In true Catherine fashion, this is possibly a bit too honest and probably uncomfortably personal for some people.
Yesterday, I sat in my OBGYN’s office and expressed that because of my Bipolar disorder and my clotting disorder, I probably don’t want to have biological children. “More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the illness or with unipolar major depression, indicating that the disease has a heritable component (National Institute of Mental Health).” The clotting disorder, Factor V Leiden, is a genetic disorder, and would likely be passed down to any of my future potential offspring. Though the clotting disorder is not a mental health disorder, it has direct effects on my mental health as it causes anxiety and panic attacks and even required the use of EMDR, a type of trauma therapy, as suggested by a therapist in my IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) because of my “PTSD like symptoms” surrounding my Pulmonary Embolism.
My doctor agreed that the clotting disorder would make any future pregnancy incredibly high risk but told me that since she loves me so much, she wouldn’t mind too much if I passed on the bipolar disorder. I smiled and said thank you (and I was honestly incredibly flattered that my doctor thinks so highly of me), but what I wanted to say and what I thought in my head was, “spoken like someone who doesn’t have Bipolar Disorder.” I can’t know for sure that my doctor doesn’t have Bipolar Disorder or other mental health struggles of her own without asking her, which I’m not going to do because it isn’t any of my business, but as someone with Bipolar Disorder, I would never want to pass the illness on to an unsuspecting child.
“Bipolar Disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year (National Institute of Mental Health).” It, “results in 9.2 years reduction in expected life span, and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder completes suicide (National Institute of Mental Health).” I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy, let alone an unsuspecting child.
Growing up, I always thought I would be a mother someday and there is the chance that I’ll eventually become someone’s step-mother or adoptive-mother, but I feel that it would be irresponsible, selfish, and somewhat cruel to insist on having my own children. Population problems aside, how heartless would I have to be to knowingly put someone else through the hell that I have been through? To subject them not only to a horribly debilitating mental illness that results in over 9 years reduced lifespan and possibly ends in suicide, but a genetic disease that can cause clots, Pulmonary Embolisms, Strokes, or even death.
The prospect of not having children of my own is a sad and difficult one, but it seems like the right choice for me, given all of my health problems. Today, on World Mental Health Day 2017, I urge you to think about the far reach mental illness has. It not only affects how people function, but also important choices they must make about their lives and the lives of loved ones. Mental illness is no joke and, honestly, I’m sick and tired of hearing it treated as one. I’m tired of ableist language and of people referring to people or things as “crazy” when they really mean things like “unbelievable”, “surprising,” “angry”, “scary”, or “bad.” I myself am guilty of using this type of language and am working on it, making an effort not to use it anymore.
If you think you or someone you know has Bipolar Disorder, I urge you to utilize the Mood Disorder Questionnaire and talk about it with your primary care physician or another health care professional. You can find tests for Bipolar Disorder and other types of mental health disorders here.
If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .