One of my friends asked a few weeks ago if I would potentially be able to give a friend of hers pointers on surviving bipolar and pregnancy at the same time. While I never heard from the second degree individual, it’s been on my mind a fair bit. And then, what came across my Twitter feed? Why, it’s a pamphlet on just that subject from Bipolar UK!
Bipolar Disorder, Pregnancy, and Childbirth
The long and the short is, and the same as I would have told my friend’s friend — it’s an absolute and utter crapshoot. There is no magic bullet, and if anything, it’s accepting that things are likely to be a lot worse for awhile. You could be a perfectly mentally sound person and end up having a horrible time, because hrm… oh. You’re carrying a parasite, and your hormones are waaay over the place.
For me, my first pregnancy was pretty easy on the whole. I had the usual array of weird physical pains, but my mood was remarkably stable as compared to ‘normal’. The afters, however… I am not sure that I went as far as postpartum psychosis (which, I know now, is a 1 in 4 shot for a bipolar woman rather than less than 1 in 1,000 births), or ‘merely’ postpartum depression atop ‘normal’ depression… which is also a 1 in 4 chance for a bipolar woman, meaning that 50%~ of bipolar women have issues. Eeep.
It was that after that finally pushed me into getting some help. You see, I grew up in the States in an environment that reinforced that I was apparently making up any and all health concerns I had. There is also a vast amount of stigma, which as those of us with diagnoses know, discourages anyone from finding out that they’re ‘wrong’ or ‘dangerous’ or whatever buzzword is used to keep us quiet as a lot. I had been in a job where I would have lost my job had I had a mental illness; I know this is a common complaint, but it was doubly scary for those of us working military intelligence. Everything was stacked against me, to include my own biases, which meant I had to hit the bottom of rock bottom’s bottommost bottom to finally ask for help.
If you’ve been here for awhile, you know that worked out well, and I responded well to medication. We got things tweaked to something that seemed to mainly work, and then I had to throw the works into it and get pregnant again. Mind, this was done intentionally, and my psychiatry team were duly informed. I had good care from both them and the maternal psychiatry team, and honestly? I don’t think I would have risked it if the first time around hadn’t been so good. My mood wasn’t as stable this time around; I had a bad spell of depression in the March/April time frame, which made me question the wisdom of coming off of my meds. I pulled through by being able to be honest to myself, but had I not had a need for home birth due to anxiety issues, I probably would have stayed on my meds. Thankfully, we don’t intend to have any more children, so I shouldn’t have to worry about that choice again.
Pregnancy is a hard enough time filled with all sorts of decisions for anyone going through it. There is less to do with right or wrong, but rather, what is best for each individual going through the time and after. If it’s something that is important to you as an individual and you have a mental illness, then do make sure to have a care plan. Do make sure to work with your doctors and psychiatrists if you are fortunate enough to have such. Growing up in the States meant I was one of the many without much in the way of appreciable health care, so I can appreciate not everyone has access to the care they need. But don’t think you should deny yourself parenthood because you’re mentally ill. You’re just as ‘worthy’ of parenthood as anyone else.