Have My Struggles with Mental Illness Caused Developmental Delays in My Son?


We took Alex to the pediatrician today for his 2 year checkup.

Alex has always been on the small side when it comes to his weight,(even though he weighed 6lbs 7oz at birth) so I was expecting a conversation about how much he’s gained, what we can do to help him gain more if needed, where he’s at on the growth curve, etc.  I was expecting to talk about he’s gone from eating nearly everything as an infant to close to nothing as a toddler and has redefined the term “picky eater.” I was expecting to talk about his Early Intervention evaluation and the 25% language delay he has. I was hoping to talk about constructive and healthy ways to handle his tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and his moodiness.

What I wasn’t expecting was a conversation about how my mental health was to blame for a decline in his growth back when he was 9 months old….back when I was battling PPD & severe anxiety.

I was not expecting to be told that my mental health has been having a negative impact on my son’s development.

There I was, sitting in the pediatrician’s office, stammering and trying to defend myself.

“I was on medication…I…there were days I was sad, but…I did my best to make sure all of his basic needs were met…I mean, yes I did struggle with bonding with him, but…I…I tried to push through it…I did my best.”

There I was, sitting in the pediatrician’s office, having my worst fears confirmed and exposed.

Despite everything I’ve done to prevent it, I’ve damaged my child.

Of course he’s moody and temperamental.

Of course his language is delayed.

Of course he’s not doing as well as he should.

Of course he was a fussy baby.

I was depressed during my pregnancy.

I was depressed and anxious for the first year and a half of his life.

PPD & anxiety dominated me.

I didn’t bond with him the way his dad did.

Out of the two of us, I was the parent who was unhealthy.

It’s my fault.

I tried to get help. At my 6week checkup I told my OB how I was feeling. He sent me to my primary care doctor who said I was just a tired new mother of two kids. She said she doubted I’d feel the way I did for very long and said she thought I was fine. But I pushed anyway and she reluctantly wrote me script for a low dose of Zoloft. I took it for a year. I sought counseling. The first two therapists I talked to told me what I was experiencing was normal because I was a single mother. “Nothing is wrong with you, who wouldn’t be stressed?’ I kept hearing. I kept getting worse. When Alex was 10 months old I found Postpartum Progress and started getting treatment at the Postpartum Stress Center.  I found the #PPDChat Army and started talking to other sufferers & survivors. Getting help enabled me to start emerging from PPD’s grip, but my anxiety and mood swings became more drastic. I read a blog post about something called Bipolar Disorder 2 and cried because I knew that I was having the same symptoms. Two weeks later I was diagnosed and started seeking treatment.

Since then I have been doing everything I can to get better and get healthy. I have fought my way out of the darkest corners of my mind and done my best to still provide a healthy environment for my sons in spite of my struggles with motherhood and illness.

But even though I know all of this, I can’t help but think that Alex’s pediatrician is right. I can’t help but read the research on various websites like womenshealth.gov that says

Researchers believe postpartum depression in a mother can affect her baby. It can cause the baby to have:

  • Delays in language development
  • Problems with mother-child bonding
  • Behavior problems
  • Increased crying

Or this post from Postpartum Progress back in 2008 that says a study finds antenatal depression can contribute to developmental delays. Or this one from 2011 that discusses the risks of not being treated for depression, anxiety, or another mood disorder.

I’ve read post after post about the impact my mental illness during pregnancy and postpartum could have on Alex as he develops and have hoped and prayed he’d still be healthy.

Back in December I had spent a 2 therapy sessions letting go of the guilt over not being treated for my depression during pregnancy, and forgiving myself. When I was pregnant with Alex, I had never heard of antenatal depression, and my OB never mentioned it. Whenever I talked about my mood swings and sadness, he said it was normal and just because of changes in my hormones-“don’t worry too much about it,” he said. “Once you have the baby, you’ll feel better-this is just a  physically challenging pregnancy and it’s stressing you out. Try to take it easy,” he had reassured me. It took me until this past December to forgive myself for it.

And then there I was, sitting in the pediatrician’s office today, listening to him,  feeling all the shame, pain, fear, guilt, and negative emotions of the past 2 years wash over me.

I’ve spent the afternoon and this evening being angry and ashamed of myself for just taking everyone’s word for it. For being sick in the first place. For going untreated. I feel like I should have done more, even though I know in my heart of heart’s I did all I could.

Maybe the pediatrician was just voicing his concern and opinion. Maybe he’s right. Maybe my mental health during the first two years of life is to blame for the delays in development and his mood swings. Maybe it’s not to blame and Alex would’ve been like this if I had been happy and healthy. Maybe Alex will grow out of this and be just fine.

