After accepting my husband’s proposal of marriage, I felt it was my responsibility to provide all facts possible about my diagnoses before we wed — how being bipolar has and does affect me and whether or not children could be a part of our family. Christopher was more than a trooper – he went to myriad doctors appointments with me as I asked my practitioners to put it all on the table for him. He had to know, especially since he’d never seen me manic.
Throughout this process, I was most fearful of birth defects to a possible baby and personal psychosis that could develop without my usual medication regime – one that could harm or even kill our child and myself. Remember this is the lady who thought the devil had impregnated her via a belly button ring. Symptomatic and pregnant was a horrifying nightmare – and a possibility.
My psychiatrist recommended we nurture a viable childbirth plan by visiting the excellent practitioners at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Women’s Mental Health.
Before getting too in-depth with the process, however, we met with a number of adoption agencies to explore the possibilities. In a private meeting with one counselor I was told I could not adopt internationally due to my mental health diagnoses.
Undeservedly embarrassed, ashamed and yes – angry, I agreed to further explore the possibilities of carrying our child. And I’m so glad we did.
But I continued to be unsure and scared.
During our engagement and through the first year of marriage, we visited MGH in Boston – about an hour ride from our home near the Rhode Island border – at least monthly to assess my overall health and mental well being. I completed many surveys, answered countless questions and offered reactions to a few medication tweaks here and there. Ultimately, for me, they weened me off a number of psychotropic drugs that were deemed ultimately unnecessary to maintaining my mental well being while pregnant. It was deemed feasible to carry a child while only on the magical “Lithium/Lamictal” combination. We were then given the green light to conceive, which unexpectedly happened far more quickly than we projected.
The story I haven’t told is how ultimately – in a deep down kind of way – how extraordinarily nerve wracking it was to take the leap into marriage – to a man who wanted a family but knew my anxiety about a family with children. “You don’t give yourself enough credit – -and we’ll just travel the world and write a book if it doesn’t work”, he’d say. In my gorgeous wedding gown, facing the man I loved, I vowed to raise a family with children. I’ll always remember in that nano-second praying to God to forgive me should we be unable to safely have a family.
But Chris was right: I hadn’t given myself enough credit — and where there’s a will there’s a way.
Immediately after the stick said we were expecting, I made an emergency appointment with my local psychiatrist. On behalf of directions given by MGH, he helped assure me that I was on a copiable medication regime and that there shouldn’t be any notable problems. The Lamictal offered the possibilities of a clef lip, but we decided this potential side effect was not worth halting our goal to have our own child.
Throughout pregnancy and through the first six months of my postpartum life, I continued with the study at MGH. Some of those original psychotropic drugs were re-instated into my daily regime. And statistics such as more survey questions, blood tests, blood pressure and weight were all tracked carefully. Albeit somewhat of a chore, I felt safe – which is why it was so much easier to accept parenthood as a competent, compliant person who could successfully raise a child.
Of course Chris plays a more than equal part in our endeavors to not just birth a child but raise one as well. I often feel guilty, but if I’m tired or need a “time out”, he’s always there to prepare dinner, assure the dishes and laundry are done and chauffeur our son, now five and thriving — from place to place. Again, I’m ridiculously lucky and I know it. Humility becomes difficult when you’ve been through this brand of life-altering change. I think for many parents it’s hard to imagine life before children, but for me, I was especially proud of managing the process logically and intently listening and acting upon my medical team’s recommendations.
Daniel brings us a level of love – daily – that we never dreamt possible. Support and sound medical advise both made and continues to make our little family possible.