Updated: Oct 31, 2022
My name is Alison, I’m 35 and I was diagnosed with Bipolar II, four years ago. Luckily, I’ve had a really great network of support people around me, balancing good nutrition, exercise and lithium medication has meant I’ve remained healthy and well for a long time.
When I fell pregnant, I was aware of some of the risks around continuing my medication and possible birth defects. However, on the advice of my GP and psychiatrist decided to remain on lithium, as the concerns around me relapsing, developing prenatal depression or being more susceptible to postpartum psychosis could potentially be even riskier for us. It’s never an easy decision to make, and not one that I took lightly. But, all I knew was that I needed to be mentally well and strong for my baby.
However, I wasn’t fully prepared for the lack of birthing options, complexities of balancing lithium with pregnancy/birthing and a lack of understanding within the medical system.
My first choice was a natural birth, at a Family Birthing Centre - but my local Centre wouldn't take me due to bipolar being on the “exclusion” list and the risk of psychosis being higher for me than the average woman. I then opted for a local community midwifery program, which supports home births. I was accepted in the application stage (disclosing my diagnosis and medication). However, several weeks later I was told I was no longer eligible and the obstetrician wouldn’t recommend I have a home birth, I would be safer in hospital. This was quite a blow, as I had my heart set on a birth outside of a hospital, and I felt I would have less anxiety in a familiar setting.
Luckily, I had researched there was a specialist mental health and maternity clinic at a nearby hospital, and I requested to be referred there instead. At no point during my pregnancy had I been told about this specialist clinic.
It then took many weeks for the referral to be lodged, causing me a long wait and a lot of anxiety, chasing, and lots of phone calls to finally be seen.
For the first time in four years, I felt my mental health start to slip. I become restless, anxious and depressed, spending hours trying to research bipolar and pregnancy. I had no idea that having bipolar and taking lithium was such a complex, delicate situation. Nobody seemed to know what to do with me!
Bipolar Australia was incredibly empathetic during this time when I reached out, and sent me some fantastic research about interactions between lithium and pregnancy. Something I struggled to find anywhere else.
I now believe I’m (finally) in the right place for my mental health and pregnancy needs, and I’ve also come to accept that a hospital is right for me, to keep us safe. However, I would absolutely advocate for a better triage system for pregnant women with mental health issues, so they get the correct advice and birthing options for the very start. I had a lot of unnecessary stress from being passed around, not privy to conversations happening around my medication, and having to be on the ball to find my own mental health clinic. This is not ideal for someone with complex mental health issues.
I’m optimistic for the future and for the birth of my baby-boy. I’d love to have more children in the future, and feel so much better prepared now for when this happens.
I strongly believe that people with bipolar can be the most amazing parents with all our empathetic and loving qualities. I would always recommend anyone in a similar situation to advocate for your needs, ask questions, do your research and lean into your support network (family, friends, medical team etc).