Trying to conceive with mental illness

I’m now in a new phase of my life. Last August, I came off of my bipolar disorder medication and have tried to regulate my mood through natural remedies such as taking 1000 mg of fish oil and multivitamins and by exercising regularly.

I’m also trying to get pregnant.

I haven’t wanted to discuss this particular phase of my life as I think it’s a very personal and private time. However, the emotional and mental toll that TTC (trying to conceive) brings upon someone who struggles with mental illness, I think, is worth discussion.

I wrongly assumed that when I decided that I wanted to have a child, I’d automatically be able to get pregnant. (Bristol Palin had no problem, right?) Several cycles later, I find myself still childless and even more desperately yearning for a child than the month before.

The mental anguish of TTC month after month is tough for any normal woman. During this phase of life, women may experience the following feelings:

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Social isolation
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Marital problems

In a woman who suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness, those feelings can become so intensely extreme that they can be debilitating.

I can’t even begin to explain the psychology behind the agony a women endures when she desperately hopes for a child, only to be disappointed by a negative pregnancy test or the monthly visitation from a visitor commonly known as Aunt Flo. Month after month and year after year, the pendulum of emotions range from anger to despair. How is it possible to want and love someone so much whom you’ve never met?

For me, I’ve found that I am relatively sane and able to go on with life for about a week after trying. When I am a day or two away from my expected period, I am thrown into such emotional turmoil that I am nearly inconsolable. Part of it has to do with the sadness that accompanies my body preparing itself for the beginning of a new cycle; the other part of it is the emotional roller coaster that comes along with PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Throw in a dash of bipolar disorder and there’s no limit to how despondent I can be. I can only imagine the same would be true for women who suffer from other mental illnesses.

During those times, I’ve tried turning my eyes toward God and attempting to put my faith in His wisdom for my life, but I feel so isolated and so alone that I wonder if even God could comfort me. The pain of hoping for a child each month then discovering that it is not to be brings a sense of abandonment (for some reason). Negative thoughts creep into your mind at a furtive pace:

  • I’m not meant to be a mother because I’m already suffering from a mental illness and God is doing any kids I’d have a favor by not bringing them into this world through me.
  • I’d be a terrible mother anyway.
  • What is wrong with my body? Why can’t I conceive?
  • There’s no point in me living if I can’t have a child. I want a child of my own so desperately that I just don’t want to live anymore if I can’t have one.

Each month, a woman trying to conceive goes through the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial (The pregnancy test must be wrong; I’m pregnant for sure. Maybe my hormones haven’t been detected yet.)
  2. Anger (Why is this happening to me? What’s wrong with me?)
  3. Bargaining (I’ll do anything be pregnant. Please, just give me a baby.)
  4. Depression (I’ll never get pregnant. What’s the point? I’ll be a terrible mother anyway.)
  5. Acceptance (I’m not pregnant. [Some women can also say: But at least we can try again in the next cycle.])

I usually go through all that in the course of, oh, about 2 days.

I haven’t been trying for an extremely long period of time so I’m not classified as infertile but the internal and external pressure of trying to conceive can be stressful nonetheless:

  • Family members ask when a little one will arrive in your family
  • Friends and family members will have conceived (and even given birth) to a child within the time you’ve been attempting to conceive
  • Well-meaning people offer advice to simply “relax” and go on vacation to get pregnant
  • Pregnant women you know will complain about all the awful symptoms of pregnancy
  • Mothers you know will complain about all the downsides of parenting and rarely offer the upsides

I haven’t fully figured out how to deal with the uncomfortable situations I find myself in with others or the drained energy that comes from learning of a barren womb. This site provides coping techniques for normal women dealing with infertility, but I want to go a step farther in specifically addressing women TTC who suffer with some kind of mental issue:

