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Mental Illness and Pregnancy

Should a mental illness make one think twice about becoming pregnant? Not because people with mental illness shouldn't have children, but because of the toll that pregnancy can have on your body and mind.

This topic is a hypothetical one for me, but one that I've been thinking of a lot lately because many of my closest friends have started having children.


Personally, I'm on the fence about having kids and have never been attached to the notion of having my own biological children. I always figured that if I hit 40 and wanted kids all of a sudden, I would foster or adopt older children. I'm not saying that people who have fertility issues should "just adopt!" because choosing to adopt, especially older children, I believe has to be a decision and not a fall back plan. I myself was abandoned by one of my parents so I always told myself that if I didn't have kids of my own or did but had the means, I would try to make a home for children who needed one.

However, over the last few years, it's become increasingly clear that I suffer from severe depression and might possibly be bipolar (bipolar II). These are not depressive episodes that will pass - although we aren't sure of my exact diagnose, one thing all the doctors agree on is that I have a mood disorder and will have to manage it the rest of my life. My psychiatrist and I are still playing the "find the best mix of meds" dance after 2 years and might still be for some time.

Which all begs the question for me personally: if I fell in love with a man who really wanted biological children is pregnancy something that I should risk? Going off my medication would be a bad idea and the physical toll and the hormonal changes that pregnancy entails would be, in my opinion, incredibly dangerous to me and potentially life threatening due to past suicide attempts. Add to that the risk of postpartum depression and it seems that pregnancy could be one big clusterfuck of a bad idea. Essentially, my mental illness is akin to a physical illness that would make pregnancy possible but possibly dangerous (I can't think of one right now. The only thing that comes to mind is Julia Roberts' character in Steel Magnolias...but that's dated because women with diabetes can now have perfectly healthy pregnancies with proper medical attention).

For me, the potential risks do not outweigh the benefits since I've never been attached to having my own kids. But because of the stigma that's attached to depression, I wonder how this would be taken by a potential life mate. Clearly, it would have to be a topic of discussion. Would he take it as seriously as a physical illness that could cause me harm if I were pregnant? Would it be a deal breaker? If he's really attached to having his own children, would he be open to other options (such as surrogacy)?


I wonder how women who wanted biological children who have a chronic mental illness have dealt with this issue. Were their doctors understanding? Were their partners well aware of their disease and extra careful about looking out for potential danger signals? With the continued stigma, how difficult is it to navigate medical professionals?

All in all, I hope that more research and better treatments can be found that are safe for pregnant women so that this will stop being an issue, in the same vein that being diabetic is much less dangerous now in terms of pregnancy than it was 20 years ago.


(Note: I'm not interested in this becoming a discussion about how mentally ill women should not have children - I know plenty of non mentally ill people who probably should never have had children. And I know women who suffer from mental illness who are wonderful parents.)

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