TRIGGER WARNING: This blog about being pregnant and giving birth whilst living with Bipolar contains content that some people might find upsetting. If you need to talk to someone, the Samaritans can provide emotional support 24/7 on 116 123.
Pregnant women with bipolar need joined-up healthcare
I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to my peer support, Clare Dolman from the charity Action on Postpartum Pyschosis. Without her, I don’t think my baby would be here, and I am forever grateful.
I suffered an episode of severe mental health in my pregnancy – it was scary, but the support I received then was amazing. Within hours, I was in touch with the perinatal mental health team, I was medicated, had regular contact with a support worker, and accessed peer support.
Before birth plans
Ahead of the birth, I wrote an advance directive. This is a document that set out my wishes if I were to become ill, as well as a crisis plan written with my midwife and NHS support worker. It set out the early warning signs for the hospital to look for. It also carried the details about my prescribed medication.
Sadly, neither my crisis plan nor my advance directive was used in the labour ward. In a lockdown, I had no one there to advocate for me.
After birth ‘care’
After the birth, my medication was given to me in a different form and within hours I was slumped, slurring my words, and asking to phone my psychiatrist or midwife. Despite my crisis plan and advance directive, I was not given this access.
I asked for help to breastfeed as the issues with my medication meant I was unable to hold my baby, but the hospital’s ‘hands-off policy’ meant my baby was taken away and bottle-fed. I woke the next day and to be told by one of the nurses that they, ‘had had heroin addicts giving birth in the ward – and had never seen anything like me.’
When I left the hospital, I had access to the support network that I had relied on throughout my pregnancy.
The episode I suffered in my early pregnancy was terrifying. But the health system and charities propping it up wrapped their arms around me, and played a part in saving mine and my baby’s life.
Sadly, that same health system and its fragmented nature also stripped all that support away at a crucial time. It left me feeling scared, alone, and ashamed.
We need joined-up services to support women with bipolar through pregnancy. There is some brilliant support out there, but sadly there are also critical gaps.
Our Guest Blogger:
Huge thanks to Alexis Stevens, former Dorset Mind Training Manager for her
Our Patron, Dr Andy Mayer’s website is also a useful hub of perinatal and mental health resources.
Dorset Mind offers group support that can also help with your wellbeing. The group offers peer support and helps to reduce stigma by normalizing conversations about mental health. You can also check out further support for stress and mental health here.