Bipolar with baby on board

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As a new mum of a 3 month old baby, sleep is lacking and me time is non-existent, but what some of you may not know is that I also have the added stress of having Bipolar on top of it all. After a difficult few weeks I have decided to share my recent experiences in order to highlight the fact that mental illness happens to normal people; friends, colleagues and neighbours. It is hard enough for any new parent to navigate the world of night feeds and dirty nappies, but add to that the fact that your whole mental and physical well being is usually precariously dependent on a strict routine of going to bed at the same time every night, getting up at the same time every morning and exercising every day. For obvious reasons this is now an impossible dream. My husband and I were prepared, some might say ‘over-prepared’ for the fact that I might experience a Bipolar episode especially as I had an increased risk of Postnatal Psychosis. He was at home for almost 5 weeks after Lola was born, partly working from home, partly on paternity leave. However, I took to motherhood like…well, like a duck to water. Yes I was tired, but I was coping. I was able to survive on little sleep and was very soon in tune with what Lola wanted and when. But, when my husband went back to work it got A LOT harder. I naively thought it would be just the same when it was solely me at home. The lack of sleep combined with having to look after and entertain (this in my opinion is far harder than the constant feeding as she wants to be stimulated every second of her waking day) an infant started to weigh on me.

Firstly I experienced some days of depression and told myself that all mums have days like this, after all sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. However, unfortunately things took a turn for the worse when my husband worked on a new business pitch and was working late nights and weekends. Even though we are lucky that Lola has been in a bedtime routine since she was 10 weeks old (she is 16 weeks old today) – on average she sleeps from 7.30pm to 5am – I was not able to sleep without my husband being home due to anxiety. I therefore ended up with only a few hours of disrupted sleep a night, when I used to need 10 hours a night before Lola was born. Then came the days of hypomania (this a milder version of mania usually experienced by Bipolar type 2 sufferers such as myself). It felt great at first as all of a sudden I had the energy to clean the entire flat, do loads and loads of laundry, cook dinner every night and still be awake in the evenings to watch TV and flick through magazines. I felt like supermum. This feeling did not last. Without going into the intimate and distressing details, the headlines over the week that followed looked something like this; I became obsessed with making the flat perfect for Lola. I bought loads of things for the flat, built a toy box, bedside table and shoe rack, before then completely moving the furniture around in our bedroom including the bed – all in one day. My husband came home at midnight to find me singing loudly in the kitchen whilst washing baby bottles (the kitchen is at the opposite end of the flat to the front door and right next to the baby’s room). Another day I found myself making a bottle one minute and the next minute I was pulling up the kitchen floor. And on another day I found myself driving to B&Q at 6am. It was a confusing and ultimately very traumatic time. Luckily I have a very supportive husband who spotted the signs and got me the help that I needed before I deteriorated, including taking a week off of work to ‘wait on me hand and foot’.

Due to my husband acting fast I was able to stay at home and not be hospitalised. Each local health trust has their own Home Treatment Team (HTT), this is an acute mental health service for people in a mental health crisis offered as an alternative to being an inpatient. Qualified mental health professionals visit patients in their own homes; the duration and frequency of the visits depend on the severity of the individual case. As someone who has suffered with mental health issues my entire adult life, I was assigned a Perinatal Psychiatrist as soon as I found out that I was pregnant. This is a psychiatrist that specialises in the mental health of pregnant women and up to when the baby is one year old. I met with her frequently during my pregnancy and was offered regular home visits from a Perinatal Nurse after Lola was born.

As mentioned above, I previously was able to ‘manage’ my Bipolar before Lola was born with medication and counselling in addition to a sleep routine and daily exercise. Now that Lola is in a bedtime routine and we can see a pattern of her naps and feeding during the day, my husband and I (encouraged by my psychiatrist) have put together a loose routine to follow with Lola. It has only been a few days so far but it seems to be helping. As a family we wake at 7am and have cuddles in bed until 7.30am. My husband then gets ready and goes to work. Lola and I set up a circuit of toys and activities for her in the lounge at 8am and I put a wash load on at some point in the morning. Lola has a cat nap on me around 10am and 4pm, she also has a longer nap of approximately 2 hours over lunch time – I am trying to get her to not do this on me so that I can either have a nap myself or just some me time – this remains a struggle as she keeps waking up when I put her in her cot. We then start running her bath at 6.45pm and she is usually in bed asleep by 7.30pm, I then put a dishwasher load on before pouring a large glass of wine. As for night feeds, my husband and I now take it in turns to do the night feeds each night so that I can sleep properly every other night. My gym also have a creche and Lola is old enough to go into it now, therefore I will aim to go to the gym 3 times a week, plus one yoga class a week in the evening when my husband can look after Lola. It is still early days after my recent episode so am still having wobbly moments but I am already feeling a bit better with the right support. I will write further blogs on my coping mechanisms for dealing with Bipolar and how effective I find them.

For too long I have put off writing a blog about me having Bipolar (I have previously shared links etc) for fear of what people may think, not friends, but potential employers and acquaintances. But no more. I have done nothing wrong and I have nothing to be ashamed of. Mental illness is not rare, yet I am still met with ignorant comments such as “What do you have to be sad about?” and “Snap out of it and get on with the cards you have been dealt”. If my mental health status offends you then you can jog on. This is me. Note that I use the verb ‘I have’ Bipolar and not that ‘I am’. This is an important differentiation between me and the illness, it does not define me, it is just something that I have to deal with on a daily basis.

