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A Woman Like Any Other

I've meditated, procrastinated, and had writer's block on a topic I've been wanting to discuss for a very long time. It is very personal and intimate to me. I understand and anticipate both positive and negative feedback as a result of this particular blog entry, because it is a very controversial topic among the mental health field- I will try to be straightforward.

I am an advocate for women rights, including the choice to have an abortion, however, I am against abortion as a method of birth control. I also believe women who have a mental illness have a right to exercise this human privilege. However, I believe if a woman's health is in jeopardy as the result of any medical condition (not just mental illness) getting her healthy again takes precedence.

Schizophrenia is manageable. In fact, it is like many other medical conditions in that it requires a lot- patience, resources, faith and commitment to endure- which is a huge responsibility and life-long lifestyle. In addition to that, I am an example that individuals can move forward in life despite living with a mental health condition. There is a myth that pregnant women living with schizophrenia cannot stay in treatment.

Dost Ongur, MD, PhD, clinical director of the Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, says, "Women should get pregnant if they want to be pregnant. Treatment can be arranged." Read this article for details about what this doctor says about women living with schizophrenia and their treatment options during pregnancy

As we know, schizophrenia is an ostracized mental illness. However, why should women living with schizophrenia be burdened with the social uproar when it comes to the concern of them having children? In fact, here is a comment an individual made in response to my blog entry sharing my story on CNN's Human Factor in November 2012 (click here to view the short video and to read my blog entry):

This article only increases feelings of hopelessness about our once great society.

It seems that almost EVERYONE is disabled one way or another these days. Tell me, who will keep society running when we ALL reduce ourselves to these roles where we drain more resources than we give back?

I'm sorry, but the mental-illness epidemic is no different than the obesity epidemic. It is self induced. And if you are genetically predisposed to a condition, then by all means, get treatment. But do us all a favor and don't have kids.

I don't think this person even read the article I wrote, because my writing seemed far from "hopelessness." Anyway, despite the ignorance suggested throughout this comment (mental illness is self induced, however, genetically predisposed, all at the same time), many people hold this belief- that women living with schizophrenia or any "genetically predisposed" medical condition should not have children because of risks of spreading the illness.

On the flip side, I agree with this individual in respect to the above comment, "EVERYONE is disabled one way or another..." With that said, can society rid itself of all medical concerns?- NO! But we can reduce and intervene in the occurrence of mental illness and any other medical condition.

Therefore, I plan to educate my child on mental health related concerns to help reduce noncompliance in the occurrence of him developing a mental illness, and for him to have a better understanding of his mother's illness, and so many other people's conditions.

Treatment works. There are medications that are safe for women in treatment during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Dr. Ongur states this quite clearly. In fact, while I was pregnant a year ago I stayed on medication.

When I was pregnant I discussed my medication options with my doctor, which I would strongly encourage other pregnant women to do, because there are some medications that are dangerous to the unborn child and could result in miscarriage. I made a very difficult but needed decision to stay on my current medication with the understanding that I should not breastfeed. This was disappointing- not being able to breastfeed- but I overcame it with the pleasure of having the sole opportunity to have a child, one of my many goals.

I was informed of my options to switch medications if I really wanted to breastfeed. I denied that option because of the risks of being unstable while pregnant and adjusting to a new medication that may not work for me.

My partner does not have a mental illness, so our child has a reduced chance of developing a mental illness. A lot of individuals may still wonder why even take the risk of passing on a challenging illness such as schizophrenia, however, I rarely hear such a dispute when it comes to other mental illnesses and medical conditions. Again, I will educate my child, but of course I hope he does not develop a mental illness. I hope he does not have to suffer the scary symptoms associated with schizophrenia or any mental illness, and the losses that come with it from relationships to careers, etc.

How do you feel about women living with schizophrenia being a woman like any other- practicing reproductive rights?

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).



Comments

Wow, great post, very well written! I feel women with mental illness should have the same rights as women who do not. As you know, mental illness's are treatable just like any other illness, indiviuals me included, go on to live healthy, productive lives as well as positive role models in society. My opinion and personal experience, with the right treatment, support system and education anything is possible, just as it is for anyone else.

Madison:-)
Ashley Smith said…
Hi Madison,

I love the positivity coming from you!

It is great to know we are on the same accord, thank you for sharing your insight.
Chris said…
Hi Ashley,

I didn't want kids even as a young woman before I was diagnosed.

After, I did not want to give birth to a kid that could develop schizophrenia. No way in my mind could I bring this on another human being.

I also felt no strong desire to be married or have a boyfriend.

A woman attacked me because I don't want to be married.

It's not right that women who choose options outside of the mainstream are excoriated. Often by so-called consumers.

I always wanted to have a career and travel the world and make a difference via my writing.

I resent being attacked because I choose not to be married or to have children.

I know you wouldn't attack me however it happens all the time with women who choose to live their lives "left of the dial."

I respect and admire that you found the person you wanted to have a kid with.

Congratulations!

Chris
Ashley Smith said…
Hi Chris,

I think you are a natural leader because you did not give into society's "norm," you made a decision an stuck by it, and I respect that.
Hi Ashley
One of my big questions is Can I get pregnant, should I? Do I have right to take "the risk"? What shell I do if my child have schizophrenia like me? (I'm 31). some times a just "give up" and sometimes I'm very happy to read articles like yours!! Love it... thanks...

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