Coming Clean

I have secrets. Several of them, to be more accurate. Secrets that I am not so much ashamed of, but are reluctant to tell people about. Reluctant because I don’t want to be judged. Reluctant because I don’t want to know people’s views on these sorts of things. Reluctant  because I’m just trying to live my life the best way I know how for myself and my family. Reluctant because I feel like until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, you can’t tell me a got-damn thing. Reluctant because black folks in particular are real iffy about mental illness and medications.

I’m pregnant. 21 weeks, 22 on Thursday. I’ve wanted this baby for a really long time. This baby is probably the most anticipated of my three children, as I always had this idea that three children would make my family complete. This pregnancy has been tough, perhaps tougher for me than the others since my illnesses now have names and recognizable symptoms. I’ve done a lot of work over the past four years since Little A’s birth to keep myself healthy.

But I’m not cured. Bipolar disorder does not go away. It must be managed and treated, consistently, continuously. So even though I am pregnant, I’m still on an antidepressant and an anti-psychotic, at relatively high doses. But being down to two medications is a victory for me, as I started out on five. And one that I finished only after I became pregnant is one known to increase the risk of birth defects. But I’m still stable.

Stability is a shaky thing. I’m not taking anything for the fibromyalgia, which is likely contributing to my aches and pains in this second trimester when I really shouldn’t be feeling this bad until the third trimester. I stopped my sleep aid, even though lack of sleep triggers hypomanic episodes. And the one that causes birth defects also helped with the body aches, and the headaches too. Between weeks 9 and 12 I had a migraine every single day. And stable doesn’t mean “like normal.” I missed the entire last week of classes and barely scraped together enough legal knowledge to get through exams. And now, I haven’t left my house in two days. I don’t feel depressed, just sluggish, but I would be doing better, I am convinced, if I was on my other meds.

I want to get off these last two drugs, but I don’t know if I can. My baby appears to be perfectly healthy, growing wonderfully with a strong heartbeat and none of the defects that the bad drug could have caused. He is likely to be a world-famous gymnast with the all the tumbling he is doing in there – sometimes his movements make me nauseous! But in the third trimester, which begins next month, getting off the drugs would likely be very beneficial for my son. While I was on the antidepressant for  my other two children, we now know that third trimester use my cause issues with breathing and tremors after birth. And with the anti-pscyhotic, tremors and withdrawal symptoms of diarrhea, dizziness, headache, irritability, nausea, trouble sleeping, or vomiting may occur. But if I don’t stay on, I could have an episode that lands me, for the second time, in the psych ward. I would do anything for my kids, but I can’t imagine that being hospitalized would be good for any of us, my two big kids especially.

I also want to breastfeed, an experience I really enjoyed with my other two, even if it was hard going in the beginning. But both of these drugs are found in breastmilk. Studies conflict over whether the amount is enough to cause worry.

Bottom line is: I want to be “clean” so bad. I want to be “normal” so bad. I want my kids to have a great life so bad. But this may be one of those times that getting clean is not such a good thing. It’s one of those times where having a happy mama may be “better” than having a totally organic, medication free baby. It may be one of those times that we have to give up what we want in the short term to make room for infinite blessings down the line.

It may be one of those times, but how will I know?

9 thoughts on “Coming Clean

  1. First of all, let me say that recognizing & addressing these issues is a brave, big step in the right direction in terms of health for you and your family. Not only does writing about this perhaps help you, but others who are hesitant to discuss and deal with their ‘secrets’ and situations. It sounds like you have the right medical support system in place as well as family. My prayers and encouragement go out to you and yours. I know you will make the right decisions. On another note, I read a very good book last week called Mind Race by Patrick E. Jamieson, PH.D. (Annenberg Pub Policy Cntr, Univ of Penn). Not only did he deal with bipolar as an adolescent (cruel time to be diagnosed) but he went on to study it extensively. He says, “Normalcy is overvalued…Normalcy is in the eye of the beholder…Another problem with the word normal is that it comes into one’s lexicon as part of a pair: normal/abnormal..Where others use the word normal as a synonym for healthy, I prefer the word typical…” Excellent book. He definitely says those who suffer from bipolar disorder can live full and productive lives.


  2. Your strength and courage are amazing to me. I can’t even imagine finishing up my degree with 3 children and the challenges you face. You and your family are in my prayers.


  3. I applaud your bravery in posting this. I can feel the inner struggle through your writing. No judgements from me….you can only do the best you can do with the information you have available at the time. Hugs and good luck to you and your little ones.


  4. Bravo to you for “coming clean.” It’s risky and it takes a lot of courage. Your post is a testament to how difficult it is for mothers to balance our needs with those who depend on us. It can be so much more complicated than non-mothers and men can imagine. I hope you receive the sound medical advice and abundance of support you need or want. Peace and blessings to you and your family.


  5. Congrats to you for sharing such an intimate part of your life with all of us. You are beyond brave, and courageous for not just sharing with us, but living it with such class and strength. Happy Holidays and much prayers for you and your family.


  6. Congratulations, I am sitting here sending you and your family lots of love, and nourishing vibes of strength and serenity. I am also remembering almost 2yrs ago carrying my second child under very similar conditions (I had a migraine for almost 3 1/2 mos along with a lot of aches and pains). After a big postpartum swing I am reaching what I call my new equilibrium (I think it’s different with, each child, each new phase in life–I am 40, post dissertation, new job ect) My balance and stride are definitely different and one thing I have had to learn on my journey is to somehow change my definition of and the way I evaluate “normal.” Indeed, I want to applaud you for the courage and honesty with which you offer your story, it’s rare for women of color to speak about motherhood – and almost unheard of to do so in a way that honors the joys, struggles, and lessons that come with it. We need more voices like yours – three is not a crowd – again congratulations and much strength in the weeks to come!


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