Romper

I Didn't Know I Had ADHD Until I Was Pregnant With My Third Child

I thought it was normal. My van looked like a fast food joint and a toybox exploded inside it. I had all the basic necessities, like sand toys and extra wipes and extra clothes, but I couldn’t find them under the massive piles of stuff. It took us forever to make our way out the door, trailing coats and diaper bags, and we were always late. No matter when we woke up, we never got anywhere on time. Something always came up: it seemed someone always had syrup in their hair, or lost their shoes, or needed one more serving of breakfast. We always showed up at playdates with dirty faces, messy hair, and unbrushed teeth. We functioned, sure, but I was always scrambling. And it wasn’t until after my third son was born that we realized why. I wasn’t a ditz. I actually had ADHD.

When you have small children, people often give you a pass. I might have been spacier than most mothers, but no one really batted an eye at my behavior. I double-booked playdates as a matter of course. I’d offer to take someone’s kids, or play at the park, and someone would pipe up, “Don’t you have homeschool co-op that day?” or “Isn’t that Swim and Gym?” It didn’t matter if the plans were a one-shot deal or something we did every single week. I’d forget our regular schedule in favor of whatever popped into my head at the moment. Doctor’s appointments were a wash unless I programmed them into my phone. I wouldn’t remember them until I got a reminder phone call the day before, which left me scrambling for babysitting at the last second.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

And my house. My laundry piled into epic proportions. I found myself contemplating the grapefruit spoon for my breakfast cereal. Books were shoved all over the place on the shelves; the kids’ bedrooms had rabbit trails through the scattered toys. My house was a wreck. I couldn’t keep up with chores, no matter how hard I tried, which left me frustrated and angry at myself, stressed out by the clutter around me.

If I managed to get to a playdate, I was a half-hour late. I always forgot wipes, so much so that it became a standing joke among my friends. I wasn’t freewheeling, oblivious, and happy anymore. I was simply stressed out.

Then I had my third baby. And suddenly, I could do even less than before. The laundry approached Everest heights. Our living room trash can overflowed to meld with the spill from the one in the hallway. I never had clean dishes. My ability to schedule plummeted. I had this new little creature to worry about, plus a 2-year-old son and a 4-year-old son vying for my attention at all times. I didn’t have the brainpower to recall who had what activity when. If I managed to get to a playdate, I was a half-hour late. I always forgot wipes, so much so that it became a standing joke among my friends. I wasn’t freewheeling, oblivious, and happy anymore. I was simply stressed out.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent
The realization that I’ve had ADHD my whole life explained a few things. But the realization that I had it now, with three kids and all the organizational needs thereof, meant I needed some help.

I was complaining to my psychiatrist about it when she finally hit on the problem. “Have you considered that you might have ADHD?” she asked. And suddenly, all the pieces fell into place. The way I could never pay attention in class, but wrote stories instead. The time I got caught staging elaborate scenes with my unicorn erasers. How I was smart enough to be the top of the class, but settled at number five thanks to careless mistake after careless mistake. I couldn’t proofread. I couldn’t recall any homework unless I wrote it down. And once I got to graduate school, I started to struggle in my classes. You can’t read Heidegger if you’re just skimming.

The realization that I’ve had ADHD my whole life explained a few things. But the realization that I had it now, with three kids and all the organizational needs thereof, meant I needed some help. After some tests and some talking, my psychiatrists prescribed Vyvanse, a time-release version of Adderall. Suddenly, I was that mom on amphetamines. I struggled with that too, remembering a song I loved in high school by Ten Foot Pole: “Mommy takes my Ritalin/ She says there’s not enough for me/All the other moms take it/ I think it’s not just mine.” I'd coped for so many years without a drug, so why did I need one now? But putting my own fears aside, I trusted my psychiatrist. If this made parenting three kids possible, I'd try it.

I still forget about homeschool co-ops (oops). My van still resembles a trash truck heavy on used juice boxes. But we all live better.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

Suddenly, even with three kids ages 4 and under, we got to places on time, got faces wiped, diaper bags packed, and arrived with wipes in tow. The laundry wasn’t always folded, but it wasn’t approaching a large mountain range, either. I kept the floors swept and the trash picked up; the grapefruit spoon no longer seemed a viable option for cereal. I managed to spike my middle son’s hair the way he liked. My youngest got a comb run through his hair every morning. And teeth were always, always brushed.  

I’m grateful now for my medication. I see the difference it makes in my life, in my organizational skills, and in my house. But that doesn’t mean all my symptoms have magically disappeared. I still forget about homeschool co-ops (oops). My van still resembles a trash truck heavy on used juice boxes. But we all live better. We get places on time. I remember where I put things. And I actually recall appointments. If it takes "mother’s little helper" to make that happen, well, I’ll take it.