After I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my therapist told me not to have more kids. I'm glad I didn't listen.

Christine MacIntyre, her husband, and their two kids at the beach.
Christine MacIntyre, her husband, and their two kids at the beach.Christine MacIntyre
  • For as long as I can remember, my moods have fluctuated wildly from high highs to low lows.

  • After having my first child, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD.

  • I found a treatment regimen that works for me, and I'm now happily remarried and have another child.

I brought my daughter into the world in 2008. The reality that I'd be responsible for caring for another human being set in quickly. Even before pregnancy, my responsibilities in life — self-care, work, family, friendships — exhausted me.

From my late-teenage years to when I got pregnant at 21, I found it a struggle to enjoy things that had previously made me happy. It was difficult to find joy in hobbies I'd once loved, and spending time with friends was impossible — a forgotten memory.

I often slept long hours because I didn't have the energy or motivation to climb out of bed, and I struggled with personal hygiene because it took more effort than I could muster some days. Once my daughter was born, I felt irritable. I couldn't help but wonder if the tremendous responsibility she brought would exacerbate my symptoms, which were already hard to deal with.

I've experienced mood fluctuations for as long as I can remember

My moods had shifted frequently ever since I was a teenager. I experienced extreme highs and lows; I got excited easily and just as easily irritated. I had a quick temper, perhaps especially in the comforts of home. I also cried frequently, more often than most of my peers. My emotions were disproportionately intense, but I'd just assumed I was highly sensitive.

During college, the mood shifts intensified. I began to feel irritated all the time, even if nothing specific had happened to irritate me. I cried a lot for no reason and slept when I should've been doing homework or studying. My self-esteem was also low, making it even harder to force myself to get out of the house or to care about my appearance.

Other times, however, I felt extremely energetic and euphoric. I would avoid sleep for days. One of the few things I enjoyed was painting and crafts, so I poured myself into those things for hours. I also felt extremely confident during these times, which was a stark contrast to what I felt during my low points.

My highs and lows intensified after I gave birth

I grew to recognize these cycles and accepted that this might be a permanent roller-coaster ride I'd be on, with the high points being lights at the ends of dark tunnels of depression. After giving birth, the moods intensified yet again. I shifted between two extremes, with one end being depression and the other being mania. Neither seemed to correlate with my situation at any given time, so my own feelings often confused me. And though I could acknowledge that my moods were extreme, I couldn't control them; they controlled me.

The first time my mood hit a high point postpartum, I welcomed the sudden burst of energy and elatedness, which mimicked those high points I'd experienced before. Nothing had changed except my mood, so I took advantage of it.

I kicked myself into overdrive and did everything possible to enjoy myself. I read, cleaned, exercised, started writing a book, pulled all-nighters puttering around the house, went shopping, and more. But, as I'd learned over time, what goes up must eventually come down, and the descent and resulting depression I experience in these times are unbearable and often debilitating.

The crash came just months before my first marriage dissolved in 2010. It couldn't have come at a worse time, since the process of divorce took a huge toll on me mentally and physically. I had to find a new place to live with my daughter, find time to work more, and learn to navigate single-parenthood.

My moods continued their pattern of highs and lows; when my daughter and I moved into a cute bungalow in the country, I distinctly remember feeling on top of the world. I loved our spacious yard, and I loved that I was able to provide for her. Still, though I might have appeared happy and content to outsiders, inside, I was bursting at the seams. I often felt disoriented and, during fluctuations in my mood, I often wondered if my daughter would be better off without me. I was exhausted from the continuous feeling that I was crawling out of my skin and often resorted to self-harm to escape from the nightmare I felt that I was in.

After I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD, my therapist said something shocking to me

The following summer brought diagnoses of bipolar disorder and PTSD after a self-inflicted injury and a voluntary hospital stay. I was prescribed medication and began weekly counseling sessions. By 2012, I had established a healthy regimen of medication and therapy and looked forward to my sessions every week. By then, I'd gotten a good grasp on parenthood and finally felt in control of my life. I thought I was in a good place, or as good as one can be when living with serious mental illness. That is, until my therapist blatantly told me that he advised against me having more kids or remarrying.

"You'll regret the decision and only add to your suffering. Instead, I recommend you focus on yourself and your daughter moving forward," he said. I had just informed him that I'd started seeing a really nice guy. We'd been close friends for over a year, and our friendship had started to evolve into something more. Hearing this from my therapist left me stunned. I questioned his reasoning, explaining to him how I felt about this new person. He had a great job, health insurance, a reliable car, goals, and he treated me really well. He brought the stability I needed and wanted for my daughter and myself.

