Being a parent is hard, especially when you have multiples. Being a parent while suffering from a mental illness like Bipolar Disorder makes things a little harder. Lack of sleep in the first year, constant exhaustion, a major change in your routine, and having your little ones cry for extended periods of time only aggravate the disorder, thus sending the parent in a frenzy and straight into an episode.
I'm a loving mom to identical twin girls that were born 12 weeks early and stayed in the NICU for roughly two months. I've had a pretty good marriage to the man of my dreams, and our family of four functions as any family of one-year-old multiples does. We have our ups and downs, we balance our work schedules with family time, we try to get rest when we can, and we raise our girls alone since we don't have family in town. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder a few years ago before I had met my husband or even considered the real possibility of having children. I have been in treatment since, and have figured out how to manage it to where I'm as functional as any other person. But, when I found out I was pregnant with twins, I feared for my mental health as well as my capability of caring for two infants, and how the crazy new life we were heading for would play out with my mental illness. What had I just done to myself, and to two tiny beings that required love, round-the-clock care, and all of my time? Did I make a mistake?
I'm here to tell any other moms and dads out there that you can, in fact, do this. It takes adjusting, willingness to adapt, a support system, and always being in touch with your healthcare professionals: therapist, psychiatrist, and primary care physician. One year into motherhood and I've seen the changes within myself. I found what my limits were, pushed them, and never skipped a dosage of my medication (even though I did have to be willing to do some doctor-supervised experimenting for the four months I was breastfeeding). I haven't become a pro at managing Bipolar I by any means, I've just come to terms that it's something that will stay with me forever, much like my parent status, and that it has to be managed.
It wasn't pretty in the beginning. To add insult to injury, postpartum depression also chose to say hello and hang out for a while. I was constantly angry, beyond depressed, and had moments where I thought I could not do wrong and could stay awake all night. I threw half-full bottles across the room when I desperately needed to finish feeding one bottle-refusing baby so I could feed the other screaming baby at 3 am. I rushed out of the nursery and screamed into pillows when they wouldn't stop crying. I even raised my voice at my tiny little nuggets. I'm not proud of any of those moments, and I still feel a great deal of shame and guilt when I think of them, but I do know that I was trying my hardest and in no way does it make me a bad mom. If anything, it served as motivation to continue on with my treatment; to make sure I was taking care of myself and truly resting when my husband was on baby duty. As soon as I felt an episode coming on, I was either talking to my doctor, a therapist, my sister, or my husband. Though my sister and husband are no doctors, they both helped me see things from a different, more optimistic point of view, and they had faith in me. The desire of not wanting to disappoint two of the people I love most kept me in check, and we saw things through even during arguments. That’s the beauty of having a support system, even if they’re not physically there.
I did notice that as time went by, I was less depressed and able to sleep more once the girls started sleeping through the night. I started to be less overwhelmed by the loud, desperate, and nonstop crying. I remembered to breathe and that it's ok to walk away for a few minutes when it gets insanely loud or too tiring to comfort the girls. I became confident in myself as me, the person, and me, the mom. There were setbacks, as there are still some mild ones to this day, but with every set back I remembered who I needed to be and how I could get there. I reminded myself that I am not alone in this situation.
I am not an individual who struggles with a mental illness while raising twins, holding a steady job, and working on a marriage. If anything, being a working mother of twins defines me more than the fact I struggle with Bipolar I. Instead of using it as a crutch or an excuse like I did in the beginning, I have come to treat it as a hurdle that I know I can steadily hop over when it comes to doing my motherly duties. I no longer find it debilitating or let it keep me from being functional. It keeps me focused on taking care of myself so I can take care of my daughters.
Did I make a mistake in getting pregnant years after being diagnosed? Absolutely not. It's actually made me a better person, more aware of things, and I've found self-love through the experience. My girls are only one year old, and the amount of progress I've had with managing my Bipolar I has me optimistic about how much better it can get from here on out.
If you're reading this and you're in a similar situation – not just with Bipolar Disorder, but with any kind of mental illness – remember to breathe. You're not alone, even if it's difficult to think otherwise. There's no shame in seeking help; it actually proves you're aware that something is off and you’re willing to feel better. You need to be your best in order to give your best and remember: bad moments don't make bad parents.
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Camila Servello is a mother of identical twin girls, human to a pup, wife to an amazing man, Brazil native, airline employee who loves her job. I’ve always loved writing, and I’ve found the perfect reason to do so – my crazy, perfectly flawed life. Honesty is key when it comes to handling all the curveballs life throws at us, so don’t expect any less from me. You can read more on her blog Confessions of a Working Mom of Twins.