I don’t know what to make of this, really. I’m trying to process it all and not let what happened today settle in and take root, making me question my self-worth and value as a mother. I’m doing my best to keep in mind that I’m doing everything I can now and getting him the help he needs to keep thriving. I’m trying not to blame myself.

But it’s so damn hard y’all.

The guilt is suffocating.

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7 thoughts on “Have My Struggles with Mental Illness Caused Developmental Delays in My Son?

  1. Omg I can don’t even know the right words to say to you. My heart is breaking for you and your son. I know as a mama with ppd this is one of my worse nightmares. You love your son and he loves you and that’s all that matters. Everything else will fall into place.

  2. Addye I am sending you the biggest hug. After getting your full story, I am even more upset with your pediatrician. Sweetie you knew from the beginning that something was not right. You sought help, and your concerns were dismissed. Sending you so much love. Remember what Lauren says. You are not to blame. You & burtski will figure out what you need to do to help Alex. I think you should email your pediatrician the link to this post so he can improve his bedside manner. You are doing an amazing job with both boys. Focus on how your relationship is now with both boys. Try as Susan suggested to reframe your guilt into regret. Xoxo

  3. I don’t know what to say either. I wish I could make all the guilt disappear. I have no idea if it’s really possible that your illness “caused” any or all of Alex’s delays, but in any case you did NOT go untreated. You tried to get help. You had to fight to get help. IF there is any truth to the ped’s words, and IF Alex is really delayed and not just at a non-average part of the normal curve, any blame lies with those who were charged with your care and brushed you off.

    This is NOT your fault. Your illness is not your fault. You are doing the best you can. And you will get him any help he needs. Just as you are getting the help YOU need.

  4. Here’s what makes me SO ANGRY for you: was the ped offering help & support? A kind of “this has been a problem in the past and these are resources I have to help”? If not, if it was more “something wrong = your fault” then SCREW HIM. SCREW. HIM. You are an amazing lady, a dedicated mother & a world-class fighter.

    No study can tell you how much your boys have BENEFITED from having a mom who takes her own mental health seriously. No study can tell what a blessing and a resource you are to those around you. No study can see into the future where maybe a daughter-in-law will find you to be a LIFE-SAVING resource in motherhood.

    I’m so sorry you had to deal with this today. I hope with the move that a happy side effect is a new, UNDERSTANDING & helpful doctor for the boys. You all deserve better.

  5. Before I went on disability, I was a special education teacher for five years, and I worked with children who had developmental delays. It’s true that your mental illness may have contributed to those delays. But, with help, not just from a special education teacher, but also from you (instead), your son can overcome those delays. Young children can make progress really quickly. The younger you start, the better.

    Make sure you talk to your son a lot, read to him a lot, have him play with other children, take him places and keep him involved with what is going on. Cook with him, do art with him. All of these things can help, and if you are well, you will be able to do them.

    See this as a motivation to stay well and take care of your son the best that you can. You couldn’t help what was going on, and you did your best to seek help. You are not to blame, it’s just what was happening at the time.

    If you do become unwell for an extended period of time, it might be a good idea to have someone help take care of your son, and help him to stay active and involved with others and life, if you can’t do that yourself.

    My grandmother struggled to take care of my mother because of postpartum depression and other mental health issues. Her solution was to move in with an old woman who took care of my mother and the house while she and her husband worked.

    When my mother turned 5, she and her parents moved into their own house. That was in the 40’s and things were much different then, but that is how they handled the situation, and it worked out well for my mother and her parents. My mother was the valedictorian of her high school class and also the homecoming queen, so she was smart and also had good social skills, even though she most likely had some delays in her development.

  6. I am so sorry my friend. I would tell you that Alex is going to be just fine, but right now the voices in your head are probably louder than mine. So, until they quiet down, I offer you huge hugs and love.

    My boys painted yesterday, and I swear they made counterfeit versions of your paintings. It made me so happy.

    At least Alex has a mom who cares where he is developmentally. There are tons of kids who have parents who would not give a crap. You give so much crap. 😉

    As a teacher, I can tell you that delays are not stops. Also? The younger you work on things, the more of a chance they become a thing of the past. Emotional? It happens. Tantrums? Yes. Can you help him manage his feelings? Yes. You. Can. You have tons of time to help him. And all the heart you need.

    I’m not worried for little Alex. Not a bit.

  7. Pingback: A Hard Truth | ButterflyConfessions

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