Today’s post will be difficult to write and I have been procrastinating on doing so. In continuing my “A Day in the Life” series, my goal is to show that there are many dimensions to a person who has any kind of illness. My mom’s illness happened to be paranoid schizophrenia, but she was much more than just her illness. There were days, like the ones I will write about today, that were swallowed up by her illness, but there were many other days, like the one I wrote about here that were no more or less ordinary that any other mother’s days.
Today’s post is about what happened when my mom gave birth to my youngest sister, Mary (not real name), less than two years after my other sister was born. To see all of the stories, simply search the Tag “A Day in the Life Series”.
One warm day in May, I arrived home from school to find my mom sitting on the wooden swing in our backyard. My mom spent a lot of time in our backyard and this time of year the grass was a plush green, the flowers were exploding with color, and the fragrance from the honeysuckle that lined our fence was intoxicating. I sat on the swing next to my mom and showed her the pamphlet we had received that day about becoming a woman. As she sat with her hands on her belly, now swollen with the baby that was about to be born, we chatted about the lessons I had already been taught by her regarding the birds and the bees. It felt like a very special moment of bonding. Shortly thereafter, I learned another lesson in the birds and the bees when her water broke and my father was summoned home to take her to the hospital. My brother and I were left to tend to Ana, while they rushed off in excitement.
The anticipation was unbearable. We waited and waited and waited for my dad to come home and tell us all about whether the baby was a boy or a girl, and which name they had picked. I would be lying if I said I recalled much about the exact timing of things from that point on. In the blur that followed I do remember how thrilled I was to find out I had another baby sister, and I do remember that my dad’s mood seem to have shifted into one of worry and distress. The reasons why were not apparent until much later in life when he explained the events that followed the birth of my sister.
From my 12-year-old’s eyes, I remember the day they brought her home and laid her in the basinet in the living room and then went upstairs. I heard arguing coming from their bedroom but I wasn’t sure why. I heard my mom screaming something about the horses that had dragged her away, and other things that didn’t make much sense to me.
My brother and I huddled together looking into the basinet with childlike excitement, pretending we couldn’t hear what was going on. All I could see now was that tiny little baby looking up at me with her bright eyes and I felt a love that went beyond a sisterly love. I wanted to protect and shelter her, and keep her under my careful watch. I instinctively knew that this baby would need some mothering.
Later I found out that my mom had gone into a delusional state some time during labor or shortly thereafter, and when it came time to bring my sister home, she didn’t believe the baby was hers. She fought with my father and the nurses, who finally convinced her that she must take the baby home.
Years later, when my sister was in high school, my mom sat down with her and said “Mary, there is something I need to tell you. You are not my child. You were switched at birth with another baby, but I want you to know that I love you like my own.” It seems that even after all those years, my mom still hung onto the belief that Mary was not her baby.
After Mary was born, my mom’s paranoia and delusions presented themselves with a vengeance, leaving our family bewildered and frightened. There were good days and bad days, and life went on for the next two years, taking its toll on all of us, until reaching a breaking point.
I will end this post now, with the sadness that sweeps over me whenever I think about that period of time. It is a sadness that leaves me determined to do what I can to advocate for more resources and better healthcare for people who have this type of illness. I need only read the newspaper to see how many people with paranoid schizophrenia end up behind bars, on the streets, or living in poverty because they have been deprived of the same kind of medical treatment that someone with a different kind of illness can access.
As difficult as it is for me to tell this story, I feel I must. I will try to balance my posts by alternating the difficult posts with the more light hearted moments in my mom’s life, as both sides are important to tell.