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Bipolar Motherhood: What it Means to be “Mom Enough”

They come in threes.

1. I spun out over Time Magazine’s controversial article Are You Mom Enough? extolling the virtues of attachment parenting, AKA, baby-centered parenting, which includes breastfeeding well into toddler years, co-sleeping and a strong distain for sleep training.
2. I read about Aimee Ziegler’s death due to postpartum psychosis.
3. I had a postpartum OCD relapse right before my first Mother’s Day.

Why those three things having been eating at me:

1. Attachment parenting is very popular where I live, so I’ve experienced perfect strangers asking me why I’m no longer breastfeeding 200 too many times. I’ve also been judged for sleep training and making my baby sleep in his crib because I have to get a full night’s sleep. Yes, I’m out of the closet bipolar, but I’m not a big fan of discussing why I had to stop breastfeeding and why I have to get sleep to a group of strangers in line at Starbucks.
2. Diagnosed with postpartum OCD and mania, I experienced most of the same symptoms of postpartum psychosis. I understand the pain and fear Aimee was in when she drove her car in front of an oncoming train, which terrifies me.
3. I started questioning myself as a mother. My son is a little over 8 months old and I’ve been extremely sick for more than half of his life.

On low days, I feel insecure about the mom I am. I feel ashamed when I sleep all day and my husband has to pick up the slack. I feel bad that I can’t handle being a full-time mom and my husband has to fork over a lot of money for a nanny. I’m scared I’ll pass on my bipolar and alcoholism to my son. I fear I’ll never be stable again.

I fear I’m failing as a mother.

So when Time Magazine asks me if I’m mom enough, how exactly am I supposed to not take it to heart?

But I’ve made it this far by being positive. By looking on the bright side. And by living my life in gratitude, so…

On balanced days, I know I’m doing my best. I believe the only failure is not trying – and oh yes, am I ever trying. I give my baby boy tons of love and attention when we’re together. I’m awesome at bath time and make Academy Award worthy airplane sounds to get him to eat his carrots.

And we laugh – a lot. Baby giggles may possibly be the happiest thing I’ve ever experienced and I feel like a genius when I figure out how to make him laugh.

I know that my postpartum hormones are still bonking around and that it’s going to take time to fully recover. I understand the difference between self-care and selfishness. I focus on the good days and weeks I’ve experienced since he started sleeping through the night at 5 months old and have faith that I will someday reach the stability I’ve known in the past and miss so very much.

Comparing myself to a maternal ideal is futile and hurtful, so I made a list of my own personal “Mom enough’s.”

• I researched the many risks and possibilities before making the decision to get pregnant and talked them out with my therapist, OB/GYN, husband, psychiatrist and endocrinologist, AKA, the Team.

• The Team was so involved in our family planning that they were practically waiting outside the bathroom door while I peed on a stick.

• I continued taking Wellbutrin and Zoloft while pregnant because it was better for my unborn child to have antidepressants in his system than be inside a mother in full bipolar relapse.

• I didn’t kill myself or get an abortion when I was suicidally depressed and all I wanted to do was kill myself or get an abortion. Instead, I called in sick to work, locked myself in my bedroom, closed the blinds and read funny blogs 
on my iPhone until the Zoloft increase kicked in.

• I stopped taking Lithium during my pregnancy, which was terrifying.

• I saw the Team frequently throughout my pregnancy and postpartum period.

• I breastfed – although in hindsight I should’ve gone right back on Lithium the second I had my son and never attempted breastfeeding in the first place.

• I duct taped my windows shut to protect my baby from me.

• I recognized that I was in trouble when my breast pump started talking to me.

• I stopped breastfeeding after three weeks and two days at the strong suggestion of my therapist and psychiatrist. And I cried. A lot.

• I let others care for my child so I could get sleep to try to regain my sanity.

• I sleep trained my baby because without sleeping regularly I would never stabilize again.

• I admitted when I was not OK and asked for help. I still do this.

• My husband and I made the decision not to have any more children as another pregnancy and postpartum would probably kill me. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically, mentally and spiritually. I’m glad I did it, but I know my limits.

Bipolar moms are miracles. We are brave. We are warriors. It takes incredible courage to walk into the darkness and unknowing of pregnancy, hormones, parenthood and lack of sleep with guaranteed mental instability.

