Bipolar and Infertility: Haven’t I been given enough already?

shutterstock_427218448During the first five years of marriage, starting a family was kind of off the table.  I was struggling so terribly with depression and anxiety that I couldn’t handle even the thought of trying to take care of a child.  I could hardly take care of myself at times.  The fatigue was so bad that it took everything I had to get out of bed and finish a day of work.  I was so exhausted by the time I got home that often I could not prepare dinner and do the dishes.  I was having serious trouble sleeping and just functioning on a daily basis.  When I thought about trying to get pregnant, I had so many fears.  How would I be able to function if I was getting up with a baby at night?  Not to mention my anxiety about trying to stop meds to have a healthy baby in the first place.  And what about postpartum depression?  Having bipolar puts me in a higher risk category.  What if I had another serious episode and had to be hospitalized?  What if I became psychotic while I was alone with the baby?  It all just seemed too risky for me.

 

I’ve wanted to have a family for as long as I can remember.  If you would have asked me what I wanted to be when I was younger, I would have told you I wanted to be a mother.  I had no interest in a career.  I just wanted to stay home and raise babies.  My mother worked as a preschool teacher at daycare centers and later ran a center out of our home.  I loved being around kids.  I would often visit her at the daycare after school and I would go straight to the baby room to fawn over them.  When I got older I became very close with my nephew.  I spent as much time as I could with him in my twenties.  He would spend weekends at my apartment.  I took him on trips to see my mom and stepdad in Florida.  I took him to Disney World.  I took him everywhere with me.  He was the most important person in my life.  He did not have a relationship with my brother and something in me told me I needed to be there for him no matter what.  I made sure he knew his other side of the family.  I spoiled him with affection, toys, clothes, anything he wanted.  I mothered him in a way.  When his parents decided he should move to Maryland with my brother, I cried my eyes out.  He brought so much joy to my life during some of my most darkest days.

 

In 2012, Chad and I decided I would stop meds to try to have a baby.  I tapered off for a couple weeks, one day on and one day off, which was sometimes excruciating.  I had terrible withdrawals from the antipsychotic.  On the nights I didn’t take it, I would barely sleep, waking up every hour with anxiety.  I had horrible dreams and night sweats.  It was rough.  Eventually it got easier and I functioned pretty well for five months before relapsing with a fairly intense episode of anxiety.  I promptly went back on meds and felt defeated.  That’s when my friend found a naturopath in the area that treated mental illness with high doses of vitamins.  I started the therapy and eight months later I tried stopping meds again.  This time I started with the antidepressant since I had such a terrible time with the antipsychotic.  Three months later I was struggling with depression and anxiety.  I was having trouble working so I went back on.  The vitamin regimen was tough.  I took up to 65 pills a day.  I had to take them at specific times so I always had a bag of pills with me and set alarms on my phone.  Sometimes I had to take powders mixed with juice and one in particular made me vomit as soon as I took it so I had to take like 15 pills instead.  For the entire 15 months I was on them, I had to avoid processed carbohydrates or I would have terrible diarrhea. Often I would have intestinal upset even if I didn’t have the processed carbs.  I was fed up so I stop seeing that doctor and resigned to my regular medication.  

 

A couple months later Chad and I saw a perinatal specialist to see if it would be safe for me to stay on meds during pregnancy.  She went over the risks and decided since I had a history of psychosis that the benefits outweighed the risks. I still had concerns because both meds I was on are pregnancy category C which means they don’t really know because there is not enough research since scientists can’t ethically perform drug testing on pregnant women.  I struggled a lot with the decision, but Chad wanted to go for it and after a lot of thought and prayers I decided that I couldn’t keep living in fear.  I decided that I only have one life and I didn’t want to regret not trying.  We started trying right away.  After a year I saw my gynecologist to see if anything was wrong.  I went through the tests he recommended.  They checked Chad and he was better than normal (super sperm).  The hysterosalpingogram checked to see if my tubes were open and they were.  The post coital test checked how the sperm interacted with me and it was normal.  I also had surgery to check for endometriosis.  The doctor said I was as pretty on the inside as I was on the outside which made me smile (my doc is the sweetest).  We kept trying for a while since they didn’t find anything wrong, but then took a break for six months because I had another bipolar episode which was heartbreaking.

