Today I’m sharing part 2 of my journey through pregnancy while living with Bipolar Disorder. You can read part 1 here.
I delivered on 11/12/13 at 12:15pm after only 4 hours of labor. It was calm and peaceful without any complications. My sweet boy arrived in perfect health and showed zero signs of withdrawal from my medications in the hours after. My OB and a hospital social worker came to check on me frequently to determine how I was handling everything mentally and emotionally. I was honestly surprised at how well everything was going and how great I felt, it was almost surreal. Instead of being consumed with anxiety, panic, and intrusive thoughts like I was immediately after the birth of my second son, I was able to rest and enjoy having skin to skin time with my snoozing newborn. It really was the complete opposite of how things started off 4 years ago.
Over the past 3 months I’ve been screened for PPD 9 times — a far cry from the lack of screening I had received back in 2010. My insurance company, OB, and the VA maternal health coordinator all checked in with me regularly during my first 8 weeks. Our pediatrician has also screened me at each office visit, taking time to ask how I’m adjusting, as well as encouraging me to adjust my medications as necessary and stick with therapy. Each screening has afforded me the opportunity to take 5-10 minutes and think honestly about how I’m handling adjusting to life with a newborn and the demand of taking care of three children.
The adjustment has been a pretty steep learning curve. I completely broke down and cried after the fourth day out of the hospital. Somewhere during the second and third weeks I remember texting friends and admitting to being overwhelmed, convinced that I couldn’t handle a newborn and two other children. I believe I even declared at one point that I didn’t want a baby and that I had made a mistake. There were split second moments where I fantasized about running away. When he developed croup one week, and severe reflux the next, I dreaded what lay ahead of me at night. 2 and 3 am were my hardest hours.
The lack of sleep has been triggering at times but not as much as his crying, which often ventures into Purple Crying territory. It’s during these crying jags that my anxiety leaves me drenched in sweat and shaking. I had experienced this before with my middle son, but this time around, as triggering as the crying can get, I still feel calm enough to get through it without screaming or feeling rage explode in my chest. A close friend suggested I try ear plugs, and just having the screaming muted helps tremendously when I’ve reached my limit. So does talking out loud or singing. I do lots of that, especially when it’s just the two of us here during the day. What I say doesn’t really matter-sometimes I’m repeating a calming phrase (“It’s okay, this will pass”), singing a favorite song, or if I’m delirious from lack of sleep I just talk gibberish. It serves as a distraction from the intensity of those moments.
Other things that have helped: babywearing, especially at night. During those first weeks having him wrapped to my body while sitting in the rocking chair helped us both sleep when croup or reflux would keep him awake and miserable. Wearing him during the day when my other two sons get home from school often helps me get through our evening routine, meeting their very different sets of needs. On the days he doesn’t want to be worn, but won’t let me put him down, I’ve either had to just hold him and wait it out until my husband gets home, or place him in his crib or swing and let him cry. While I’m not a fan of letting babies “cry it out”, I do find that it helps keep the rage and frustration at bay when I’m overwhelmed and needing to get dinner on the table, address the needs of my older sons, or am “touched out” and need five minutes alone in the bathroom to just do some deep belly breathing.
I’m grateful this time around for friends I can call, text, and meet up with for lunch who understand what it’s like to be a parent with a mental illness, because they are ones themselves. Having them to confide in and laugh with make the hard days bearable and keep me from feeling isolated. I’m grateful for my husband who watches me closely, loves on me, and does what he can to provide me with some relief with the baby, even if it’s just for 5 minutes so I can breathe. I’m grateful for my doctors, and for a treatment plan that allows me to navigate this time without losing myself to depression, or worse, psychosis.
Now at 12 weeks postpartum, I’m grateful to be living proof that despite having suffered from PPD in the past, spending time on a psych ward a year and a half ago, and living with bipolar disorder daily, you can: safely manage your pregnancy with the right combo of medications (under the guidance of your OB, psych, & pediatrician), have a successful pregnancy, breastfeed a perfectly healthy baby while on your medications, and still be a loving, dedicated, and healthy mama to your children. Some days are good, some are tough, and others are bad, but I’m proof this is doable, and that an illness like bipolar doesn’t have to define or limit you as a person, woman, or mother. Not in the slightest.
I didn’t always believe that, but thanks to this little one I do now. He’s my hope that all things can be made new and that there is joy to be had in this.
Hope. There is always hope, especially here and within the Warrior Mom community. So walk in it and on the days you can’t walk, let us carry you until you can. You’re never alone.