Should People with Bipolar Have Kids?
I am now 33. And that’s one of those ages where the biological clock starts to have a deafening ring. But the thing is I can’t get pregnant; I can’t have kids; I have bipolar disorder.
Pregnancy and Bipolar Disorder or Depression
Pregnancy is a pretty traumatic event for a body to go through, even for the healthiest of women. It changes absolutely everything about your body from hormones to blood volume and the curl in your hair. And if you don’t think it’s going to have an impact on bipolar disorder or depression, you’re just not thinking straight.
Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Psychosis
Unfortunately, during the most “magical” moments of a woman’s life, after she’s given the screaming, blood-covered lifeform, an insidious disease known as postpartum depression, or worse, postpartum psychosis may be moving into her brain. Postpartum depression hits the brain of 15% of women after they have a baby. And we’re notoriously bad at screening for postpartum depression which compromises a woman’s ability to care for her child.
And worse (and much less common) is postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis takes depression to a whole new level where the woman completely loses touch with reality and may even harm her child. Postpartum psychosis has an infanticide rate of 10% – 15%. Oh, and those women with postpartum psychosis – most of them have bipolar disorder.
Pregnancy and Bipolar Medication
And on top of that, whatever meds I might be taking now would likely have to be discontinued during pregnancy. Pretty much all psych meds are in a category that is recommended only in life-saving circumstances and some psych meds are known flat out to harm newborns, like cause birth defects. And forget about medication if you want to breastfeed.
Of course, an untreated mental illness harms a child as well. Children born to depressed mothers show decreased cognitive abilities from the time they are born and it’s still there when the child starts school.
Genetics and Bipolar Disorder
And then there’s the issue of genetics. If you have a serious mental illness your offspring has a very good chance of also suffering a serious mental illness. And if both parents are ill? Then you might as well just sign your kid up for a psychiatrist now.
In addition to my personal, mental illness, there is also the fact that mental illness runs in my family, including addiction (which also has genetic ties). My family is rife with destruction thanks to mental illness.
Can a Person with Bipolar be a Good Parent?
Now this one I can’t answer for sure, but in all honesty, if I look deep into the mirror and think about being with a child fulltime, I can honestly say, no, I couldn’t be a good mother. Not because I don’t want to. Not even because I’m not sure how to. But because my moods will override that child sometimes. I know they would. They override everything. They destroy everything at times. There is no reasonable way to look at it such that a child would also not be hurt by that illness.*
I Can’t Have a Child, I Have Bipolar Disorder
So between the trauma of pregnancy, the horrors of post-partum and medication, the unfairness of genetics and the reality of parenting, there is just no way to have a child. I can’t do it. Not if I love that unborn child. Not if I want a better life for them then I have had. Not if I don’t want to sentence them to a life started with a ball and chain attached to their psyche.
I’m not saying that’s how everyone sees it, and if you’re mentally ill and going to have children, doctors can help you through that process. You can get through it.
But what I know is true for me is that having a child would be unbelievably selfish and I could never do that to an innocent life. So no matter how loud my biological clock ticks I have to do the right thing and not have a child.
* Now I know, many people have two-parent households, in which case, good for you, but I have to say, if you’re considering having a child, you ought to consider what single-parenting is like as there is a fairly decent chance it will come down to that as is obvious simply due to the divorce rate.