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Becoming a Bipolar Mommy Part One: Planning for a Family When You Have Bipolar

Jessi Lepine

This is part one of a three part series. 

Before I was pregnant someone said to me that I shouldn’t have kids because I have bipolar. This person said I might not be a good mom because I could possibly go manic or depressed at some point. This person said I would not be able to handle the hormones, stress and lack of sleep and might hurt my baby if I had a manic or depressive episode post partum.  What this person said was an obvious example of the stigma people with mental illness face in every aspect of their lives. I am a believer that people who have bipolar can do anything a mentally well person can do with the right meds, right support and dedication to a wellness plan that is tailored to their needs.  Don’t let anyone tell you not to follow your dreams of having a family just because you have a mental illness! However, to make your dreams a reality you have to plan it out thoughtfully and thoroughly, educating yourself as much as you can on an even greater scale than a mentally healthy person preparing for parenthood.  I have been stable for  4 years simply because I have worked very hard to get well and stay well.  I believe that one can live a very happy and fulfilled life with this disorder and enjoy all the things that make life meaningful, including raising a family. Deciding to have kids when you have a mental illness is not a decision to take lightly, but that goes for those who don’t have mental illness as well. This blog is about my experience. Please know that this is what works for me and my family and may not work for everyone. I am simply sharing my experience, in hopes that others like me can find some insight into parenting with bipolar disorder.

When I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1, I realized that since this illness has affected 3 out of my 5 family members thus far, chances were that it was in my genetic makeup to have this disorder. I also thought at length about what my future children would have to endure if they were to inherit my genes and end up with Bipolar. The thought crossed my mind more than once that I wouldn’t wish this mental illness on my worst enemy, and especially not on my children. However, I was the kind of girl who grew up dreaming about becoming a mother, and I concluded that I wasn’t going to allow having a mental illness to dictate whether or not I would see my dream of having a family realized. Part of the reason I was able to make this choice was because my husband and I both work in mental health, and have had ten years of experience managing my illness together. We thought if our children grow up and have bipolar, it will be very hard work, but at least we are well equipped to care for our children should that be the case. When I was growing up, none of my family knew we had bipolar disorder and none of us knew how to manage it and it was very hard for all of us to cope.

My husband and I spent almost 6 years trying to conceive and the infertility I experienced was very hard on my mood. I cried every month for nearly 72 months when I found I was not yet pregnant. Then finally in the fall of 2012 when I was 30 years old, we found out we were going to have a baby. I had been planning to get pregnant for so long – I had done a lot of research- and yet I still had some concerns. However, my husband, psychiatrist , family doctor, my OB and I had already started a plan for how to manage my bipolar during the pregnancy and after. I had tons of support – which is something not every parent with bipolar has.

I’ve learned that my worries lessen as I educate myself and understand all the pros and cons and the risks involved of a scary situation. I researched moms with bipolar to see how they coped. I found some interesting information that led me to decide to continue taking my meds. I read a few research papers that found that the moms who stopped meds during pregnancy had an extremely high rate of postpartum depression and post partum psychosis, but that the ones who stayed on their meds in general handled fairly well the massive life and body changes that happen when you have a baby. My psychiatrist and I decided I should stay on my meds but we called the “mother’s risk” hotline to find out what the safest dose was. I was happy to know that I had to only reduce my dose slightly in order to have safe but therapeutic levels in my system.  That was a big relief to my husband and I as we were both afraid that I would have to stop or change meds. He has seen me stop meds once and the end result was hospitalization for severe mania after only a very short period of time.  Neither of us wanted that to happen again, especially with a baby on the way. 

