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.