  • Talk to a trusted doctor or counselor. Determine this is the path that you want to be on and discuss how to develop strategies in the face of another disappointing month.
  • Determine whether you need to take medication (if you’re not already on it). I tapered off of my mood stabilizer in the hopes of being able to have a natural birth and breastfeed. I’m altering those dreams. It’s not the end of the world if I have to have a baby in the hospital and a child won’t die if I feed it formula. (Although I’ll probably catch flak in the Christian community because what self-respecting mother doesn’t breastfeed?! [sarcasm])
  • Determine whether you need an adjustment in medication if you are taking something. Is the medication you are on relatively safe for pregnancy? Will you need to switch? Is the medication you’re currently on affecting your ability to adequately deal with the emotional pendulum that accompanies TTC?
  • Consider using natural mood-boosting remedies to bolster your mood. I know it’s cliche to mention this, but for some women suffering from mental illness, natural remedies actually do help. (For some women, natural remedies have little to no effect.) Here are a few to try:
    • Take at least 1000 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids daily. BEWARE: 1200 mg of fish oil does not equal 1200 mg of Omega-3s! I take 900 mg capsules of fish oil that only contain 450 mg of Omega-3s each. I need to take at least 3 capsules to get more than 1000 mg of Omega-3s. You can also get the weekly required amount of Omega-3s by eating fish twice a week. (Science Daily)
    • Take daily multivitamins with at least 400 mcg of folic acid. Folic acid helps lower the risk of birth defects in a baby. For me, I need the iron supplement to help me fight fatigue as I don’t eat many foods rich in iron.
    • Exercise regularly. I’ve been exercising about 3-4 times a week for about 30 minutes. Exercising temporarily boosts my mood although that’s only been a recent occurrence (within the past year).
    • Try to steer clear of mood-altering substances. The depression that accompanies not having a child can drive a woman to smoke, drink too much alcohol, or engage in the use of illegal drugs. (I’m guilty of having a bit too much wine.) Although we all know to avoid this stuff when TTC, it’s sometimes hard to resist. But try.

I hope this post can be of some help to women who are trying to conceive but also suffer from mental illness. We may be a small minority but we’re not alone. Feel to offer feedback on this post by leaving a comment.

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Don't give up. Don't ever give up.

Stephany’s post over at soulful sepulcher reminded me of this 1993 ESPY Speech by Jim Valvano in which he reminds his audience: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” My husband made me watch it a few weeks ago and it’s pretty inspiring. Skip to 1 minute in to get past the clapping. The rest of it is close to 10 minutes but it’s worth every minute.

Insight of the Day

Fear of failure. If you wait until the last minute to perform a task, you can always claim that it could have been done better if there was more time. By procrastinating, you’re providing a built-in excuse for yourself just in case the project is unsuccessful.

Fear of success. Perhaps you’re afraid that if you accomplish the task successfully, you’ll be given additional responsibility–and this notion scares you. You’re not sure you want any extra work and feel wary of potential new challenges. By procrastinating, you’re passively sabotaging this possibility.

Perfectionism.
Perhaps you put too much pressure on yourself to complete the task perfectly. Since it’s impossible to live up to the standards you’ve created, you lose your motivation to get started.

Tips to Beat Procrastination, Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Physical methods to beat stress

I received outpatient treatment for my "depression" in late September and late October/early November. I've gotten a ton of "ways to beat stress" things thrown my way and in digging through my e-mail (yes, I finally got to an e-mail from November – shocker!), I found the following. They're all pretty practical, but I laugh my butt off at the last one. (Apologies to those who still sleep with a stuffed animal.)

Physical methods to beat stress
There are over 101 ways to beat stress. These are just a few

1)      Ten breaths to peace sitting or standing slow deep breaths
2)      Giant yawn
3)      Aerobics
4)      Shoveling snow, mowing the lawn
5)      Walking
6)      Exercise
7)      People watching
8)      Dancing
9)      Cuddling with small children, or spouse
10)  Sewing or knitting, crocheting, embroidering, or any craft
11)  Go to a park
12)  Hot bath (bubble bath)
13)  Small planet on a dark night finds a place to look at the stars
14)  Counting from 99 to 1
15)  Speaking of, singing it  is therapeutic
16)  Journaling
17)   Cup of herbal  tea
18)  Steam bath
19)  Making things
20)  Gardening
21)  On tour of an old public library in your town
22)  Telephone  call a friend or relative
23)  Movie party  call several friends let  another friend organize the rides and popcorn
24)  Writing write your life history in the third person
25)  Write a letter to an old friend
26)  Bird watching   in the woods, park, or near water and watch birds
27)  Beat stress with animals  groom your dog or cat
28)  Wheels get on your bike and go or a ride
29)  Pucker up get yourself some bubble mix and blow some bubbles
30)  The way to their heart  bake some cookies for someone shut in, sick or grieving
31)  Visit a homeless shelter take them old magazines or books
32)  .Just one more, please  go out with a camera and take pictures of places or scenery
33)  Swing go to a park get on the swings
34)  Play  games with  children
35)  Clean someone else’s house
36)  Golf
37)  Tie-dye shirts do them for your whole family
38)  Go for a long drive in the country
39)  Read to a child, spouse, or elderly person
40)   Hug a stuff animal

Enjoy all that fun stuff.