Still, my therapist discouraged me from marrying again and from having more kids. He said that second marriages are often harder than first ones, and that having more kids would add to my already long list of responsibilities. While he might have believed he had my best interests at heart, it felt like he didn't believe that I understood the gravity of these decisions, or that I had the ability to make them rationally for myself. Additionally, it made me feel defeated, and angry toward myself — and my therapist for giving me this unexpected piece of advice.

I understood that having bipolar meant I had my plate full, but I felt like my therapist was implying I was irresponsible for even considering having more kids or considering remarrying.

I ultimately decided that I knew myself well enough to trust my instincts, though I didn't take what my therapist said lightly; in fact, I thought about it often. I told my then-boyfriend — now husband — about it, and we had productive conversations about priorities, pros and cons, and potential challenges we might face in the future. By then, we'd moved into an apartment together, and he'd stepped into the role of fatherhood flawlessly — he loved my daughter as though she were his own. And while my moods were more stable due to medication and counseling, I still had my share of slight mood swings.

He took it all in stride and let me fall asleep early on nights I struggled with depression. He laid my medications out for me every morning just so I'd remember to take them. He wiped my tears when I cried without judgment or criticism. He loved my quirks, too, such as how baby animals made me cry and how scary movies gave me panic attacks every single time.

His supportive affirmations toward me let me know that he was, in fact, the very man I should marry. No, life wasn't perfect — I took medicine for a serious mental illness that affected our lives every day. But he brought the structure, stability, and reassurance I needed. After all, he'd already proven he could handle me at my worst. Ultimately, I confided in my therapist that I'd decided to move forward with my relationship and informed him that we'd discussed our future together, including marriage and children.

I'm so glad I listened to my own instincts

By late 2012, when we were still just dating, we found out I was pregnant. I experienced mixed emotions since part of me craved a second child, but another part of me knew it would wreak havoc on my mental health. Things were going relatively well, so I was nervous to do anything that would disrupt things. He was hesitant as well, but we decided that we'd get through it together. We'd already been through so much together, and we both wanted another child. We welcomed our baby boy in June 2013, and the moment I laid eyes on his milky white complexion, long lashes, and a head of dark hair, I knew we'd made the right choice.

Being the parents of two kids hasn't been easy. My husband picks up a lot of the slack when I can't muster the energy to push through the day, when I'm irritated and need a moment to myself, or when I need to be alone to cry for a bit. The extremes of my moods aren't so extreme anymore, even though I can still recognize the cycles, and I know that navigating parenting could be much worse. Our kids are thriving, which ensures me that I'm doing well enough.

I couldn't imagine a better father for my children or a better husband for myself, and we got married in summer 2015. My kids walked in our wedding, which took place in a beautiful flowering field outside our house. We still talk about how much we loved that day and often wish we could recreate it. I wouldn't change a thing.

Now 9 and 13 years old, my children fill my days with a sense of belonging and purpose. With sporting events, choir and band concerts, and the constant laughter filling our home, I barely have enough time to question whether I'm a good enough wife and mom, or whether remarrying or having another child was a mistake. Unfortunately, like many moms, I also barely have enough time to do other things, including things that I used to do to take care of myself. My therapist frequently reminds me that structure and routine are essential for balancing my mood, and parenting my kids provides that.

The biggest hurdle I face today is still my bipolar symptoms. While they aren't as severe — thanks to a solid treatment plan — they can still be debilitating, and I can't help but wonder how others perceive me as a mentally-ill person, especially as a mom and wife with bipolar disorder. I often fear that my kids will recognize something broken in me. There are also days when I resent how much my family needs from me when I can barely care for myself. But for the most part, I finally feel in control, rather than feeling that bipolar controls me, as I used to before I had my second child and remarried.

I live a relatively normal life, and thanks in large part to my family's compassion, patience, and love, I now only have bad moments instead of bad days. I still see the same therapist on an as-needed basis, and he applauds me for the changes he's witnessed in me. He provides me with gentle guidance when I struggle, not only with bipolar, but also with parenting and marriage.

When my daughter cries, she asks for me first. When my son struggles to fall asleep, he asks me to snuggle him. My kids' needs and desires are my priority. Their happiness and the way they are thriving assures me that I made the right choice. Though my therapist was right that it's been a hard road, one with potholes and dangerous curves, I'm proud for having the faith in myself to make a life-changing decision rather than acquiesce to a recommendation that didn't agree with me. Sure, there are some days when the road is hard enough that I question if life with bipolar disorder would be easier without any obligations except the ones I have to myself. But the majority of the time, I revel in the delights of parenthood and married life.

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