Comments

It is precisely because I didn't think that I could bear to pass on this condition that I decided never to have kids,that & the knowledge that I might at any point be overcome by the whispering allure of suicide,& thus I couldn't guareentee that I would be able to be around for my childs life.I have found the knowledge that I can simply kill myself if it all gets too much to be part of how I am able to wheather this curse.The irony of this is that as time has gone on & my mates have had kids It has been revealed that I am very good with kids.But this condition has robbed me of many aspects of a normal life,being able to have kids is merely one of them.I hope that none of your offspring ever have to deal with it,that they escape it's evil clutches.Be Lucky,Happy & well.Luv 1Wheel

Thank you for this post. I have been reading some other posts that are in opposition to Bipolar people having children and they also talked about the medication adjustments you have to do, etc. This is the first post I have come across with a positive story.

Thank you for writing this helpful article! I believe it's important to differentiate between bipolar and postpartum bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder in 2007 *after* the birth of my second child at age 37. My mental illness first manifested as postpartum mania with the rare condition of hypergraphia (excessive, compulsive writing). Then depression set in several months postpartum.

It took me years to find the right medications and other healthy modalities to get me stable, but I did it as I was highly motivated as a mother of two beautiful little girls. I am writing a book called "Birth of a New Brain - Healing from Postpartum Bipolar DIsorder". I blog at www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com and I serve on the Consumer Advisory Council of the International Bipolar Foundation. I was honored that the IBPF selected me as a 2014 "Story of Hope and Recovery" profiled on this website in the archives. I'm a contributor to the wonderful website Stigmama.com (a fantastic resource for all mothers with bipolar disorder - Stigmama is looking for contributors - just visit their site for info.)

I'm finally doing well living with bipolar disorder and I'm so thankful. I've been married to a wonderful man for fourteen years and we adore our two children and a fur baby/American collie.

If I had been screened for mental illness history during my pregnancy, my outcome could have been so different - I could have avoided so much agony. The genetic predisposition I had for bipolar one (my Dad had it as well) along with sleep deprivation and hormones created the perfect storm for PPBD to set in. This is so great that you are helping women who are aware that they already have bipolar before they become pregnant. I hope that we will start screening women for mental illness during pregnancy and I also hope with all my heart a cure for bipolar disorder is found in my lifetime. Take care!!!!

Thank you for such an insightful article. I am also bi-polar. I have three kids but it wasn't until the time surrounding my third pregnancy that I was diagnosed with bipolar. I also, with the help of my psychiatrist,decided to stay on my meds because like you, we decided that staying on my meds was better for me. The only thing I gave up was the ability to breast feed my baby. While that was important, I really don't think it affected my ability to bond with my baby. Thanks again for putting to paper you experience. Hopefully it will help any women struggling with the same issues.

Thank you for this - I have a daughter who is bipolar and who wants children. It is a worry, but this gives me hope that she will be ok.

To everyone who commented, thank you for your feedback. Part 2 and part 3 are coming so stay tuned for more about giving birth, the first year of my daughters life and how I dealt with returning to work!

You will be a fabulous mother! I had my son when I was 23 and my daughter at age 26. I did not get my diagnosis until I was 29 (16 years of living with Bipolar Type 1, Rapid-Cycling with no idea!!!)

YES, the early years of motherhood are exhausting - NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE! Just because you have a mental health condition does not mean you are incompetent. Would you tell someone with diabetes not to have kids? That's ridiculous.

As far as genetics ~ it's a roll of the dice every time. If we worried about every little possibility our children might inherit, the human race would cease to exist!
Yes, my 18 year old son has depression (with bipolar tendancies) Is it a challenge? You bet. Would I change one single day of our lives together? NEVER.
My 15 year old daughter has asthma. Is it a challenge? You bet. Would I change one single day of our lives together? NEVER.

Motherhood is a roller coaster ~ regardless of your health. You will find the balance and get through it, one precious day at a time.
CONGRATULATIONS!

What medications did you take when you were pregnant? Stopping my meds is not an option but I am 32 and would like a baby.

