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

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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. 

Read Part 2: From Pregnant to Mommy

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

Thanks for sharing this. I ha ve bipolar stage 2. And my son also,

Having had kids young I was totally unaware of my future diagnosis. I've cried and beaten myself up for possibly handed down this roller coaster of a disorder. In the midst of a particularly low moment I told my husband about the guilt I felt. Calm as usual he asked if I would feel the same way having the possibility of passing diabetes, heart disease or any other possibly hereditary disorder/disease. I argued that it was different. He felt that the biggest difference is societies acceptance of mental illness( or lack there of). My kids carry the possibility of a wide range of ailments and disfunctions. Both from my husband and I. They are aware. They understand the importance of self care . I wouldn't have had kids knowing my diagnosis.I don't regret not one day that I've had with them.

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.

I also have bipolar and have two beautiful daughters one of which is bipolar also..a mirror image of myself as I am mother..her as her mother and so on..long story short there Are so many more blessings than battles..and one of which us my grandson..as you have proven it doesn't have to be a curse..you rock girl..thank you for breaking the silence...with more people speaking out maybe someday the stigma will be a thing of the past

Good Day.
I am 30 years old and on valproic acid, which is unsafe for pregnancy. I have spent the last 2 days in tears as I am finding it very difficult to get the medical support needed to start planning a family. The psychologist I was referred to basically stated he wasn't taking my case and gave the impression I shouldn't be having a child. When I returned to my dr to try and get second opinion referral I was told to truly consider what I was asking and give it a year. I have always dreamed of being a mom and having a large family. Now I just want my baby. This post has helped greatly, knowing there is something out there that I can take... PLEASE email me any information you feel comfortable with to ambergriffiths0@gmail.com

Thank you for your article and congrats on your baby. I was not diagnose Bipolar until my son was almost 2 years old, I was in depression during my pregnancy (my son is special ACC) and that caused me to have a very difficult pregnancy, right after having my C-section he was born at 35 weeks, I went on Hypermanic episode, I was super mommy didn't sleep, breastfed him for 16 months it was wonderful but I was like a robot. My ex-husband was not supportive and once I went to depression mode I was no longer his trophy wife and he drop me of at my parents home he couldn't handle the challenges that came with my illness. There were moments that I felt that my son deserved a better mom, that anyone as long as they weren't mentally ill would be better than me. now I realize after 5 yrs, my son has special needs, therapy, etc. I'm sure none no one would have done for him what I have being able to do thanks to God's help. I am a great mom, thanks to the support of my parents, being a Single mom it's not easy. I'm 31 and had a couple of mini relationships but at the end the ups & downs are really hard to handle for a partner. Not sure if I'll every find a supporting partner but I couldn't ask for better parents and I couldn't ask for a better Child, he is loving and my reason to live, my motivation because I know no one would love him like I do. Follow you dreams if you want kids have them there a are many mothers out the that are not diagnose and have successful marriages and are wonderful mothers, be positive and share your love. It will make you a better person :)

Hi, Jessi!

It was so great to find your posts on here. I looked for a place to connect, but didn't see one, so I thought I would try here. I'm also writing about being a mom with bipolar, and my third son also has a heart condition. I would love to touch base with you through email!
You can find me at redvinespirituality.com.

Hope to hear from you,
Keep up the great work,
Taylor K. Arthur

It's very inspiring and nice to know that some individuals with bipolar disorder work hard to overcome their illness for the benefit of their loved ones. Unfortunately, the stigma you mentioned is sometimes well-deserved. My mother is bipolar and has hurt me more than I can ever express in words, both physically and mentally. I've tried to repair our relationship, but she literally doesn't care about anyone else's feeling or needs. I wish I had a mother like you. It's hard because I never had a father either...reading these stories helps me.

I struggle with envy of my sister-in-law who recently had twins. She became pregnant months after marrying my brother-in-law. During this period my diagnosis of depression changed to bipolar after a clear manic reaction to some med.s. I had several bad manic and mixed episodes and ended up in the hospital a few times. My last stay was a month with the start of ECT treatment on top of several med.s. I had planned to start a family around this time and instead I have to wait until I am stable "long enough". Are their any individuals you would say shouldn't have children? I want children now and I am done waiting. I don't think I'll ever be a real, balanced kind of stable.

Wow. I googled having bipolar and being a mother after being discharged from the hospital 6 days ago and being told by the psychiatrist I shouldn't even consider children for years and years (I didn't say I was considering, I'm 26 and getting married in a month. She brought this up because of my marriage). My heart broke because I have always questioned my ability to have children and whether or not I want to pass down my genetics even though my dream is to be a parent. I cannot tell you how much I relate to your post, even the part about working in mental health! It is so refreshing to read something so positive on coping with bipolar disorder and hear someone talk about planning, hard work and medication management. It is so hard to find these beliefs about bipolar disorder on the Internet and sometimes hard to find people who manage in a healthy way in life and are willing to talk about it. Thank you for sharing and reminding me I can do it. I had 5 years of stability and can achieve remission again and can also do anything anyone else can do with an extra bit of work. Thank you!

