I remember going down a street in Denver, Colorado, immediately after I was tentatively diagnosed with bipolar disorder. There were two things that went into my head as my friend’s mom drove us to Red Lobster: one- was any man going to love me, and two- was I going to have children? Now, almost four years after the day I was diagnosed I know I will be a successful parent even with bipolar disorder.
My twin sister and myself were put up for adoption because our mother, Maile, could not take care of us because of her personal struggle with bipolar disorder. Papers say that she had close to nine children and an abusive husband. I remember immediately recalling the same information during the first few hours of learning of my diagnosis, immediately believing that because my birth mother had bipolar disorder, that I would follow a similar path like her.
The truth we have to realize is that another experience with bipolar does not have mean we will have the same experience with bipolar disorder. This goes for anyone with any disability or mental illness because we all have the right to define the terms of how we live life.
For me, parenting is a right I have being a woman. I was made to have children, and I know I will have an extra struggle with bipolar disorder, but I am confident that I will be a wonderful and loving mother. Mental illness will affect parenting because in the reality of things it will be stressful, and it will exacerbate bipolar episodes. I am not a parent yet, but I do think about what I may need to think about when I become a mother. One thing I have learned over the three years that I have been diagnosed, is that I need free time. Free time from my schedule and even my primary support system. Communication is also crucial. I realized that when I am married I need to make a contract with my husband and any other family members of what I would do to become stable again if I go off medication, but also make a contract with them to take my medication because of factors that I understand might affect him, our children and others that care about me.
A huge factor that we have to think about is that parenting is unpredictable. Every day will be different, and children will get hurt, there will be situations that you will not be able to control, and you will be forced to experience environments that you may not be comfortable with. For my birth Mom, going almost completely untreated meant she was forced into environments that she had minimal control over. She got into the wrong crowd, was in an abusive relationship with my birth Dad, and got pregnant more than she would have wanted due to forced sex and no option of abortion.
I have learned from personal experience and from what I have heard about my birth mom to start thinking about how bipolar disorder may affect my parenting when I have children. I know it is possible, because I know other mothers who have mental illnesses and live with bipolar successfully raising not just one child but multiple children. Like anyone, we need to take care of ourselves,and see the importance of the influence that we will have on others especially our children if we do not take our medication or responsibly deal with something like an episode. A mental illness should not rule your life. As a mother I know my mental illness can only improve my parenting because it will allow me to relate at a personal level to my children’s emotions, their struggles, and may make it easier for me to go through the ups and downs of a parent’s life because I know from a personal experience how it is to not have control over unbearable situations and to survive through the storm.
Susanna Page is a student in San Francisco, CA. She loves to write and is a blogger for Young Minds Advocacy Project and the International Bipolar Foundation. She is a field mental advocate for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. She loves to write about mental health and young adults. She is in the beginning stages of connecting with University newspapers in colleges in San Francisco persuading each University to include a column in every issue that has some form of mental health information or personal story of someone that is living with a mental illness. On her free time she likes to adventure around San Francisco, write, and cuddle with her dog Hamish.