What No One Told Me About Being a Mom and a Psychiatric Patient

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in high school. I was 17 years old. I had already been diagnosed with anxiety and depression about six years prior to this newest diagnosis. All I was thinking about was the medication and the therapy and blood work. It never occurred to me that in less than five years, I was going to have a positive pregnancy test and have a baby.

In 2008, my son (I’ll refer to him by his nickname, Monkey) was born. I had a normal pregnancy and birth. Monkey had some gastric issues. That resulted in him being put on hypoallergenic formula. He also had a severe adverse reaction to vaccines, which at 7 months old led to him spending five days in the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit). I kept telling myself the mood swings were just from the stress of my child having to face medical challenges.

At about a year old, my ex-husband and I noticed Monkey didn’t like noise. He didn’t like disruption in his schedule. He didn’t like crowds and needed to be swaddled at over a year old. We got him evaluated, and he was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. I thought it was my fault. I blamed myself day in and day out, and this worsened my psychiatric struggles.

In 2011, my daughter was born (we can call her Buggy). At 2 months old, she was admitted to the hospital overnight to be evaluated for surgery for pyloric stenosis. Luckily, it wasn’t needed, but I was then diagnosed with severe postpartum depression. It kept getting worse, and after my daughter’s first birthday, I was court-ordered into a psychiatric facility. I was put on medications because I was manic and my anxiety was so severe that my life was on a downward spiral.

That following school year, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) was called on me because the school claimed I sent Monkey to school in pajamas. It was an outfit he had worn a dozen times with no incident — an outfit he actually picked out that day. They came to the house I was living in with my kids and demanded I take every single medicine I was prescribed — despite the fact that they made me lethargic and my med management doctors were not listening to my concerns. After a while, they saw my meds were making me lethargic and said because I was “choosing” to take those meds, Monkey and Buggy had to go live with their dad.

In the paperwork from the DCF, they cited their reasoning for the custody transfer as my “severe and extensive psychiatric history.” No one told me if the DCF felt like it, they could use my psychiatric history against me. Or that while my meds might help me function, they could (simultaneously) hinder my ability to parent effectively if the doctors are constantly playing with what medications I take and their dosage.

My kids getting taken from my custody tore me apart. I felt like my world was caving in around me. As of right now, the current custody situation works for our family. My ex-husband and I get along pretty well, and we are able to do what we feel is best for Monkey and Buggy. In the future, however, I may petition for primary custody back. But until then, my ex-husband, my current husband and I all work together so we are all involved in every aspect of the kids’ lives.

It can be genuinely tough being a mommy and a psych patient. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. My kids know acceptance. My kids know compassion. My son, at 8 years old, knows how to handle someone having a panic attack. They are more empathetic than many adults I know. While it sucks not having my babies full time, I know they truly treasure what time I do spend with them. They soak up the cuddling and watching ASL videos and swimming with me.

Image via Thinkstock.

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