 

In January of 2017, we decided to see a fertility specialist.  They did blood work and checked my tubes again.  Everything came back normal.  We tried a cycle of the fertility drug Clomid and intrauterine insemination, but didn’t get the positive pregnancy test we were expecting.  The doctor said my uterine lining was too thin so we tried another drug called Femara and IUI again.  Again I didn’t get knocked up.  It was beyond frustrating.  I had a cyst the following month so I could not take any fertility meds then we took a vacation and I had to travel for work so we missed three months of treatments.  We then decided to try a bigger practice in Cincinnati that was recommended by a friend.  We chose to try the drug Femara again with injections to improve our chances.  Chad had to give me shots in my stomach seven times and we did IUI again.  I started my period the day before the start of vacation which was hard to take.  Currently I am trying the Whole30 diet (some have had success with it ) for a while before we do another IUI or decide on IVF.  We haven’t made up our minds about IVF because of the cost and the doctors think I might not be getting good quality eggs.  So if the egg isn’t healthy, IVF will not work.  My age doesn’t help things.  They have suggested donor eggs, but that is super expensive and neither of us want to have someone else’s child.  We’ve discussed adoption, but Chad is not too keen on it and I don’t know if they would consider me to be a good parent because of my mental illness.

 

This experience has not been easy.  It keeps me up at night (a lot).  I carry a lot of guilt for not being able to give Chad a child.  I feel like my illness has taken a lot from us, years of our life, the wedding we had planned, and now possibly our chance to have children.  If we would have started earlier, we would have had better chances.  All I can do now is have faith that God has this.  I am not in control.  Maybe he has a different plan.  Maybe I couldn’t handle it with my illness.  Maybe he is protecting me.  He works in mysterious ways and for now I am just trying to stay positive and keep believing in miracles.

 

Cyclowhat?

Cyclothymia is a chronic mood disorder characterized by numerous mood swings, alternating between hypomania and mild to moderate depression.  This showed up on my psychiatrist visit report about 5 months ago.  So does this mean I no longer have Bipolar II?  Who knows since my gem of a psychiatrist failed to discuss it with me.  It showed up again last month, but I was in such a rush to get back to work that I didn’t mention it to my doctor.  I can only assume that because I have not had an episode in over two years that I no longer meet the criteria for Bipolar II.

It is a cause of confusion for me since Bipolar II is a lifelong illness with no cure.  Also confusing is that diagnosis of Bipolar II requires that an individual has never experienced a full manic episode.  Um, I totally have experienced a couple of these if you recall the time I didn’t sleep for 5 days, thought I was in hell, and ended up in the hospital for 8 days.  Also, when I went into psychosis at work and thought the world was ending.  I was so out of it that my boss had to drive me to my friend’s house and I later spent one month in outpatient care at the hospital.  But what do I know?

I also found out from a piece of paper about my Bipolar II diagnosis.  In March of 2013, I had been off meds for about 5 months when I starting having severe anxiety and difficulty sleeping.  I was only sleeping a couple hours a night and was having extreme highs and lows.  One minute I thought I had the solution to all of my problems and the next I felt like I wanted to die.  I was completely freaked out and I tried desperately to get in to see my psych.  Problem is she has too many patients so she is always overbooked.  I think it took a week before I was able to schedule an appointment.  I was barely functioning so I asked for short term disability.  She gave me only a week off because she said she was afraid I was going to lose my job.  I had not taken sick time in over two years and I’m pretty sure it is illegal to let an employee go because of a health issue, but again what do I know?  I was too out of it to argue and I was by myself so I just took my scripts and my visit report and left.

As I was leaving I looked down and saw Bipolar II on the report.  It was like someone stabbed a knife in my chest.  What?!?  I have Bipolar?  I immediately got defensive.  I don’t have Bipolar!  That doctor is a quack!  For years I had been trying to find excuses for my mental issues.  For instance, I blamed dehydration on my first full manic episode because I was on a diuretic for my skin and my potassium was low when I went to the hospital.  I thought I just had some depression and anxiety that were exacerbated by the dehydration.  I also thought I was working too hard and not taking enough time for myself.  When my head started to slow down, the diagnosis began to sink in.  As I looked back at my life I could see the cycles.  It made sense.  It felt so final.  This is it.  I am stuck with this for the rest of my life.  It made me feel separate, different, and even more alone.

As time has gone on, I’ve gotten more comfortable with the diagnosis.  Going to the NAMI support group helped with that.  Listening to others share their stories , giving support, and receiving support has helped me realize that I am not alone in this.  I encourage anyone who is struggling with a mental health issue to reach out to NAMI. Sharing my story in this blog has also helped.  Covering up a mental health diagnosis takes a lot of energy.  Owning it and not being afraid to share it with others gives you your power back and helps fight stigma.  May is Mental Health Awareness Month so I am going to do my best to get the word out by writing and supporting others.  Please reach out to me if you need any support.  You are not alone.