If You Live With Bipolar Disorder and Want to Have a Baby
I heard a commercial on the radio asking for egg donors, but you had to be 32 or younger. I was 32. I had already been thinking of having a child and had gotten divorced because I wanted a baby, and my partner did not. In the moment I heard the commercial, I thought, “I am running out of time; I need to have a baby now.”
I first turned to my mental health treatment team and asked them if they thought it would be OK for me to go off my medications for bipolar disorder to get pregnant. They gave me the green light with no hesitation. Just warned that I could not go back on them while I was pregnant. I did not think to ask if I would have any repercussions from going off the medication or what I was going to do if my bipolar symptoms surfaced. I just wanted a baby, and no one was going to stop me. Not even the potential for catastrophic outcome.
I am a lesbian and single, so I needed to turn to a sperm bank to find a donor in order conceive. I bought a book on how to conceive through donor insemination and read it cover to cover. No where did it mention the mental health of the mother. I decided to have a baby in January 2005 and was pregnant by April. By June I was a disaster. My bipolar symptoms came back with a vengeance.
I was so depressed and suicidal that I contemplated an abortion (after all of that). I went to see my OB/GYN and she was very caring. She immediately put me on short term leave from work and referred me to a research study for pregnant women and mothers with mental illness. She said I needed to be back on my medications and this program could help.
I joined the research study and they said they could help me. They had been doing research for years on pregnant women and knew about what already FDA approved medications had positive outcomes for babies. I was told it was more dangerous for the pregnancy for me to be depressed than it was to be on my medications. They talked me through reintroducing medications. They let me know what impact each medication would have on the fetus and its development. For instance, if a medications impact brain development we did not reintroduce it until the brain was developed.
I ended up with only one complication (intrauterine growth restriction) in my pregnancy, but in December 2005 I gave birth to a healthy girl. She is 15 now and has no lasting effects of the medications. My doctor did insist that I not work the first three months of her life and that I have a nurse at night to do the nighttime feedings. She wanted to avoid me having bipolar psychosis. Because I was medicated throughout my pregnancy I did not fall into postpartum depression or psychosis, and we had a successful postpartum.
Researchers are doing some groundbreaking work helping mentally ill mothers have children. We should not be left out of the conversation when it comes the desire to have children. We have hopes and dreams like everyone else and deserve the gift of bringing a life into the world if we so choose.
Many times, we are told we are being selfish to bring a child into the world and that this child will automatically grow up in an unstable home. This is just not true. Around the world parents with bipolar disorder raise healthy and stable children. When we are given the chance and the proper supports, we can be successful.
If you want to have a baby and you have a mental illness:
- Do not listen to the naysayers. They often do not have your best interest at heart.
- Do your own homework and educate your doctor if you have too.
- Seek out a OB/GYN who is knowledgeable about mental health and pregnant women and wants to support you.
- Make sure your mental health team is knowledgeable about helping pregnant women have successful pregnancies, or find someone who is.
- Make sure you have a partner or friend who understands you may have challenges and is willing to step-up and help.
- Enjoy the ride. It is one of the most incredible experiences you will ever have.
Women with severe mental illness should be afforded the same rights as any other women. If you want to parent, you should have the right to do so if you are conscientious and safe for your child. You will need help just as I did, but that is what family, friends and community members and organizations are for.
Are you excited about starting a family? Has anyone told you no? Are you doing it anyway? Let’s hear from you in the comments.
Mighty parents are strong!
Getty image by Alina Kotliar