My 3 Biggest Fears as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder

Shortly before I found out I was pregnant, I had come to terms with the fact (as indicated by medical professionals) that  I might not ever have children. My uterus is tilted in a difficult position, and I suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. When I first got married, we tried for years to conceive to no result. Having established myself as an artist and content creator in my community, I slowly began to not only accept a childless life, but look forward to it. I considered the traveling I could do, the opportunities I could take, and the freedom I would have by proxy. As all my ancient great Aunts suggested, the moment I stopped thinking about babies, I was granted one. Immediately, all my dreams of a childless life went out the window and I was elated with the prospect of motherhood.

Having to come off my medication for my Bipolar Disorder, my pregnancy was incredibly difficult. Having to stay off my medication for the grand majority of my breastfeeding experience didn’t help. Once my kiddo was a little more independent and I was able to stretch my legs, I hit a particularly difficult and long manic episode as I transitioned back on my medication. I was engaging in harmful behaviors by day, and rocking my little one to sleep by night. I believe, in retrospect, I did as good a job as I could considering the circumstances, but it left a lasting fear that my Bipolar Disorder would rear its ugly head again, and when that happened, it would be when my son was significantly more cognizant with age of what was going on around him. I’ve decided to address these fears head on, but it doesn’t make them any less scary just because I’ve put safe falls in place with loved ones to keep me from derailing again.

I fear that my son will resent me because of the behaviors he has seen me exhibit.
Boy, have I raged. When I am strongly embedded in an emotional swing, my behaviors have gotten erratic and potentially troubling. From hyperactivity to suicidal ideation, I’m never certain who I’m going to wake up to in the morning. Even with tight medication management, the potential for disaster is a constant entity I have to acknowledge to keep myself in check. I have sobbed in the car while my son was in the back seat. I have spent our utilities money on frivolous things. I have lost my temper and raised my voice with my son simply for acting like a kid. Someday, when my son is old enough, I plan on holding open, honest discussions with him regarding my mental  health. I plan on letting him establish his boundaries with me, just like anyone else in my life that I value. I try to remind myself during these dark periods that I am a good mother with a great deal of thoughtfulness in my approach to parenting, and if I do my job correctly, my son will have a wider understanding of what mental illness can look like without resenting me. I believe self awareness and self policing is key.

I fear that my son will think he’s to blame for my struggle with mental illness.
Some days, I just don’t feel like being a mom. I believe that this is a very normal emotion for any woman that valued the lifestyle she had before becoming a mother. I think it’s a difficult (and deeply stigmatized) emotion to express, and this reluctance to be 100% truthful about our experiences as mothers hurts us all in the grand scheme of moving forward. However, I sometimes fear that my disorder exasperates this emotion. When I’m feeling manic, I don’t have the capability to act on my impulses. This is definitely a positive thing, and I am grateful for my son’s indirect reminder to be cautious when I’m feeling “squirrel-y,” but sometimes this just spawns frustration and unhappiness.
I fear that someday, when my son is old enough to recognize my fluctuation in moods, he’s going to blame himself for my periodic depression. I keep an extra close eye on how I present myself and my mood swings around my son, as even though he’s too young to pay me any mind, I don’t want him to ever blame himself when I’m struggling with my disorder. My response to this fear is to manage my emotions better and consistently “sidebar” with my kiddo to remind him that I love him, but sometimes mommy needs some alone time to process.

I fear that my son will suffer from Bipolar Disorder as well.
I’ve written on this topic before, but prior to ever getting pregnant, my first psychiatrist told me that I was better off without children. How Bipolar Disorder occurs in unique with each case. Sometimes it’s born of trauma, and sometimes it’s an unfortunate hand-me-down through hereditary circumstances. For me, it was described as a side effect to trauma that could have stayed dormant, were I not predisposed to it. My maternal Grandfather is bipolar, as well as my maternal Aunt. I waffle back and forth on exactly why I am the way I am, but it never remedies the fear I have that I could hand this disorder down to my son simply by being his mother.

Having worked in the mental health field for the majority of my life, I am aware of what untreated Bipolar Disorder can look like. I’m also aware that often times, the reason it goes untreated is because the individual is reluctant to address what they struggle with. Medication resistance or a flat out denial isn’t uncommon in people with Bipolar Disorder, and I worry that if my son does inherit my disorder, he won’t be as keen on self awareness and recovery as I’ve worked so hard to be.
I believe that my approach in open honestly regarding my mental health will encourage my son to regard mental health with the same mindset. At least, I hope so. I plan on fostering an environment with all my children (biological and step alike) in where they can express all of their emotions as clearly and truthfully as possible. Sometimes, that’s all we can do besides hoping for the best.

Being a parent is incredibly difficult. By far, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It doesn’t get easier, as with each year, a new set of obstacles arises. The way we police neurotypical parents is bad enough. In our society, there isn’t a discussion surrounding parenting with mental illness. Being honest with myself about my fears as a parent with mental illness has, in some ways, made me a good parent. My self awareness continues to promote a loving relationship with my son, while holding me accountable against my own potential actions. If I can impart anything with this article, it’s that I hope you, as a parent with mental illness, know it’s okay to honor and address your fears alongside your ambitions as a parent. Self awareness is always key to our best possible outcome. 

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