Navigating Motherhood with ADD

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In college, I was diagnosed with ADD. I went to the doctor basically asking for something, anything to help me with school. I remember feeling so desperate. There I was, a third-year freshman – I was just so tired of failing at everything. I understand that taking medication for ADD is a personal choice, but for me, it was life-changing.

I remember telling my doctor that it was amazing how I could think of something I needed to do, and then I would just do it. 

So crazy. I could read and comprehend things and make it to class on time (for the most part) and so I started going to school with full course loads and classes during the Summer.  I was making good grades and actually started to really enjoy school. It turns out that being able to complete assignments and get good grades makes school a lot more fun.  Who knew? I finally finished after 6 years with a BA.

Nina at her college graduation
Nina (pictured here with her grandma) on the day of her college graduation.

After graduation, I threw myself into my work and eventually married in my early 30s. When my husband and I were planning to get pregnant with our first child, I was faced with going off of my meds for the first time in nearly 15 years. Pregnancy was terrifying for so many reasons. I basically had no idea what I was getting into and now I needed to function without a medication that had helped me function for a long time.

It was difficult to deal with hormone changes while pregnant and even harder to deal with my changing body. Without the medication that had helped me manage my impulse eating, I was eating all the time and I was feeling hungrier than ever! I can remember sitting in the car in the Cabela’s parking lot with my husband just sobbing because I felt so embarrassed about the way that I looked.

I’d like to say that when the baby came things improved, but they didn’t. Navigating motherhood with ADD was a challenge. 

Attempting to breastfeed, I didn’t go back on my meds right away. Staring in the mirror at home, I wondered who the person was that stared back. Postpartum anxiety and depression grabbed a hold of me. I was struggling with breast-feeding, feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for this new person I had just brought into the world and wondered if I was ever going to see any semblance of my life as it had been or furthermore, my body as it had been. I was also trying to adjust to my new daily life as a stay-at-home Mother when I had previously lived and breathed work. Just writing this is making my chest tighten.

Nina holding her infant son in her lap
Nina and her son not long after his birth

One morning, I stepped out onto our front porch for some air, and I called a local clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s mental health. She was a godsend, and I am so grateful for her guidance to this day. She allowed me to bring my infant son to our appointments and we even took our meetings outside pushing him in the stroller when he was restless. She helped me to dig into some of the body image issues that plagued me and the anxieties that I was dealing with. We talked about how I was used to working and how I had built my self-esteem from work successes.  We re-defined success and she basically gave me the framework for adjusting to my new life. I let go of preconceived notions of what a stay-at-home Mom looked like and started to create the stay-at-home Mom that I was.

Motherhood has a way of pushing you outside of your comfort zone. It forces you to face things about yourself that you may never have had to tackle without having children.

When my son was three, he became terrified of haircuts, would scream at the top of his lungs when frustrated or angry and had some pretty epic meltdowns. I didn’t know what was causing all of this, but I knew that I wasn’t handling it right.

People with ADD often struggle with big emotions and I was having a really hard time staying calm during his tantrums. I would lose my patience, get frustrated and yell.

We took my son to Dayton Children’s to be evaluated and they described him as a “sensitive kid” and referred us to an Occupational Therapist who we started seeing once a week. The OT started helping my son learn zones of regulation and coping strategies for handling his big emotions. He practiced calming down, we set up a calm down corner in the house and read books about feelings.

Nina and her son at the Cincinnati Museum Center in February of 2022
Nina and her son in February of 2022

What I realized was that I needed these tools as much as my little boy did. I was expecting him to use calm down strategies that I wasn’t even capable of using. My frustrations would boil over, and I would lose it. How could I expect my son to handle his emotions when his own mother couldn’t even do it?

Cue the Mom guilt. Without even knowing it, he was teaching me. 

Practicing calm down strategies with him has helped me learn a little better how to employ them when I need them.

Finding compassion for my son in his struggles has reminded me that I deserve compassion, too. I don’t know if my son will be diagnosed with ADD, but I do know that if he does, we will work together to figure things out and I am sure I will learn a lot along the way. While navigating motherhood with ADD has been a challenge, it has been a challenge that has allowed me to also help my son.

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