My 4 Year Old Boy is on Antidepressants And That’s Okay.
Don’t let stigma and saving face stop you from saving your child.
We named Micah before we knew him, and as it turned out, around the very time he was born. My wife and I had decided to adopt and were filled with a sense of purpose. We met Micah in a chance encounter in the lobby of our church.
I remember saying to Nina as I looked at this 6 month old boy, rotund and all-cheeks “It feels weird looking at a child knowing that there’s a possibility he may just become your child.” It’s an experience that only an adoptive parent will ever know.
Turned out I was right. Two months later, Simphiwe - now Micah - became our son.
Something’s Eating Our baby Boy
At around age 3, shortly after his adopted brother Kai arrived, we began noticing something about Micah. Though we had showered him with love, doted on him, done everything we could to steer this fledgling man in the right direction something was up with our boy.
He was scared. He was angry. He was uncertain about himself. Nervous in crowds. Short tempered. Worst of all he wasn’t happy.
The Worst News:
In the first 3 months of his life, Micah experienced more trauma, anguish and pain than some experience in a lifetime. We had been convinced that love would cover that - that if we gave him our hearts and our lives we’d be able to make it go away. We were wrong.
In the first 4 months of our lives, our little brains are passing some of their most important developmental milestones. They’re learning how to work. When love, security and basic parenting aren’t present during that time the emotional development of a child can be adversely effected.
After numerous sessions with a highly experienced clinical social worker, a referral session with one of the most renown Child Psychiatrists in South Africa, we were given the news that Micah’s sadness, anger and worries were all attributable to trauma he’d experienced.
We had several possible diagnoses. Ranging from mild to life altering. But, because he was still only 4, even the most astute paediatric professionals would not rush to make a diagnosis - so much changes in the first 6 years of a child’s life.
But both social worker and psychiatrist were emphatic - Micah, our little boy, needed to be on medication –antidepressants.
But He’s A Baby!
The prospect of our baby boy being on medication rocked our family. There were tears, confusion and anger that we’d been unable to save him sooner. Then there was the stigma.
What does a medicated child say about us? Were we being too medication-happy, playing to our drive-through prescription culture?At that stage we weren’t even letting our kid drink soda, nevermind placing him on prescription SSRI’s.
We Were Making it About Ourselves.
The more my wife and I thought about it, the more we realised that “saving face” was not going to save our child.
Because of Micah’s age, we had a window of opportunity to nip this emotional affliction in the bud - to positively aid his most important developmental years. How could we let the prospect of some parking lot gossip at Kindergarten stop us?
I worry now, that there may be some parents who – paralysed and overcome by those same understandable fears – make the wrong choice. Not because they are evil, not because they’re bad. But because they’re scared.
I was lucky. You see, I take antidepressants every day.
From my own experience, with GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) I had gone through this movie before.I remember all too well the shame I felt when I was first prescribed Escitalopram. The sense of not having all the answers, the stength. Being a bad human. A flawed specimen.
These emotions were compounded now because, after all, parents are supposed to have those virtues.
But I kept coming back to how hopeless I felt before I went on medication. I had suffered for years with insomnia brought about by anxiety. I was unable to control even the most irrational fears. And I was terrified of everything: from writing an email to dying in my sleep.
Then, I remember how I literally woke up one morning and realised that I felt…normal. I wanted that for my boy.
Too See Your Child Happy
It’s been six months since Micah & Dad took their “headmeds” together for the first time. Around month 4 we started noticing things that most parents take for granted:
Micah, sitting in the playroom smiling to himself - just because. Our little guy beginning to develop a sense of humour. Our boy, once terrified of being out of his mother’s eyesight dashing out into the garden to jump on a trampoline…by himself. Our son, once a toddler-insomniac, sleeping through the night. Our darling child, once unable to make friends, being invited to play-dates.
We’re optimistic that within the next 2-3 years there’s a good chance that Micah will come off his medication. If the last few months are anything to go by, he’ll be in a much better place then.
To see your child happy is perhaps the most rewarding thing a parent can experience. For many it’s just about being there more, about loving your kids more and giving a damn. But sometimes that’s not enough.
Sometimes it’s about doing something drastic but necessary. If you’re ever in that position know this - I’d do it again tomorrow. And if you saw Micah’s contagious smile, you’d understand why.