Lucy’s road to becoming a mum and managing bipolar disorder
Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder
I have suffered with feelings of anxiety and depression since about the age of 14. There have been times when I have felt better, but also some more serious episodes of depression. Approaching my 30th birthday in February 2020, I started to experience symptoms of hypomania. I had a huge amount of energy, there were hundreds of thoughts racing through my mind, I was being incredibly productive and I felt upbeat and charismatic. It was only after a couple of days that I noticed I hadn’t been sleeping, I was constantly pacing around my house, tapping on every item within reach, and I couldn’t stop talking.
I later realised that this hypomanic episode was triggered by coming off my mental health medication very quickly when I decided I wanted to try for a baby. I had been seeing a psychiatrist for a number of years and they always prescribed me medications that are considered safer for pregnancy, as I was of childbearing age. Unfortunately, I was given some incorrect advice by my GP which made me feel like quickly coming off my medication completely was a safe and necessary thing to do before trying to conceive. My mental health plummeted quickly, but thankfully my psychiatrist was able to explain to me what was going on and refer me to psychologist to get the treatment I needed.
I became so distressed by my mental state that I began having suicidal thoughts, and that was when I told my psychologist I did not feel able to look after myself. I was admitted to psychiatric hospital as a voluntary in-patient that evening and was soon diagnosed with Bipolar type II. My treatment plan was transformed, I changed medication and the psychiatrist was able to have a conversation with me about trying for a baby safely. I was more informed about the risks of medications, the research behind them and other potential risks to my mental health.
I think there is still a stigma around mental health medication, especially during pregnancy. The way I think of it now is, you would never stop taking medication for a physical condition without some alternative method of managing it, so why would this be the case for a mental health condition?
Finding out I was pregnant
By the time I left hospital in March, lockdown had come into force and the world that I left was completely different to the one I was coming back to. That was an additional hurdle to deal with after my diagnosis.
Although I had been diagnosed with bipolar and was receiving treatment, I was still manic when leaving hospital and I decided that I would use the energy it gave me to support people in the community. For me, it is very important to connect with people. I’m a very social person and if I start to get depressed, that’s when I withdraw from people and that doesn’t help me at all. I started putting notes through people’s doors offering help and encouraging others to be part of a community WhatsApp group where we could go for practical and social support. That group really got me through lockdown and that difficult time after leaving hospital.
We had stopped trying for a baby because I was so ill at the time. I left hospital in mid-March and I fell pregnant on the first day of lockdown on the 24th. I was on some new medications having just had been diagnosed with bipolar and I was also signed off work, so the timing was tricky. As part of my new treatment, I had to try out some different medications and unfortunately, after experiencing that high of hypomania, I had a very serious low, which coincided with the first trimester.
That depressive episode is the lowest I’ve ever been, coupled with terrible morning sickness and coming to terms with the fact I was pregnant and signed off work – it was a lot to deal with. The main thing that has got me through pregnancy and the fourth trimester is that I connected with other mums. I joined an app very early in my pregnancy that allowed me to connect with other mums in the local area. It was amazing to have that non-judgemental space to connect and feel like you aren’t alone in what you’re going through.
Managing bipolar during pregnancy
Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve been supported by a perinatal mental health team through the NHS and they’ve been amazing. I’ve also been supported by a specialist team of midwives who look after vulnerable women, called the ACACIA team. There was an enhanced level of care and support throughout the whole pregnancy, the birth and postpartum.
Having bipolar, I knew I was at a higher risk of developing postnatal depression or postnatal psychosis. They did a whole risk assessment and planned how to support me after the baby was born. We planned for all eventualities, including a discussion around mother and baby units if I needed to go into hospital again. I went into the whole thing very informed and knowing where the support was going to be and having crisis plans.
Pregnancy and having a newborn is an anxiety inducing time for anyone, regardless of whether you have a mental health condition or not. Being ill with mental health whilst also going through pregnancy can make you feel so lonely. Reaching out to others has been the most significant thing in making me feel better, otherwise you can end up in a really dark place.
Bipolar is a chronic condition I will be managing for the rest of my life. It’s part of me, but it doesn’t define me. With the right support I’ve been able to rebuild my life and I am now happier than I had ever thought possible.
More support with planning a pregnancy
We have lots of information to support you if you are planning a pregnancy and have (or have had) a serious mental health condition.