On Being a Woman of Child-Bearing Age With Mental Illness

There are quite a few people out there who will have an opinion about how you live your life — and people are very comfortable with rudely interjecting with their beliefs about your choices. Or, in my opinion, they are willing to make you feel uncomfortable for the sake of justifying their own life decisions.

Dating someone for a long period of time? "When are you getting married?"

Recently married? "When are you having kids?"

Have one kid? "When are you going to give your child a sibling?"

Don't want kids? "Oh, you'll change your mind . . . ."

I am a woman of child-bearing age, and for some reason, I get asked about when I'll have children all too often in our modern society. I also happen to be bipolar. This combination presents some challenges that men in my position will never face. People's opinions about women having children affect my ability to make decisions to manage my illness.

My Medicine

When I first saw my psychiatrist after a couple years of looking for answers, he was very quick to diagnose me as Bipolar 2. It seemed so obvious to him. He presented me with my medication options and let me think about them, but not before giving me a warning on lithium. "Lithium is great at treating bipolar, but I hesitate to give it to a woman of child-bearing age."

I didn't want children before, but with this new diagnosis and the risk of passing this on, I knew instantly I really did not want children of my own. I understand there are other bipolar women who have children, but I am making a decision that is best for me. This declaration was not enough to make my psychiatrist comfortable with prescribing lithium. So I chose one of my other options that seems to be working fine. However, the fact that medicine to treat my illness was limited based on my body's ability to carry a child has never stopped irking me.

My Birth Control

One day, I was refilling my prescriptions and the pharmacist alerted me to the fact that my medicine for my bipolar interacted with my birth control, making the birth control not very effective. So not only do I have less of a choice in the medicine I can take for my illness because of the fact that I can technically carry a child, but the medicine I'm taking to prevent children is less effective because of the medicine treating the illness that's making me really not want children in the first place. Ironic?

I immediately called my OBGYN to see what my options were. I, being very tired of the focus being on the fact that I could have children, asked if sterilization was an option. "Oh, we don't do that here." So that office referred me to Planned Parenthood to get the birth control implant placed in my arm. My second choice, again.

While at Planned Parenthood, I again asked if sterilization was an option. I am a 28-year-old woman who does not want children of my own. Their response: "You need to be older to make that decision." Older? I'm old enough to make the decision to have a child but not the decision to make it so I can't? It bothers me to no end that I am allowed to have long-term birth control inserted into my body and can even abort a child if I do become pregnant, but I am not allowed to take away my body's ability to produce a baby.

My Decision to Not Have Children

The only people that should have an opinion on this topic are me and my partner. Yet everyone who hears this about me seems to have very strong opinions on the subject. "You'll change your mind" is the most common comment I get. I know the comments are well-intended, but they are actually very rude and hurtful.

"I know the comments are well-intended, but they are actually very rude and hurtful."

Sleep and self-care are instrumental in managing my illness. These are things that are limited when you become a parent. There's also the fact that I would most likely have to go off medicine if I ever do become pregnant, making it more likely for me to be hospitalized over a bad mood swing. Then there's the risk of passing this illness that has almost killed me onto another human being.

My reasons for not wanting a child are none of anyone's business, and yet I feel the need to defend myself regularly. I could let these comments just roll off of my back, but the truth is that would only be so that I don't make the ignorant commenter uncomfortable. But I have already been put into an uncomfortable situation, one that can only be changed if ignorance isn't present. Everyone should have a choice as to whether they want children or not without the need to defend themselves, especially women who have a mental illness who are already battling so hard to be well.