Should I Have Children If I Have Bipolar Disorder?
Children terrify me.
They are delicate, sticky, full of hope and, well, vulnerable. I have always proclaimed “I hate kids” and “I never want kids” but, much to my own bewilderment, I recently found myself in an age and situation where I was thinking about children.
The truth is I have always dreamed of being a mother, but that’s just not in the cards for me given my health. I live with rapid-cycling bipolar II disorder and it’s a consuming force, an unempathetic demon and a tightrope I walk every day of my life.
I found myself sitting up late at night, due to my symptom of insomnia, Googling: “Should people with mental illness have children?” “Is bipolar a genetic disease?” “Bipolar + postpartum depression”— you get the picture. I read and read forums, articles, clinical studies and a part of me began to accept it. I fear my maternal instinct will always battle my mental illness. I fear being a bad parent because I have a mood disorder. I fear going off my medications if I ever got pregnant. I fear postpartum depression killing me, but most of all, I fear it’s just too risky to pass my brain chemistry on to another human.
I remember a time when, deep in one of my depressions, I was having a few glasses of wine and a cigarette with my best friend, my mother. She broke down and said she was so sorry. She told me she probably should have seen it when I was a kid and she should have been aware I was susceptible to it. To this day, that conversation is one of my most heartbreaking memories. No one could have predicted it in me.
That said, I can predict the chances my son or daughter may also live with attention problems, overactive imaginations, deep dark depressions, suicidal thoughts, life-wrecking choices and pain I would never wish on anyone in my life. When I imagine my future, all I can imagine is my husband, my dogs and an aching outline of the child I may never have.
Recently, my boyfriend looked over at me in the car and said, “You’re going to be an amazing mom,” and my heart broke silently for him. Having bipolar disorder is a difficult challenge every day and being a parent is considered one of the hardest jobs in the world. How could I be an amazing mother if some days I can’t get out of bed? How could I give my love when the hypomania kicks in and I need to start a new project? I’m medicated but I still fear the worst. I tell my boyfriend that this is a fear of mine and suggest adopting. He looks disappointed and suggests we table it (for five to 20 years).
But the thing is, who says I would be an unfit mother? Where do my reproductive rights lie? If I carried a cancer gene, would I be made to feel guilty fearing my child may also one day get cancer? Why does my mental ailment set me apart from all the other disabilities?
In my late night forum readings, I weep for the women who made the decision to not to have children in order to protect them from sadness, chaos and despair. They are hitting menopause, and feel they are full of regret. I feel the same; why can’t I have it all? I already manage a high-stress career with my illness, so why can’t I have a family too?
My mother has never been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but she struggled with depression when I was a child. She was also and is also the most brilliant woman on the face of the planet. She is a whirlwind. My childhood was filled with chaos, some good and some bad, but I wouldn’t change the late nights, the magic, the music, the moves, the projects, the creativity and the adventures. I wouldn’t trade the highs and the lows for anything because they and all my other shit (looking at you, bipolar) made me who I am.
Being bipolar is not an easy road and for now I will adopt an army of dogs and focus on keeping my health together. But if I can survive in this planet, maybe one day I can love my son or daughter and let them know it’s not bad to be different, it’s just a more difficult hand to play life with.
Follow this journey on the author’s blog.
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash