So You Want To Start a Family...
Updated: Apr 25, 2021
So you want to start a family. I am with you! Being a mother is something I have wanted ever since I can remember!
Now let me ask you the most important question...
Are you afraid to become a parent because of your bipolar?
There is no need to be ashamed if you are. This is a common fear within our community, especially in the world of motherhood. The intrusive thoughts creep in; Will I pass this on to my children? I can’t be on my psychiatric medications while I’m pregnant... am I going to be able to handle it? Am I going to be able to hack it as a parent? How will it effect my children if they see me having an episode?
What if I told you that these fears don’t even cross my mind. Would you believe me? Or if I told you that you have the potential to release these fears yourself. Would you believe that?
Well it all boils down to one thing... how have you prepared?
The biggest mistake most parents make, REGARDLESS of whether either party has bipolar, is not preparing themselves, to the best of their abilities, for what lies ahead in parenthood. So if you have put in the time to research what to expect and have a plan set in place in the instance of a “worst case senario” situation, you are already leaps and bounds above the average parent. I look at it this way... if you decide to become a boxer you don’t just hop into the ring without learning anything about the sport, right? Of course not! That is the fastest way to get punched in the face and knocked out! But if you research the sport, research your opponent, train your body, and get your mind ready for the fight ahead, even though it may be impossible to predict how the fight is going to go, you already have a much higher chance of coming out on the other side unscathed. And luckily for you, I have done an ample amount of preparation, so this is a great place to start!
Lets begin by addressing concern number one; Will I pass this on to my children?
Well, if we look at statistics, the likelihood of passing on bipolar is 10-25% if one parent has it and 10-50% if both parents do. However, if you look at that same statistic in terms of type 2 diabetes, the likelihood of passing THAT on to your children is 40% if one parent has it and 70% if both do. So if you or your partner have type 2 diabetes, I would be far more concerned about passing that along than I would bipolar. But all that aside, let’s really dig into this deeper, shall we?
When you delve into the science of maternal nutrition you become incredibly aware that everything you put in your body effects fetal development. So if you are thinking about having a baby and you are 30 pounds overweight with a diet that consists of ice cream and hot dogs, you are potentially setting your child up for metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and so much more. To be clear, I am not saying you have to be anal about EVERYTHING you eat, but switching from skittles to strawberries would be a good start. And though my intention is not to terrify you, I pray the reality of these possibilities may influence you to seek help in changing your nutritional habits, if not for yourself for the sake of your children.
But how does this relate to bipolar? Don’t worry, I’m about to get into that.
Bipolar at the end of the day is a result of a chemical imbalance. Those chemicals are directly affected by hormones and hormones are created from none other than what we eat. There is now consistent evidence from recent studies highlighting the key importance and effectiveness of focusing on maternal diet to lower the risk of onset of mental disorders. So to put it simply, if you prepare your body with proper nutrition before, during, and after pregnancy, your child‘s risk of developing mental illness goes down.
[See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4231189/ for more information]
For more specifics on therapeutic supplementation specifically geared towards pregnancy and mental illness, feel free to reach out to me via the email section below.
Now for the next concern: I can’t be on my psychiatric medications while I’m pregnant... am I going to be able to handle it?
This is definitely something to take to heart. Again, what I am about to share is not aimed to scare you but rather to prepare you.
Just as nutrients are passed to your child from your food, so are chemicals from your medications. Children exposed to these types of chemicals during fetal development have a higher risk of a wide array of birth defects and the long term effects still require further study. [I have come to my own conclusions on long term effects from what I have researched, but in the world of science this is still simply opinion] On the adverse, 52% of women have reported increased anxiety or depression while pregnant. So to many on psychiatric medications, this can feel like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. How do I keep myself safe and also keep my baby safe?
Here is what I recommend. Under the care of your medical team (psychologist, psychiatrist, and/or physician) and with the care of someone who works in natural/nutritional methods of combating mental illness, put together a trial plan, preconception, to see what potential effects being off of medication will have on you specifically. After weaning off of your medication as guided by your primary doctors, begin a 9 month trial period to see how well you do. Do this until you can confidently go a full 9 months without severe episodes or turning back to medication. For some this may take more trials than others as it is not an inherently easy task, especially if you have been on medication for multiple years. But once you make it through, you will be far more prepared for the trials ahead than if you were to get off your medications cold turkey and just expect yourself to be fine.
I feel it necessary to touch on one other option [though I personally do not condone this] simply to give action steps to those of you who are still looking for a way to be on medication and have a baby because you are nervous to be off of meds. All I can do is encourage you to do everything in your power through nutrition and supplementation to at least give your child what they need to develop healthily. Then talk to your doctor to see if there are medications for your specific mental health symptoms that you can switch to which are the least likely to effect fetal development. This in itself has its own risks and if you have ever switched around your medications before you understand it isn’t guaranteed to help, but it is an option.
Concern number three: Am I going to be able to hack it as a parent?
I’ll tell you one thing, we are not the only demographic experiencing this fear. Nearly every future parent goes through periods of self doubt in their abilities whether it’s before, during, or after pregnancy. My recommendation here is simple. Take a parenting class and read some books on parenting. Just like any other job, parenting is a skill that you should learn about first to prepare, before you put it into practice. Are you going to do everything perfectly immediately? Of course not! How many times have you messed up at your current job? I know I have made plenty of mistakes! But if you are able to recognize your mistakes and take steps to do better the next time, you can definitely hack it as a parent.
Last but most certainly not least: How will it effect my children if they see me having an episode?
I completely understand this concern. A majority of the trauma that sets the course for the rest of a child’s life occurs before the age of 8. So the early years of a child’s development are crucial for how they view and interact with the world. But I assure you, no parent is perfect. Neither of my parents are diagnosed bipolar and I myself ended up with childhood traumas that I am unraveling to this day. But these are traumas that could have been avoided if a few very specific actions had taken place. So what can we do? Have a set plan [Reference my previous post For Your Spouse- NAVIGATING BIPOLAR: Prevention & Contingency Plan Template]. Having a plan is ALWAYS better than not having one. Find out what works best for you and your spouse and be sure to have additional support nearby. A common fear of spouses of people with bipolar is that they will have to take care of you, the children, and the financial burden all at the same time in the case of an episode. So it is our job to be understanding of this fear and set preparations in place where the kids can go stay with a grandparent, aunt, uncle, any type of healthy supportive environment. This way 100% of the responsibility does not fall on the shoulders of your spouse. Therapy is also crucial. Therapy for yourself, your spouse, and together as a couple. Even therapists have a therapist. Why? Because we are all only human and there is only so much we can accomplish on our own. As stressors rise, as will occur with the responsibility of children, we all need a little assistance from time to time. Each of us needs all of us and all of us needs each of us.
At the end of the day it all boils down to preparation. When living life with bipolar, doing what the average person does rarely gets us the same results. So it’s time to live that above average life! Put some extra thought into what you do before you do it and strive to become a professional learner. This type of mindset has personally removed any bit of fear I have of my bipolar, especially when it comes to starting a family. I believe it can do the same for you.