Was taking seroquel 800 mg extended release. 200 mg am 600 mg pm.
That was my reduced dose. Prior was taking 900mg

Thank you so much for sharing this. Having been diagnosed recently (9 months ago) I do worry how I would be able to cope if I ever did have another baby (chances are slim, but there is always that Ray of hope that no. 3 may someday happen). Thank you once again, it makes me feel better about my parenting abilities with my two that I already have

At first I was too scared to become a mother because I have bipolar disorder. But when I read your story it made me realized, why should I be afraid to have kids and raise a family of my own. Thank you for this. It made me hopeful. God bless! :)

I am new to bipolar disorder and was diagnosed in 2013. I remember the day that I was diagnosed because only two things went through my head: 1. I can't have kids 2. No guy will ever love me. Your words are very inspiring because I hope my husband whoever he may be understands that it is possible to have a baby when one is bipolar. My mom and I have gotten in several fights talking about my future because she asks me if I would be ready to have a child with bipolar and I know that I would be ready. I want to have kids and I do not believe mental illness should stop anyone to do anything that they want to do. I want a family someday :)

I'm so happy to read this part 1 of your 3 part series. You're demonstrating that by preparation and support we don't have to let our diagnosis get in the way of our dreams to have a family of our own. Kudos to you and I look forward to parts 2 & 3! PS. I blog at: www.bipolarmomlife.com :)

I am 24 years old . I just became a mom 2 weeks ago I have had bipolar for 7 years now diagnosed. Even today my biggest fear is that I will become one of those moms we see on TV that has bipolar disorder and yells constantly at her kids and husband. I am glad that there are people talking about there experience in a positive light .

A year before I got pregnant, I experienced my first manic episode, at the time I did not know I was bipolar. They told me my behavior was from sleep deprivation and a migraine headache. The deep depression followed but I still was unaware of my illness. I eventually got pregnant and had the best pregnancy ever. Until after I gave birth and I was determined to breastfeed and due to the stress of my daughter and I not connecting and my husband and his mom pressuring me to feed my daughter formula I ended it up getting manic so my husband called the doctor who prescribed meds, of which I never took. So a couple of days later I called my pediatrician and asked if I could try breastfeeding again and he said yes. I started again and we connected, well my sister-in-law did not know it was ok for me to breastfeed and she called the dr and the dr called children services. They came in a took away my daughter because they said by breastfeeding her I was abusing her. I fought for 9 months to get my daughter back. In the mean time I separated from my husband who had been cheating while I was pregnant. At nine months old I was able to get my daughter back and prove to them I was fully capable of raising my daughter even if I was bipolar. I have raised my daughter with the help of my family for sixteen years now and accepted my illness when she turned five and have been on meds ever since. My illness has been a blessing and I thank God ever day for my beautiful daughter. I am also keeping my eyes open to the signs that my daughter may also some day be diagnosed with Bipolar illness, but until then we will just take it one day at a time.

Thank you for your blogg. It's so inspiring but so recognizable as well. I've been struggling with different scenario's to try to take away some medication before we would conceive, but this ended upp with hospitalisation an ECT in two times. After that my psychiatrist in cooperation with a specialised gynecologist rekommended eller forbid me to have another child. But if I should not listen to this advise I had to take my medicines. Well, I did not listen and after 14 month I became pregnant. During the pregnancy I continued my medicines (lamotrigine, escitalopram. I did stopp Abilify). After birthgiving I started with Abilify and sleeppills. I did not become manic or psychotic. I only was overwhelmingly happy, energic and more av en hypomani i many (12) weeks. I am so happy that we have fighted, my son is wonderfull and perfect and I love him over everything. I think att everybody has to suffer in life, my children as well, can be everything but i is possibly a psychiatric disorder. Well, I live a good live, when i am not depressiv eller psychotic, hope they may be happy people in spite of their possibel sufferings.

Thank you for telling your story. I don't have children yet but I really want them. I am worried about relapse. I too have bipolar 1. Your story is so encouraging. You should check out my blog. You can find it at www.manicmoniquesmeanderings.blogspot.com

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