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Getting pregnant with Bipolar disorder

I’m playing catch up with my blog a bit! I wanted to start as soon as I fell pregnant but horrendous hyperemesis prevented me from doing that. So the next few posts are all a run up to current day.

I wanted to write a post about ‘is it possible to get pregnant’. More technical stuff will come, but for now I’ll share my personal journey. I struggled with unexplained infertility and for a long time was convinced it was my bipolar. The literature touched on the link between mood disorders and infertility but almost overwhelmingly looked at what happened once conception had taken place. How much does our illness impact on the whole baby making thing?

When we first started trying to conceive, I had no idea I was struggling with a mental illness. I had been on the Pill since I was fifteen, and came off the pill just before my first marriage in 2010 as I thought it was the natural progression of my then relationship (thank the Lord for no pregnancies with my first husband!).

I then met now DH and after a few mishaps with the morning after pill decided to have a copper coil fitted. It was horrible, terrible and never again. It was only in for about four months as I just didn’t get on with it.  And by then, of course, DH and I were so in love we didn’t want to wait starting a family.

I fully acknowledge I had NO CLUE about conception. I thought I was a well educated woman, who knew her body. Clearly I did not as it took many many months of trying before I even started to Google how to optimise timing of sex to catch that elusive egg.

I also had a full blown depressive episode straight off the back of my manic phase. I was convinced I would never become a mother. This was also exacerbated by the fact that I was so depressed I couldn’t make any sense of the numbers I was reading or the statistics. I couldn’t quite get into my head that, yes, there was an increased risk of infertility due to all the hormones charging around but, hang on a minute, it’s not quite the doom scenario that was in my head. I could only replay the doom scenario in my head. 

On top of that, I was in a job I hated and which bored me, and all I could think of was the driving need to make money of any sort to try and pay off the enormous debts I’d run up in my last manic phase. I also was overweight as my weight is like a yo yo with bipolar. In my manic phase I had turned anorexic and stopped eating for four months. And then of course had started to eat and eat in my depressive phase.  I was convinced I was too old, too fat, too ill and too crap to ever ‘deserve’ to get pregnant.

In the meantime, I started to get into the referral system for psychiatric assessment in the Netherlands. It was taking months and months, but I was finally beginning to receive treatment. By the end of 2012 I was sat in front of my psychiatrist looking at blood test results, being told about lithium and the impact on my thyroid and health, how I definitely had bipolar 1 with borderline personality traits, how I would live with this for the rest of my life and be medicated for the rest of my life.  Everything was just a blur. I felt a bit like a machine being told what I could and couldn’t do. And all that was screaming in my mind was that I wasn’t ‘normal’, I would never get pregnant and I would never ever have a chance to be as others could.

DH took me home and I cried and cried. The next day, I started to research bipolar and fertility. According to my doctors, stress and anxiety produce hormones that repress our fertility. One article from 2011 shows that women with Bipolar 1 were 16% less likely to have children. (there are links to articles at the bottom of this post for interest).  Another great article from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology from 2006 that reviewed published research showed that it was a complex relationship between infertility and mood disorders but that one definitely existed.

What frustrated me though was that there was nothing about what you could DO about it. Putting my illness to one side, I am a firm believer in DOING rather than just talking about it. I wanted some answers on what I could do to improve the situation. I wanted to change where I was. If I was never going to be a mother then I damn well wanted to be sure I had tried everything in my power to time it properly.

And then boom! in February we were pregnant. As I said in my last post, this ended in miscarriage and made me so unwell. I won’t write about it here. Perhaps I will write about that one day, my little bean. But not for here.

Fortunately for me, I had a series of blood tests a few days before I miscarried which showed that my thyroid had gone through the roof. My TSH and T4 were all over the place. Now, as you know, taking lithium and other mood stabilisers/anti psychotics can cause hypothyroidism or other issues with your thyroid.

I’m going to write a separate post on the thyroid as I think it’s so important. I comment on Mumsnet quite regularly and every time I see a thyroid post I’m in there writing! We will look at this on another occasion but ladies (and gents) it is so important to keep getting this checked.

