness by saying “there’s nothing you can do”, have a good think & come up with a few simple things that they can do, like making pictures or a simple meal once a week. Although don’t take it personally if they sometimes forget! This particular brand of “helping Mummy/Daddy” should be something they do willingly!

Suzie Saw* has experienced episodes of depression since her early teens, & now manages it using a carefully honed blend of cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, excellent friends, plants & flowers, lots of vegetables, & Star Trek.

* A writer, not a psychiatric professional. Please seek medical advice if you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from depression.

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