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Addressing My 3 Fears About Being a Mother With Bipolar Disorder

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Shortly before I found out I was pregnant, I had come to terms with the fact (as indicated by medical professionals) that I might not ever have children. My uterus is tilted in a difficult position, and I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). When I first got married, we tried for years to conceive to no result. Having established myself as an artist and content creator in my community, I slowly began to not only accept a childless life but look forward to it. I considered the traveling I could do, the opportunities I could take and the freedom I would have by proxy.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

As all my ancient great Aunts suggested, the moment I stopped thinking about babies, I was granted one. Immediately, all my dreams of a childless life went out the window and I was elated with the prospect of motherhood.

Having to come off my medication for my bipolar disorder, my pregnancy was incredibly difficult. Having to stay off my medication for the grand majority of my breastfeeding experience didn’t help. Once my kiddo was a little more independent and I was able to stretch my legs, I hit a particularly difficult and long manic episode as I transitioned back on my medication. I was engaging in harmful behaviors by day, and rocking my little one to sleep by night. I believe, in retrospect, I did as good a job as I could considering the circumstances, but it left a lasting fear that my bipolar disorder would rear its ugly head again, and when that happened, it would be when my son was significantly more cognizant with age of what was going on around him. I’ve decided to address these fears head-on, but it doesn’t make them any less scary just because I’ve put safeguards in place with loved ones to keep me from derailing again.

1. I fear my son will resent me because of the behaviors he has seen me exhibit.

Boy, have I raged. When I am strongly embedded in an emotional swing, my behaviors have gotten erratic and potentially troubling. From hyperactivity to suicidal ideation, I’m never certain who I’m going to wake up to in the morning. Even with tight medication management, the potential for disaster is a constant entity I have to acknowledge to keep myself in check. I have sobbed in the car while my son was in the back seat. I have spent our utility money on frivolous things. I have lost my temper and raised my voice with my son simply for acting like a kid.

Someday, when my son is old enough, I plan on holding open, honest discussions with him regarding my mental health. I plan on letting him establish his boundaries with me, just like anyone else in my life whom I value. I try to remind myself during these dark periods that I am a good mother with a great deal of thoughtfulness in my approach to parenting, and if I do my job correctly, my son will have a wider understanding of what mental illness can look like without resenting me. I believe self-awareness and self-policing are key.

2. I fear my son will think he’s to blame for my struggle with mental illness.

Some days, I just don’t feel like being a mom. I believe this is a very normal emotion for any woman who valued the lifestyle she had before becoming a mother. I think it’s a difficult (and deeply stigmatized) emotion to express, and this reluctance to be 100% truthful about our experiences as mothers hurts us all in the grand scheme of moving forward. However, I sometimes fear that my disorder exacerbates this emotion. When I’m feeling manic, I don’t have the capability to act on my impulses. This is definitely a positive thing, and I am grateful for my son’s indirect reminder to be cautious when I’m feeling “squirrelly,” but sometimes this just spawns frustration and unhappiness.

I fear that when my son is someday old enough to recognize my fluctuation in moods, he’s going to blame himself for my periodic depression. I keep an extra close eye on how I present myself and my mood swings around my son, as even though he’s too young to pay me any mind, I don’t want him to ever blame himself when I’m struggling with my disorder. My response to this fear is to manage my emotions better and consistently “sidebar” with my kiddo to remind him I love him, but sometimes mommy needs some alone time to process.

3. I fear my son will struggle with bipolar disorder as well.

I’ve written on this topic before, but prior to ever getting pregnant, my first psychiatrist told me I was better off without children. How bipolar disorder occurs is unique in each case. Sometimes it’s born of trauma, and sometimes it’s an unfortunate hand-me-down through hereditary circumstances. For me, it was described as a side effect to trauma that could have stayed dormant, was I not predisposed to it. My maternal grandfather has bipolar, as well as my maternal aunt. I waffle back and forth on exactly why I am the way I am, but it never remedies the fear I have that I could hand this disorder down to my son simply by being his mother.

Having worked in the mental health field for the majority of my life, I am aware of what untreated bipolar disorder can look like. I’m also aware that, oftentimes, it goes untreated because the individual is reluctant to address what they struggle with. Medication resistance or a flat-out denial isn’t uncommon in people with bipolar disorder, and I worry that, if my son does inherit my disorder, he won’t be as keen on self-awareness and recovery as I’ve worked so hard to be.

I believe my approach of open honestly regarding my mental health will encourage my son to regard mental health with the same mindset. At least, I hope so. I plan on fostering an environment with all my children (biological and stepchildren alike) in where they can express all of their emotions as clearly and truthfully as possible. Sometimes, that’s all we can do besides hoping for the best.

Being a parent is incredibly difficult. By far, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It doesn’t get easier; with each year, a new set of obstacles arises. The way we police neurotypical parents is bad enough. In our society, there isn’t a discussion surrounding parenting with mental illness.

Being honest with myself about my fears as a parent with mental illness has, in some ways, made me a good parent. My self-awareness continues to promote a loving relationship with my son while holding me accountable for my own potential actions. If I can impart anything with this article, it’s that I hope you, as a parent with mental illness, know it’s OK to honor and address your fears alongside your ambitions as a parent. Self-awareness is always key to our best possible outcome.

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

Originally published: January 16, 2020
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