The Decision to Medicate


The Decision to Medicate

The fourth pharmacy I tried finally took the prescription from my hands. “Yes, we have this,” the pharmacist replied. “But just so you know, it is a controlled substance. You will need to have a new prescription handwritten from your doctor every month to obtain refills.”

I nodded my head and looked away quickly, trying to hold it together. She filled the bottle with thirty innocuous-looking capsules and sent it to me through a chute in a bag filled with paperwork. “Do you have any questions?”

Yes. Yes, I have a million questions. “No, thank you,” I said, and I rolled up my car window and drove away, the tears already down my cheeks as I made the turn out of the pharmacy parking lot.

When I was pregnant with my son, I followed every rule. I took all my prenatal vitamins. I didn’t drink artificial sweeteners, didn’t eat deli meat, didn’t let a drop of alcohol pass my lips. I craved Thai food and wasabi, but I wouldn’t eat it with raw sushi, only cooked. I wouldn’t let my bathwater get too hot and I didn’t take so much as a Tylenol. I was the kind of pregnant woman who found reassurance and security in the “rules;” I didn’t mind playing it safe for nine months. It made me feel better, like I was guaranteeing something with my puritanical abstinence. I was relieved when he was born hale and hearty.

Ten years later, in the worn passenger seat of my beleaguered minivan, I had a bottle of amphetamines with that baby’s name on it. I held the bottle in my hand as I read through the literature in the parking lot of Starbucks, unable to take it home quite yet. Among the potential side effects: increased blood pressure and heart rate, psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices, addiction, sudden death. I placed my head on the steering wheel and opened the floodgates.

We are the family that never has Motrin handy when someone has a headache or a fever. We don’t even take vitamins. We’re not opposed to medication, but we take it so rarely that we’re always throwing out expired bottles. I try to find the “safest” sunscreen, I give my boys the kind of deodorant that doesn’t have aluminum or parabens in it, and I buy organic produce and milk. In general, I am risk-averse. The thought of putting my child on what is essentially speed is, frankly, horrifying to me.

This is a child I exclusively breastfed for over a year just to avoid changing the “flora and fauna of his gut” by introducing formula into his diet. That notion seems so ridiculous and naive to me now, as I  change his brain chemistry with drugs. On purpose. 

Years of questions came before that moment I placed my head on my steering wheel. Is this normal? Why isn’t he happy? Why does he hate school? Why is he angry all the time? Can we help him? How do we help him? Will he always be like this? There were so many nights I cried myself to sleep, so many times I begged for an answer. I read books and websites. We saw doctors, counselors, therapists, psychiatrists. We tried cognitive behavioral therapy, breathing exercises, and coping strategies. As it turns out, the human brain is is not simple. There are no easy, sure answers.

I read articles that terrified me, others that shamed me. I considered alternative schools or homeschooling, but that is not what my son wanted, and his issues were not confined, or even really centered around, school. He wanted stability and to stay with his friends, the people who make him happiest; I couldn’t take him away from them. I worked with his teachers, all of whom loved him, worked with him and me, emailed and called me regularly. After three years of trying everything else, we exhausted all our other possibilities. It was time to try medication.

So we did, but not without great reluctance and hesitation. Not without hearts so heavy that I had moments when I seriously considered the thought that I just couldn’t do it. How do you give your child a controlled substance, addictive drugs, and act like it’s a normal thing to do? No mother ever starts a journey with a child thinking that she will end up medicating her baby. But on the other hand, how do you not try everything in your power to help your child who struggles every day of his life with demons you cannot beat down through sheer force of will and all the therapy money can buy? I said I would do anything to make the world easier for my little boy, who loves so fiercely and works so hard and yet still struggles. I had to try.

Parenting, from start to finish, is one big leap of faith. All we do – from the moment someone places a baby in our eager arms to the moment we watch our grown children walk away from us under their own power – is gather the information we have at any given moment and make the best decision we can with that information. There are always a million unknowns, a million what-ifs, a million possibilities at play, but in the end, we have to trust ourselves and make a decision. It’s the most frightening part of parenting: at some point, we are forced to understand that no matter how many rules we follow and no matter how much research we do, we can never know or control everything. There are no guarantees. We might make the wrong decision. We might make the right one. We can’t see that far ahead, but we have to move forward anyway.

So we hold our children’s hands, and we jump.

