One question I hear frequently is:
“Should I have children if I have bipolar disorder?”
This question and the worry underlying it are understandable. There are so many unknowns with motherhood from the stress of pregnancy and hormone changes to the worries over the unpredictability of motherhood and passing on mental illness to your children.
While there is not a one size fits all answer to these questions, learning how to proactively manage your disorder will prepare you to be successful as a mother with bipolar.
The first thing to address is your mindset about your disorder. It is essential to acknowledge that you have bipolar and that you are responsible for treating it consistently if you want to have children.
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness and can be dangerous, even life threatening if it goes untreated. It is possible to live well with bipolar disorder if you proactively treat it and that begins with:
- accepting that you have bipolar,
- not comparing yourself to others without bipolar, and
- understanding what wellness with bipolar disorder looks like.
Acknowledge that you have bipolar disorder and take ownership for treating it. Although this seems like it should go without saying, many people struggle with accepting their diagnosis. You might wonder if you were diagnosed correctly in the first place–bipolar is diagnosed using such intangible symptoms.
You may go through periods when you start to feel healthy and balanced and begin to think that maybe the diagnosis was wrong or that you don’t have it anymore. There are also periods when you will feel angry about your diagnosis and refuse to treat it because you are sick of how hard everything is. Regardless of what prompts your denial it can be a major barrier to living well with your disorder.
Women have difficulty not comparing themselves to each other already. As a society there is tremendous pressure to conform to certain “ideals” of womanhood from many different directions. This is amplified by social media where people post their “highlight” reels and distorted versions of reality which can cause you to feel inadequate, or worse.
With bipolar it is even more important to not compare yourself to others without the disorder because it can create a barrier to learning to live well. The pressure to be and do everything can prevent you from eliminating unnecessary stressors while you learn how to effectively manage your bipolar.
For years as I was trying to learn how to live well with bipolar, I always thought of wellness as a linear path–like climbing a mountain–with the destination being never having a mood swing again. The problem this created for me is that I felt like I had failed each time I experienced a mood cycle. One time I had been healthy and balanced for months and then suddenly became depressed and I was so angry. I went to see my therapist and told her that I felt like a failure. I had been almost to the top of the mountain and now I was all the way back down at the bottom again!
That day my therapist helped me to understand that learning to live well with bipolar is not a linear process. It looks more like the addiction recovery cycle where there will be times when you relapse into mood swings, but this isn’t failure. The key is to learn how to successfully manage your mood cycles so that you can lessen the impact on you and your family and shorten the duration of the cycle.
Preparing for Motherhood with Bipolar
Once you have acknowledged the reality of your disorder and your responsibility to treat it you can start learning the tools on the path to wellness with bipolar.
One of the most important tools you will have as a mother with bipolar disorder is your Mood Cycle Survival Guide. While you are learning to live well with bipolar disorder you need to have a plan to help you successfully manage your mood swings. This guide will help you:
- Minimize the impact on the mood-swing on yourself and your family, and
- Shorten the duration of the mood-swing by creating a plan to get back to mental health and balance.
If a mother has diabetes, she needs to be very deliberate and conscientious about prioritizing her self-care–monitoring her blood sugar, eating healthy and caring for her overall health. If she doesn’t take care of herself, she won’t be able to take care of her children because there can be serious, sometimes life-threatening consequences if she’s not careful.
The same is true for a mother with bipolar disorder. Self-care for bipolar is essential to keep yourself and your children safe and healthy. This includes:
Most people with bipolar disorder need some form of intervention to address the imbalance in the brain. This can look different for different people. Some people do well on medication, while others, like me, find healing with specialized micronutrient treatments.
If you take medication, it is necessary to discuss with your doctor which medications are safe to take while pregnant or nursing. Remember to stay consistent with your psychiatric appointments and monitor your mood and symptoms consistently during and after pregnancy as hormone changes can affect your body and brain chemistry.
Regardless of the type of treatment you choose it is essential to stay consistent with taking your medications or micronutrients and ask for help immediately if you start to notice changes in your mood.
Therapy is essential for anyone who wants to learn how to live well with bipolar and it is especially important as you enter parenthood. Anxiety and worry can increase, and unhealed trauma may be revealed as you enter this new phase of life. Working with a competent therapist is critical to help you navigate the new challenges and continue to work on identifying unhealthy thoughts, behaviors and coping mechanisms, processing and healing trauma, and setting healthy boundaries.
Developing a daily routine
Setting up a healthy daily routine specifically to manage your bipolar disorder is going to help you manage stress and live healthier–body and mind. Each of the tools listed here are important but you need to learn one at a time and figure out the best way to incorporate them into your day.
- Mindfulness meditation
- Exercise (keep it simple, easy and accessible)
- Healthy, consistent sleep habits
- Good nutrition
- Hygiene habits
- Carefully evaluating and managing stressors
Get support from other moms with bipolar disorder
Motherhood with bipolar disorder can feel lonely and isolating because you feel like no one understands the challenges you are facing. Join our Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well to get encouragement and support from other moms on the same journey.
As a mother with bipolar disorder, I can tell you that it wasn’t always easy. I was very sick with my disorder when my children were little. Over time I discovered how to live well with bipolar. I started my blog to share what I learned so you don’t have to figure it out the hard way like I did.
I am forever thankful for my children. They are the greatest joys of my life, and I am filled with gratitude every day to be their mother. You can live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar–including children–if you choose to:
- Shift your mindset to accept your disorder, don’t compare yourself to others and learn what wellness with bipolar looks like, and
- Prepare for motherhood by proactively treating your bipolar.
There is hope and there is help!