Me and My Meds

I’m Going Off My Bipolar Meds To Try To Get Pregnant

It’s scary, but with help from my treatment team, it’s going OK so far.

Thiemi Higashi, EyeEm/Getty Images
By Anonymous, as told to Anna Goldfarb

I was diagnosed as bipolar at 18, and six months after that, I started taking this medication called Lamictal. I’ve been taking it ever since. Now that I’m 34, though, I’m thinking about having kids with my long-term partner. My treatment team told me that I should not be on Lamictal if I plan to be pregnant and carry a child. This is something I've known for as long as I've been on this medication, and for a long time, my bipolar diagnosis was the reason I was convinced I’d never be a mother. I’ve been taking this medication almost half my life. How was I supposed to just… stop?

The answer is that you have to do it very slowly, and with a lot of help. It's going to take about a year. Right now, I'm four months into it, and I’ve had all sorts of side effects. I've started losing my hair. It’s affected my menstrual cycle, and as anyone who has been trying to get pregnant will know, that is the last thing I want messed with. I’ve been gaining weight. I'm having depressive thoughts.

Sometimes I get very, very scared about what's going to happen as I continue to lower the dosages. I’m terrified to have depressive episodes again. It doesn’t seem fair that in order for me to be a parent, I have to put myself into a very unsafe mental health position. But I’m staying on my antidepressant, Lexapro, and my therapist and I have a system for figuring out if there's a depressive swing coming. She’ll ask me, “Are you depressed or does your life just suck right now?” We came up with a strategy to detect the difference: My depression can include symptoms like suicidal ideation, self-harm urges, and not sleeping well. Life just sucking doesn't include any of those things. It’s a useful shorthand that helps me make sense of my emotions.

So much in my life is changing right now, and I’m trying to keep an open mind. Even if I'm not able to have children, I wouldn't go back on Lamictal. (My prescriber and I are going to start trying new medications, to replace the Lamictal, that I can stay on when I start trying to become pregnant.) For 15 years, Lamictal has given me terrifying nightmares. At first, I couldn’t even nap because the nightmares would be so debilitating. (I switched to taking the medicine in the morning, which helped a little, but it didn’t make the nightmares go away completely.) I thought these nightmares were just something I had to accept: In order for me to maintain my mental health and manage my bipolar disorder, I gotta suck it up and take the punches. I don’t believe that anymore. I want to try something new.

I’m also keeping an open mind about the many potential pathways to motherhood. My goal right now is to give birth, but that might not be how it works out for me. Maybe I'll adopt.

For so long, I was convinced that because I was bipolar — because I'd have to go off my medication — I couldn't be a mom. I realize now that my bipolar doesn’t define me. I can absolutely be a parent if that’s something I truly desire. Getting to this place hasn’t been easy, and it’s taken a lot of therapy, but I'm very lucky to have a very strong support system with my family, my friends, and my amazing therapist and medical team. I don’t have to let my bipolar disorder tell me I can't raise a child and provide a loving, stable home. By tapering off Lamictal, I’m taking control of my future and I’m excited for what comes next.