I can’t say yet if medication is the answer, or if it will change my son’s life our our family’s. I can’t say if it will finally lift the burden of whatever weighs down his shoulders and his heart and allow him to smile more often at home and maybe even enjoy school, where he has always received mostly As and he is well loved, but he has been miserable. I can say that I have seen flashes of light, glimpses of smiles I would not have seen before, and a calm in our house that we have never known in the past few weeks.

And for the first time in a long time, I have hope.


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  1. 4

    Kaseylynn says

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I truly hope that your son and your family find a path to his happiness and stability. You sound like a mama tiger!

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    • 9


      It helped my brother. He was diagnosed with ADHD in the first grade, we spent years wrestling with meds, behavior modifications, 504 plans, therapists, on and on… he is 19 now, and finishing his first year of college. It didn’t make his life perfect, it didn’t make all his problems go away, but it helped more than anything else we tried.

      On a slight tangent, I have multiple DSM-IV diagnoses, due to chemical imbalances in my brain, and have to take medications that would make people’s heads spin if I casually brought them up in conversation. I’ve seen the pharmacists shake their heads, heard the doctors tell me I don’t need any of it, as if I can just will myself not to be ill. It’s about as useful as telling someone to stop having a seizure. My meds help me lead a more normal life, and I hate that some of us are treated differently because our illness is in our brains, not somewhere easier to see.

      I hate that parents like you and my mom are judged and stigmatized for doing what is best for your children. Like you, my mom did every single thing in every single book to keep us healthy both in the womb and out. The 25 year old bottle of breast milk in the freezer that my mom still can’t bear to part with is a testament to that. She did – and you did – everything you could’ve possibly done for your kids… but sometimes kids get sick anyways. I’m sorry you’ve been through this and good for you for putting this out there.

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      • 10

        Karen says

        ADHD and other mental issues are mostly genetic. It doesn’t matter how “good” a mother you are/were- your kid’s brain is not neurotypical, and never will be. Just as you would put your kid on insulin if she had diabetes, if meds are appropriate for your kid’s condition, you shouldn’t hesitate to put them on it.
        My son talked daily about killing himself from age 5 to age 10, when I found a doctor who would prescribe anti-anxiety medicine. When he retired, and I interviewed doctors to get the Rx renewed, I ended up hanging up on one doctor. She obviously never lived through hearing her child talking about wanting to die! Daily. For Years. And yes, our house has been organic since 25 years before I got pregnant. Genes are genes.

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  2. 16

    Jennifer says

    Hi. I understand your suffering. I nursed for almost 2 years, hoping that maybe it would help make everything less than it seemed it was turning out to be. Now they are saying that everything that was in your body before you ever had kids (all the additives and pesticides you stored up in your system for years), goes into your first born. I have four, by the way. My first and last have high functioning autism. So many times I beat my head against the wall about all of it. (Sometimes while my youngest rocked knocking his head back into the couch). They are all perfectly imperfect and made especially for us to take care of. I know that with all my heart. I will not ever put any of mine on meds. (personal choice with no judgement attached). I applaud you for doing what you think is right for your child. Thank you for writing the article. I feel less alone while reading it.

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    • 18

      Harriet says

      Very wonderfully written. Thank you for sharing your pain with us. I changed my opinions about medication because of you, you’ve changed my life. Thank you!

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  3. 20


    Medication should not be such a stigma in our society. Decisions made in private with guidance of trained physician is their business and being so dramatic isn’t necessary. There is nothing that crazy or scary about trying medication under supervision.

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  4. 24

    Amanda says

    Coming from a mother who was a medicated child, I was on Ritalin, Concerta, and adderall (at different times growing up). I felt so much better being medicated. I wasn’t so jittery, flighty, and keyed up from the smallest amount of stimuli. It made ME a better person to be around growing up. Coming from a mother who has a future medicine child, I’m terrified. I felt like my horrible genes are going to ruin my son’s chance of having a peaceful childhood that doesn’t revolve around Dr’s offices, and a medicine schedule. I know if that comes to be I will have known both sides of the fence. Hang in there mom!

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    • 25

      robin says

      Having been there yourself you are in the unique perspective to be able to truly help your child. Yes it’s completely terrifying. I am on medication for a physical medical problem that I hope not to pass along to my children but knowing how they will be feeling and hurting gives me the advantage that no one else has. I’m their mother and I can speak to what they would be dealing with. That will help tremendously when your son is upset and confused about it all. Sharing your experiences will make him feel not alone and open up another avenue that will bring you two even closer than you already are.
      Good luck when the time comes. Having the experience already you make an amazing advocate for your child.

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