These are only my “mom enough’s.” If you’re bipolar, please don’t use my list as a measuring stick. We all do what we can do and we are all amazing.

I’d like to turn the tables on Time Magazine and ask if they’re magazine enough to write about real motherhood, about moms suffering with mental illnesses, about Aimee and her three motherless sons. About the truth and the triumphs. About the sacrifices we all make.

I’d pay five bucks for that issue.

Related Resources & Info

Aimee Ziegler’s husband’s blog post about her postpartum psychosis http://www.aaronpolson.net/2012/05/crushing-stigmas-smashing-stereotypes...

Postpartum Progress is the most widely-read blog on postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. http://postpartumprogress.com

NAMI on managing pregnancy and bipolar. http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Research/Managing_Pregnancy_an...

Comments

Thank you for this brave article. No one can understand what it is to struggle with postpartum: all the feelings of guilt, frustration, and helplessness. When I struggle, I keep trying to remind myself that if I had any other illness, I would not feel as guilty. But, I also realize that me not being "mom enough" grows my childrens' abilities to be self-sufficient, empathetic, team players in a family where mom is not a super hero (although they still think I am, bipolar and all!) You just keep loving your baby, and that love makes you mom enough. And it will make for one great kid, I promise!

In this together,

Taylor K. Arthur

I wasn't diagnosed with Bipolar disorder until after the birth of my son Austin, he is now 2. If you ask Austin I am the best mommy in the world and I love him all the way to the moon and he is the best Austin in the world. He also knows sometimes mommy is sick. I was in an abusive relationship with Austin's father that lead to extreme bipolar episodes. I am convinced I experienced postpartum psychosis as I was convinced people were trying to kill me and take my child. I called Austin the baby for the first 3 months of my life having him at home didn't seem real as in it didn't feel like reality. I became upset and still do over how close Austin is with my mother and Aunt. I am jealous that he seeks out their attention. Had it not been for them I do not know what would have happened to Austin and I in those early months or even now. I am now pregnant with my 2nd child. I am married and my husband and Austin are very close. I have been very physically sick and very depressed. I to have been suicidal depressed convinced that the baby was just going to die or I should. Part of me would have been relieved if it had because no part of my being felt worthy of being alive. I didn't want to deal with myself so everyone else would be better off not having to also. But then Austin would ask me to read a book, or ask if I was still sick or want to watch cartoons. I felt overwhelming guilt for mot being better for him because he really deserved the best mommy in the world and not a sick one. As long as he needed me I couldn't go anywhere because that wasn't far to him. I am now half way through my pregnancy I fear the postpartum stage I fear for myself and my children. But as many with Bipolar know you have to live your life one moment at a time.

Thanks you for this. I have suffered from bipolar effective disorder since my late teens. I got postpartum depression/anxiety and some psycosis symptoms. I never told my husband's parents because of the shame I felt we kept it secret until our daughter was born and could no longer remain a secret. I had a suicide attempt and was soooo afraid to ask for help that my kid would be taken away. Sometimes I wanted her taken away from me and others I wanted to take her and start a new life. Medication keeps me stable, counseling helps a lot and a strong support system. My daughter goes to day home 2 times a week and sometimes I nap those days, watch tv, and just focus on my needs. I used to feel guilty but remind myself I need to do it to be able to mother. Great read thanks for your bravery

Wow. I know this is an old post but I just found it while googling "Being a mom with bipolar." I was just diagnosed in the last week after I had to be hospitalized for a bipolar psychosis. The diagnosis has been tossed around for years but I retained the major depressive disorder label. My 3rd child was born 2 years ago and things went rapidly downhill from there. I am really struggling with this diagnosis and wondering if it is even real. I've read many things about others' experiences with this disorder but it suddenly became clear to me when you stated that you knew you were in trouble when your breast pump started speaking to you. I had the same bizarre experience when I was pumping for my youngest and brushed it (and many other symptoms) off as sleep deprivation or the baby blues. I cried when I read this- not only because it breaks my heart to accept that I have bipolar but also in relief that this is a real thing, not just me being crazy.

Thank you so much for posting this. I have bp myself and would like to start a family. I tried to go off my meds with my doctor okay so I could get pregnant. I ended up having a psychotic break. Im still recovering. My husband and I are still planning on starting a family next year. Im glad to know that other mom's can give me some hope. I'm absolutely terrified to become a mom with this illness.

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