I am a mother of two kids, one is 2 years and the other is 4 years old. i was diagnosed in 2009 and was on medication for a year and then i stopped since then.
i am the best mum any parent can be. its hard to tolerate their tantrum sometimes but one thing i learnt is we can all learn to control how we feel even though is hard but we can always try, if i can do it means we can all do. bipolar cannot dictate our future, i am a proud Bipolar Mum!!!

Thank you

I am currently pregnant at 34 with my first child. I was diagnosed with bipolar at 18 and have had several hospital admissions in my 20's. I have a very supportive husband and we went to see a perinatal psychiatrist 2 years before we conceived to get the best advice re my medication and im currently on the lowest possible dose of the drug. I'm doing antenatal yoga to relax and hsbe signed up for a hypnobirthing class to learn relaxation techniques. Like you I also think a c section will be best for me due to the lack of sleep and stress a long labour can cause. My cpn has said she will write to my obstetrician to support me in this if needed. Your blog is very helpful Id thought of doing a bipolar pregnancy blog but just was so exhausted in the first trimester I never got round to it. Currently 22 weeks and scan so far has not shown that my meds have caused any problems for our baby sonographer said she was perfect. I hold down a full time professional job and even though at times my bipolar has been bad strongly believe people with mental health conditions should not limit their lives and so having children was always something I knew I woukd want it just takes a little extra planning and support

I, too, was told by multiple psych professionals that I had no right to have a child. A couple of friends actually told me I would be a terrible mother b/c of BP and that I was risking passing the worst possible genes down to my baby. I had a terribly difficult pregnancy - physically and emotionally. I got off most of my meds, but stayed on lithium (birth defect risks are much lower than originally reported). My HMO would not give me a C=section. I was induced for 3 days; the epidural didn't work; I finally ended up with a C-section and a uterine hemorrhage that required transfusions. I was in the hospital 6 days with NO SLEEP! I had to beg each day for my meds. No one from psych was consulting while I was there. I got super manic and depressed at the same time. This developed into postpartum psychosis - I was desperate to kill myself. The first five years of my son's life were so hard, but I think they are for most moms (they just lie b/c it's socially unacceptable to admit that). It felt isolating to try to keep my struggles a secret. BUT, the upside of all of this is that my son (now 11) says he has learned compassion and empathy from me having BP and being very open about it w/ him. He has had his own medical struggles and I believe having learned to be an advocate for myself helped me feel intense empathy for him and fight the HMO system to get him the care he needed. His father did nothing to support that. I finally forgive myself for being a mom w/ a mood disorder; I recognize I have done my best. And having a son has probably saved my life. I think I would have killed myself long ago w/out him to live for. He's an amazing kid. And the friends who said I would be a terrible mother are currently raising a bratty, entitled boy, so I say to all BP women who want a kid - be realistic about your illness, get as much support as you can, do as much research as you can, be a strong advocate and acquire the best medical team you can.... it's hard, but so are most worthwhile things in life.

My wife and I are talking about having children. I have disruptive mood disorder that is quite like bipolar disorder. Similar meds and same type of therapies. Thank you for writing this. I worry that without my meds I will not sleep or be stable. I've been on sleep meds since I was sixteen (-31 now). I have been stable for almost three years.

I think I need alternate meds. Right now I'm on depakote 3000mg risperdal 5mg Wellbutrin xl 300mg adder all 60mg a day and klonopin 1mg.
My psychiatrist has said no she dousnt think it's a good idea. I tried latuda with horrible results
I really would like to have a child. I have been told I can't stay on these pills. Any ideas from anyone?

Thank you for this post. I have lived with Bipolar 1 since my teens and am now 28 years old longing to have a child. You have given me hope that my husband and I can actually do this!

Thank you for this post. I have lived with Bipolar 1 since my teens and am now 28 years old longing to have a child. You have given me hope that my husband and I can actually do this!

I'm 36 and was diagnosed at age 17. I too am on multiple meds. Has anyone stopped taking their meds when pregnant? What was it like? How were your moods? Or anyone still take their meds while pregnant? What was that like? Your moods manageable??

I was diagnosed at 7 years old with bipolar. They added more to it as years went on: borderline personality disorder, add, schitzoaffective tendencies and others I don't remember. Maybe oppositional defiant disorder and anger issues. Everyone says I should never have a baby; it will turn out worse than me. I've been on damn near every med the past 25+ years but stopped end of Feb early March to try. Should I try for a baby or give up?

I was diagnosed at 7 years old with bipolar. They added more to it as years went on: borderline personality disorder, add, schitzoaffective tendencies and others I don't remember. Maybe oppositional defiant disorder and anger issues. Everyone says I should never have a baby; it will turn out worse than me. I've been on damn near every med the past 25+ years but stopped end of Feb early March to try. What were your experiences?

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