Do you know someone who suffers from a severe mental illness and desires to have a family? How do you feel about this? Is this you? Or someone you know? This dilemma has created a storm of controversy over the years and has even included a debate on whether or not women, who suffer from severe or untreated mental illnesses, should be on birth control. Many believe women should be free to make their own decisions, while others caution that both the child and mother are at risk.
Despite this debate, there are special steps all mothers with severe or persistent mental illness should take before having a baby. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “pregnant women or new mothers with bipolar disorder have a sevenfold higher risk of hospital admission and a twofold higher risk for a recurrent episode.” Having a baby requires a lot of emotional stamina, stability, and preparation. The body goes through a series of changes, the mind, and even your life. This is a big change! You are now becoming a mother, but a mother in more ways than one. You are not just a mother by title, but also emotionally and physically. Raising children takes a physical toll as well, not to mention the physical toll it takes to carry the child. Children are beautifully created little people. But the reality is that they require a lot of maintenance, attention, parental love and affection, and work. All of this affects the emotional makeup of a woman and changes her forever.
What are the risks?
Some women who suffer from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia must either stop their medication completely or alter their medication. This can pose a variety of health hazards during and after birth. According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry there are substantial risks that can result from mothers discontinuing their medications during pregnancy such as symptom recurrence. Potential mothers must consider whether they will be healthy enough to care for their baby once he or she arrives or if there is anyone who can help them care for the baby.
Potential mothers must also be aware of the fact that re-admission to hospitals or a recurrence of severe symptoms could result, creating much time away from their baby and possible lost time for bonding. The Center for Neuroscience in Women’s Health found that about 20% of mothers experience mood and anxiety disorders around the gestation period (i.e., time in which the fetus develops) and postpartum periods.
Questions & Considerations
There are a few questions that all women suffering from severe or untreated mental illness should consider or be asked:
- “Are you stabilized enough to have a child?”
- “Once the baby arrives, will I be healthy enough to bond with the baby?”
- “How long will that stability last and what is the history of stabilization?”
- “Will medications taken affect the developing baby?”
- “Can you cope with the possibility of postpartum depression?”
- “Do you know or understand the genetic heritability of the condition?”
- “Are you prepared for dealing with the possibility of your child inheriting the disorder?”
- “Do you have a support system?”
- “What will happen to the child if you were hospitalized for extended periods of time?”
- “Will you complete Power of Attorney paperwork so that the placement of your child, in the event of an emergency, will be known?”
The list of questions are exhaustive! But it is important that, while we don’t want to prejudice women, we consider the pros and cons of having a child and whether having a family would ultimately be in the best interest of the unborn baby. We should all be aware of the pros and cons and ask ourselves some tough, yet commonly ignored questions.
What do you think of this issue?
Do you think age or history of symptoms matter?
What if a teenage girl with severe or persistent mental illness wanted a baby?
What if a woman, who has had multiple hospitalizations, wanted a baby?
For the pros and cons, visit my site: anchoredinknowledge.com
I wish you well
NAMI. (2013). Managing pregnancy and bipolar disorder. Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Research/Managing_Pregnancy_and_Bipolar_Disorder.htm.
Stanford School of Medicine. (2013). Pregnancy and Mental Health. Center for Neuroscience in Women’s Health. Retrieved from http://womensneuroscience.stanford.edu/wellness_clinic/Pregnancy.html.