Mad Mommy: The What Ifs

She lost her babies because of a what if. Actually several what ifs.

“I couldn’t see living the rest of my life worrying and wondering what had happened, or what if she hadn’t taken her medicine, or what if she relapsed,” said Ms. Baker, who has four children of her own.

Ms. Baker was the gestational surrogate of twins for Amy and Scott Kehoe. None of the four adults involved in bringing the children to life are genetically related to the twins, but the Kehoes are the ones who chose the sperm and egg donors, chose Ms. Baker as a surrogate, and paid for all her medical expenses. Ms. Baker had previously served as a surrogate for other couples, and at first, days after the twins birth, stood in front of a judge and relinquished custody of the children to the Kehoes. But then she changed her mind*. Because of what ifs.

She changed her mind because what if Amy Kehoe, a woman who through some biological quirk could not have a child through her womb with her egg or her husband’s sperm, didn’t take her medication for some mental illness? What if her medication stopped working? I mean, what if she went all Susan Smith on her kids, or Andrea Yates, or Amber Hill? Women who all, because of mismanaged mental illness, went on to do the unspeakable to their children, children they were genetically related to, children they birthed from their womb.

Amber Hill was actually on her way to the hospital when her mismanaged depression got so severe to cause a psychotic break that factured her grip on reality.  I remember the day things, my depression**, got so bad that I knew I needed – must – go to the hospital. The day after my 28th birthday, I dropped my kids off at day care. I sat in my living room. And it felt like my world had come to an end. It had been building; the sadness, the hopelessness, the profound sense of nothingness. I was in so much pain – my body from fibromyalgia, my spirit from a sense of being very far from God. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I couldn’t concentrate. For the first time in my life, I was seriously looking for an exit plan. And at that moment, I knew the only way to save my life was to get someplace where I could totally let go and not even be responsible for me anymore.

Thank God I never felt I could do anything to hurt my children, but I doubt Amber Hill did either. Described as a lovely woman who loved her kids, her depression was simply (if that word even remotely captures it) not managed, and the depths of what was occurring in her brain caused a major malfunction and her children were the casualties. For most people with non-managed depression, they themselves become the casualty, as I thought I was going to be on March 18, 2009. But once its managed, usually with medication and therapy, most people with mental illness live like… well, most people. Up days and down days. Happy days and sad days. Days were you (figuratively) feel like you want to kill your kids. (Just joking. Really just joking.)

Does a history of mental illness, knowing what we know non-managed mental illness can lead to, make a woman unfit to be a mother when the child is not coming out of that woman’s womb? Or when a custody battle arises – what kind of information do we think is relevant to show whether a mother would be fit or not? I don’t think I’m getting divorced any time soon (if you know differently, I hope y’all got my back), but it is always in the back of my mind that with the right lawyer, the fact that I spent a week on the psychiatric unit of a hospital when my children were 1 and 3 years old surely cannot bode well for me. Or that I take 4 anti-depressant/anti-psychotic medications daily to manage bipolar disorder, and given my history, will likely need to take them for the rest of my life to function “well.” Or that I have to see a psychologist and psychiatrist on a regular schedule or that I’ve been in a day program.

I feel for Amy Kehoe, the woman who lost the babies in the surrogacy case. She’s had her illness under control for 8-9 years, and takes her medication faithfully. While Ms. Baker, the surrogate, has a genuine concern as she voices her what ifs, I hoped someone reminded her that life is all about what ifs. What if her husband got hit by a car and died as he rides his bike to work? Then the twins wouldn’t have the two parent home Ms. Baker imagined. What if she got breast cancer, and had to go through treatment, meaning the twins didn’t get the kind of care Ms. Baker expected them to receive. What if one of their other children developed mental illness, and perhaps became a threat to the babies? Then what?

And so what if Amy Kehoe did have a relapse, and dealt with it? Sometimes, I’m what what my therapist calls “fragile-stable,” meaning I’m okay, but I’m teetering near the edge. But I’m still parenting the best I know how. I’m still living. My kids are still growing and learning and laughing. And they are living too. No childhood is perfect. No family is perfect. No parent is perfect. No mother is perfect. I wish Ms. Baker, instead of worrying about the what ifs, had instead focused on the here and now, and saw in Amy Kehoe a woman who simply wanted to be a mommy.

* The law on the Kehoe surrogacy case concerns the fact that some states, like Michigan, do not enforce surrogacy contracts, so people like the Kehoes have no legal remedies when the surrogate decides to keep the babies, esp. when they have no biological ties to the children.

** I hope you all know, but I want to make clear – people like to throw around the saying, “I’m depressed.” Most times people mean they are sad, in the dumps, upset, about something. What I am talking about, and what these women were experiencing, is/was clinical depression, something that may or may not have been triggered by some event. Clinical depression has certain symptoms, that many times you cannot simply “get over” on your own. I was not depressed about anything. Contrary to popular opinion, while I may have been tired because I have two kids and am in grad school, that did not “cause” my depression. I’ve had depression since I was 16 years old, and probably developed Bipolar II in college, way before having kids or being in grad school. Depression is something in the brain, out of my control, although I can manage it, but not caused because I “do too much” (although doing too much can trigger symptoms). I really despise when people say that. I didn’t cause my depression or Bipolar because I’m ambitious or because I work too hard. I think all of it was already there. Now I am working to find out who *I* am under all the labels, and allow me, myself, and I, along with befriending the illnesses, to have a peaceful coexistence.  [Okay, off of my soapbox.]