Jeanette has bipolar disorder and has been on lithium since she was 18. Her pregnancy was unplanned and she was extremely anxious because she was told it was very dangerous to get pregnant whilst taking lithium.
“I found out I was pregnant when I was 11 weeks gone. I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant because I was on lithium for bipolar disorder. I was really scared and worried so I phoned the psychiatrist right away, he said lithium was most dangerous in weeks 1-4 so not to stop taking it. I didn’t really think the baby was going to be OK. People were giving me all these statistics but in my head I didn’t really believe it.
At first I was really scared about losing the baby, but as it went further along it was more about there being something wrong.
I had to have an extra scan at 22 weeks to look at the chambers of the heart, because lithium can affect the heart, so I was really scared about that. I just didn’t think I was going to give birth to a healthy baby who would survive.”
Jeanette also had to cope with splitting up from her boyfriend because he did not want the pregnancy. She felt low and really anxious throughout her pregnancy, but received excellent support from her family and friends and from a perinatal psychiatrist, a perinatal community psychiatric nurse and a specialist midwife.
Although she blamed herself for getting pregnant while on lithium, she never felt judged by professionals.
“I thought people might be not supportive of me because I’d made a stupid mistake getting pregnant on lithium, but I never felt like that, I felt that everyone was really supportive.
"Try to stay positive and accept the help you are offered. No one will ever make you feel bad for asking to be checked if you’re worried about something. If you struggle alone and don’t let people know then they can’t help you, but if you let people know you do need extra support then in my experience people are more than happy to give it to you.”
By the time she got to 40 weeks Jeanette was so anxious about whether the baby was OK that the consultant offered to induce her.
Her baby was born perfectly healthy. Unfortunately her perinatal psychiatrist, midwife and CPN were all on leave and when she was not given the correct medication, she became very unwell.
“I got really ill because the labour was quite long and I didn’t sleep and I didn’t sleep once I’d had the baby so I got a bit paranoid."
"I was given drugs but they weren’t strong enough because they weren’t given to me by my proper doctor. The doctor said ‘There’s no record of you taking lithium’ and I thought I was going mad because I know I’ve taken it but this woman with a pen and a white coat says I don’t. I ended up in the Mother and Baby psychiatric hospital for a few days. With the bipolar when I get low I get quite incapable and I was really worrying I wouldn’t be able to make a bottle up, I wouldn’t be able to give him a bath, change his nappy. It was really scaring me how I was going to cope.”
Once home and back on lithium Jeanette got better quickly.
“Everything turned out ok despite my worrying about the baby's health and I am now a single mum to a gorgeous 18 month old and very happy indeed.”
“Adjusting to life with a new baby can be difficult and overwhelming. We may set ourselves unachievable goals as a result of the unrealistic way society represents motherhood. This can leave us finding it hard to cope and feeling like we’ve failed.”
Catherine shares her experience of postpartum depression and being part of the BBC documentary ‘Mothers on the Edge’.
I had postnatal depression after my first baby was born, but I chose to deal with it myself and didn’t ask for help. I was stubborn and assumed I’d be OK.
I have always been a worrier. But after I had a miscarriage and my Dad, Nan and Grandad passed away, I started having panic attacks and was diagnosed with anxiety.
Organisations, blogs and communities that provide support with issues around wellbeing and mental health in pregnancy and afterwards
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Midwives and others in your care team are there to support you with your emotional health as well as physical health
If you have bipolar disorder in pregnancy, it’s very important to tell your your doctor and midwife so you can get the treatment and support you need.