There is a question that runs through my head from time to time…
Would I have rushed into having children if I had known I had type 2 bipolar? Let’s face it, I could have passed this hideousness on to my girls…
I always knew I wanted children but I knew that my background put me at high risk for postpartum mental health problems. I remember highlighting this to my midwife at my first booking appointment whilst also being terrified she would black mark my notes and contact social services.
“Do you have any worries?” she asked.
“Well, yes…. I worry a bit about how I’ll manage emotionally because I am pretty high risk for postnatal depression”.
“OK, why do you say that?”
“I was an in-patient in a psychiatric hospital for three months as a teenager with anorexia and had a tough time at university too.”
“Alright, so we will keep an eye on things.”
What she actually meant was “Well you look a healthy weight and you are smiling so you must be fine.”
That was it. That was the grand total of my antenatal emotional wellbeing assessment. And unfortunately it was no better the second time.
The days after my second daughter was born I was running on adrenaline and excitement. Her birth had been so much easier than I had expected (the first one was bloody awful!) and I felt lured into a sense of “everything is going to be OK.”
Except it wasn’t OK. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, I slowly fell deeper into the darkness of postnatal depression. I existed solely for my children. I sat breast feeding at night, tears tumbling down my cheeks. My life had gone. I was going through the motions. Doing what I had to do to keep everyone alive and happy. Inside I was dying.
Yet somehow people didn’t know. I had developed such a slick and seamless act that people couldn’t know. Over time my show started to fall to pieces. My skin was terrible. My eyes became glazed and exhausted. My brow was lined with deep wrinkles of worry. I cried in public.
My health visitor advised me to see the GP. I was started on medication and referred for talking therapy. But I continued to deteriorate whilst I waited. I had no choice but to find a private therapist. Two years on, I am still in therapy. At Christmas I was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar and started on new medication. The private sector saved me. I was fortunate enough that I could pay. Not everyone can.
As an NHS worker, I feel guilty, saddened and disappointed that our system is failing so many. When you have lost all value in life, when everything is bleak and death seems the only way out, waiting for six months to get help only adds to the feelings of worthlessness. Every day that you don’t get that help, the enemy is winning the battle.
Could my illness have been prevented… probably not. Could I have been better equipped and more prepared for the challenges that being a parent brings? Almost certainly yes. Antenatal care is the place to start. Emotional support for all parents. Identifying triggers and teaching families about self care. Everyone needs this stuff. People like me need it that little bit more.
So going back to my girls, yes, they are at higher risk of developing mental health problems. Yes, there’s a chance they might have bipolar. Do I worry about them, yes. Do I regret having children? Not in a million years.
My girls are growing up knowing that their Mummy takes medicines to help her feelings. They know it’s OK to talk about emotions. They have parents who are armed with strategies to help them deal with difficulties, and as my husband put it the other night:
“What parent would be able to deal with their child’s mental health difficulties better than you? You understand it and are learning how to manage it.” Maybe he’s right.
I am bringing my children up to know that there is no shame in having a mental illness.
#PND #MentalHealthAwareness #Bipolar #motherhood #newmum