I Have Bipolar Disorder & Am Just as Good of a Mom as Anyone Else

Mom Kate S.
Photo courtesy of Kate S.

This article is part of a series dedicated to providing support and visibility to motherhood in every one of its forms. To read more stories on what motherhood looks like for all types of women, visit This Is Motherhood.

According to some estimates, more than 20 percent of American women have struggled with a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder in the last year. Many of these women are mothers who have to deal with the stigma around having a mental health disorder, along with all the other challenges associated with having kids.

Kate S is a mom of three who was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 19. She shares her powerful story of parenting with a mental health disorder with CafeMom as a way to fight back against the stigmas around mothers with mental health challenges:

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My bipolar disorder actually led me to having my first child, Ivy, now 10. I wasn't being careful. I was manic, and while I thought I was taking precautions, I'm sure I wasn't. I had a surprise pregnancy from a casual relationship. I was 28 at the time, and I absolutely had doubts about my ability to parent. Even though I was relatively stable, I was afraid that if something happened and things went haywire, the baby would be taken away from me.

Looking back, I probably should've been more afraid than I was.

I'm a person who can make myself believe whatever I need to believe to get through something. I was so determined at the time to make it work, that even though I had fears, I convinced myself it would all be fine. And honestly, it wasn't.

I was very privileged in that I had a strong support network, but unfortunately, none of us realized the impact a pregnancy would have on my mental health. After she was born, they took me off all my meds because of "breastfeeding." I remember saying "It will not be okay for me to go off these meds. This will NOT end well," but I felt absolutely ignored.

A 28-year-old single new mom who has no idea what she's gotten herself into. What was I supposed to say? It was "for the health of my baby"!

Once I went off my meds, it was a three-week descent into literal madness. I mean, the whole nine yards. It was straight-up One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I started cutting. I hallucinated. I imagined terrible things about my daughter's dad, my own mother, and people around me. My daughter's dad called my therapist, and when she saw me, she called him back and told him to get me to the emergency room. So he took the baby and my best friend and got me to the hospital.

I spent 10 days in the psych ward. And here's the kicker: They wouldn't let me see my baby. I was apart from her for at least 10 days.

One of the reasons I wanted to tell my story is so that people are made aware of how moms might not seek the help that they need if they fear they could be separated from their children. Like how was being taken away from my baby going to help my mental health? I think it’s really, really important to note that my story has a happy ending -- because I've always had access to health care, and I've been surrounded by people willing to provide time, energy, and money to make this work. I want my story to be used to shed light on the other side of the coin.

Mental health care is an area where systemic inequality is so glaring. How can we improve the lives for moms who don't have the kind of privilege I have as a white, college-educated woman with health insurance?

I've never wanted to face how having bipolar disorder would affect my parenting long term. I can live pretty well day-to-day, so that never affected my wanting to have more children after my first experience. I think my current partner feels like he's always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even with meds, my moods can be up and down. I'm never violent or have dangerous behavior, but I do need to shut down sometimes, and that's hard for everyone. But he also knows that I put my kids first always and try my best. He knows that if I'm struggling, he can trust me to be proactive. I truly, truly lucked out in the spousal department.

I want people to know that having bipolar disorder doesn't mean you are insane. It can be and is managed with meds. It isn't a quick fix, but I'm just as capable of being a healthy and good parent as anyone else -- maybe even more so because I have to be so mindful of emotions. I'm certainly not the "Mom of the Year," but I do put an enormous effort into managing my mental health, which I think someone without a diagnosis may not recognize.

I've told my oldest child that I have a brain illness that I manage with medication. I'm very open about how I'm feeling and that she's never responsible for managing my feelings. I made the decision to bring her into the world knowing my own struggles, so I feel an extra responsibility for giving her the best tools I can.

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