Please support the ‘Time to Change’ campaign to end discrimination against mental health issues http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

Helpful Links

Mental health and pregnancy

What is Bipolar?

Postnatal depression

 

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19 thoughts on “Bipolar with baby on board

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this and I’m really pleased you’ve got lots of support and that you’re enjoying your baby.

  2. I have bipolar and anxiety and I panic so much about what will happen if I ever become pregnant and have children. There doesn’t seem to be much information about what to expect in this time, and my doctor and counsellor don’t talk about it because they assume I won’t be getting pregnant for a long time (I’m nearly 21) so thank you so much for your honest blog, it’s given me insight on what to expect and I’m no longer as scared about the future. I wish you and your family well in the future x

    • You’re welcome Rebekah. If and when you become pregnant ask to be referred to a Perinatal Psychiatrist. It is common practice in the UK anyway but not sure where you live.

  3. Incredibly strong lady. Have shared this post on Anxiety Survivors Facebook page. Keeping fighting the good fight.

  4. Well done and thank you for sharing this. Unfortunately there is still stigma around mental health but hopefully people will gain an understanding by reading your blog. I’m really pleased you’re getting support and able to have some “me time” in your daily routine. The photo of your baby is beautiful.

  5. Have you seen the Baby Whisper’s book (Tracey Hogg) I used her pick up put down technique on my & others children to successfully & gently ‘wean’ them off sleeping on me. It’s a brilliant technique. I don’t have a mental health disorder but I’m completely hopeless without a decent amount of sleep & some me time.

    • Yes I have read The Baby Whisperer and I found it massively helpful. Especially the sleep section and the table with the body language/noises of the baby and what they mean.

  6. Well done for writing this and sharing it with others. It will help many people. Many years ago I had Postpartum Psychosis and was later diagnosed with Bipolar. So pleased you have support and are enjoying time with your beautiful baby x

  7. This is an amazing blog thank you so much for sharing. I have Cyclothymia and have always worried about having a baby. It’s great to know you’re discovering new coping mechanisms and to hear that it IS possible with the right help. I had no idea about the perinatal psychiatrist and am so relieved to hear this. All the best to you, your blog brought a tear to my eye. What a courageous lady x

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this. It made me realise that i do the same in terms of managing my mental health. Exercise and a sleep n eating routine and I can cope… one of those changes and I struggle. I now realise it is not just me… i don’t just have to deal…

  9. I deeply admire your honesty and you’re self-management of your bi-polar. Having a newborn is hard enough without your illness too. Well done for speaking out and seeking help and having chosen such a wonderful partner too :-). Your routine sounds v sensible but don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t always manage to stick to it as children are unpredictable things – it’s just comforting to have a plan isn’t it? Really good luck with it all and I look forward to hearing more about how you’re getting on. Xx

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this. My mum has bipolar and this just reminds me of how amazing she is to have raised 3 awesome daughters. My family is a close one because we go through my mum’s bad times together and get through them together.

    • Thank you for your message. Can I ask, was it difficult growing up with a mum with Bipolar? I really worry about Lola having to deal with it growing up.

  11. Thank you for your post! I find that it is very difficult to find any mention of postpartum psychosis and I was surprised to see that being a top concern for you. I also was pleasantly surprised with how much knowledge and preparation you had going into pregnancy! It is refreshing to see people who have a mental illness taking a proactive approach with major life events. I do not have Bipolar disorder, although this was my diagnosis at the time of my first pregnancy. I had gone so long without a major episode and felt confident during my pregnancy. Long story short, I experienced severe post partum psychosis and was hospitalized twice, taking more than ten months to fully recover.

    The most terrifying thing for me was to decide to have my second child. I live in the US, so perinatal psychiatrists and home treatment are not available, but I did my research, made sure my psychiatrist and OBGYN were a team communicating three months even before we started trying to conceive. My delivery plan was very orchestrated, even though we knew we had to be somewhat flexible as with any birth plan. I started medication within hours of delivery, and am happy to say I had no post partum related mental illness the second time.

    Also, I finally reached my true diagnosis 20 years in, with it being depersonalization/derealization disorder with secondary major depression. As women, even those without mental illness, we all should be aware of post partum mental illness and the risks. Just like gestational diabetes, you don’t have to have the illness beforehand to experience it during or after your pregnancy. And you are totally right. You have done nothing wrong and should not be ashamed of sharing. In fact, I think you and your husband did so much right!!

    • Thank you for your lovely message and I’m sorry that you had such a bad experience after your first pregnancy. However, I am glad to hear that you were able to prepare for your second pregnancy with a positive outcome. I find that planning is vital when having any form of mental illness. One must think of every eventuality and have a plan of how to deal with it. I am also pleased to see that you have finally received your correct diagnosis. Best wishes to you and your family.

  12. Sounds like, despite everything, your doing well and I’m sure you will be a stellar mom! I applaud you, not only for having the courage to take on such a huge responsibility while having the added burden of a mental health condition, but also for not listening to the ignorant advice people has about having children when you have a genetic condition. I have two genetic disorders, one of which being type two bipolar and I have no patience for people, upon hearing about my condition, saying “You must not want kids then.”

    All of the best with your precious little one and if anything, her life will be richer with a mom who has bipolar because she is so much stronger in so many ways. If your disabled, your not weak, your courageous.

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