new excerpt: from Part One: Before the Illness

My Baby Boy

April 30, 1982

It’s hard for me not to see Ben’s life in two parts: before the illness – when everything seemed manageable with normal parenting skills – and afterwards, when all hell broke loose. Hopefully, now, he’s in a third phase: recovery. I remain so grateful that Ben’s doing well. But I am still, on occasion, haunted by the child he was, the child we lost. That child is still inside of Ben, peeking through the cloudy veil of schizophrenia and the medications that keep it under control. Like all parents, I miss the baby I once had. But I also mourn the man he might have become, if not for the illness that got in his way.

My baby. Benjamin was born on April 30th, 1982, nine days late, after a natural labor and delivery. No drugs. See, even now I remind myself, this is not my fault. I ‘d done everything right during the pregnancy, I swear – unless you count the Pepto-Bismol during the first week of what I’d thought was a stomach virus but turned out to be morning sickness. I’d even gotten my husband, William, to change the cat litter.

Although – maybe I had chosen the wrong man to marry. Maybe his genes were somehow flawed and I should have been able to see the signs. I’ll never know the answer to that, but it’s the question I am asked most often: “Does schizophrenia run in the family?” I’m not even sure why it matters, except that the questioner wants some kind of assurance that it can’t happen to their child. …….

….(So) before William and I marked our first anniversary, we celebrated the birth of our gorgeous baby boy. There were no wails of outrage as this child was brought into the light from my womb; there was only a deep breath of life followed by fascination. His face was perfect, and somehow wise. He was beautiful, so beautiful. From his very first moment in the world outside my womb Benjamin was alert and assessing the environment through those intent brown eyes that later would so resemble my own. In the hospital room, I stared at this new life, living the first page of his history, and imagined what else would be written there.

I promised my sleeping little baby that I would always do my best, always stick by him.

Little did I know how fully, and for how long, those intentions would be tested. Never once, with no history of it in my family, did I expect a mental illness would steal his life from him later on. You imagine cuts and scrapes, broken arms, broken hearts, even car accidents or kidnapping – but never schizophrenia.

Is schizophrenia inherited?

Like many other medical illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, schizophrenia seems to be caused by a combination of problems including genetic vulnerability and environmental factors that occur during a person’s development. Recent research has identified certain genes that appear to increase risk for schizophrenia. Like cancer and diabetes, the genes only increase the chances of becoming ill; they alone do not cause the illness.


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