Anyway, back to the timeline. By June 2013 DH and I had gone for fertility testing and the results had come back all positive. There was nothing wrong with either of us that meant we couldn’t conceive. This was a big mental block removed for us both as DH was convinced his sperm were failures and I was convinced my ovaries and eggs were useless and my body and brain in general were rubbish (more on psychology later).

Come July 2013, I was so sick I could barely get out of bed. I was exhausted, depressed but with a low depression different to the black of my bipolar. Just like a low level bzzzzz. I was freezing cold in the middle of summer and my weight had ballooned. Nothing fitted me. I couldn’t stay awake at work and I was struggling to drive. I thought I was going mad. My psychiatrist was convinced it wasn’t bipolar and sent me for another round of blood tests.

I got a call the day I tested. Your TSH is at 40. Ten times (I think)  what it’s meant to be. Your T4 is too low. You need to get to your GP straight away.

This time round I was relieved. Here was something tangible that explained what was going on (more so than bipolar I don’t know why!). On the day of our wedding, I was in the doctor’s surgery receiving my prescription for levothyroxine. The change was immediate. I felt better, I had more energy, clothes fitted me. And within six weeks I tested positive again in October 2013. So far, so good.

Is it harder to get pregnant with bipolar disorder? We have an increased risk of infertility compared to women who don’t have this. There´s no getting round it. But, I think it´s only a slight increased risk. If you take the study in Sardinia, for example, where the researchers said statistically women with bipoler were 16% more likely to have infertility issues (I interpret this as 16% less likely to get preggo), then that still leaves us with a 84% chance of getting pregnant. It’s not 50/50 or even 75%. It’s actually pretty good statistically.

At the end of the day, nothing guarantees pregnancy. There are heartbreaking stories all over the web of women with unexplained infertility with no mental health illnesses who have miscarriage after miscarriage or who have never been able to get pregnant, of men who have literally no useful sperm.  Couples with five rounds of IVF trying desperately for their miracle baby. It´s too much of a random if, buts and maybes, the conception journey.

What you have to hang onto is that the vast majority of women do get pregnant. That´s what helped me. It might happen in a month, it might happen in three years, but it happens. Every day, every minute. The problem with the interwebs is that it doesn´t capture all the success stories every day. Don´t feel discouraged. Don´t feel disheartened. Bipolar is not an automatic ´no´ to pregnancy. Out of all the odds there, the 84% (so long as you have no other underlying fertility issues of course) is really pretty good.

I’m going to do some more research on all of the above, and also more on the ‘I have bipolar – how do I get pregnant‘ question. I know in my heart what worked for me, and I hope to share that with you all in time.

So, the upshot is – can you get pregnant with bipolar disorder? Yes, of course you can! Don´t get discouraged. Remain positive. Oh, I know it is hard. But please know that your bipolar disorder should not be an obstacle towards that much wanted family.

Links to the two articles

Fertility reduced in bipolar I disorder patients
By Mark Cowen
08 March 2011
Acta Psychiatr Scand 2011; 123: 283–289

http://www.medwirenews.com/47/91378/Psychiatry/Fertility_reduced_in_bipolar_I_disorder_patients_.html

Oxford Journals, Medicine, Human Reproduction Update, Volume 13, Issue 6, Pp. 607-616.

http://humupd.oxfordjournals.org/content/13/6/607.full

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3 thoughts on “Getting pregnant with Bipolar disorder

    • Hi there,

      Hyperemesis is in its full name Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is an extreme form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. On forums many women shorten this to HG. Morning sickness affects a majority of pregnant women in one form or another, but this stops normally by 12 weeks. Women suffering with HG will have severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy all day, throughout the pregnancy and will normally be on medication to reduce the symptoms. In extreme cases women will be hospitalised and put on IV support as they are severely dehydrated and malnourished. I was fortunate in that the first type of medicine I took stopped the vomiting and reduced the nausea. A big problem is that many GPs and health professionals don´t recognise the condition so women end up being hospitalised when they could have easily received safe and effective treatment. Some useful links are https://sites.google.com/site/pregnancysicknesssos/ and http://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk/

      Hope that is helpful and thank you very much for your comment and reading!

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