After speaking with my doctors and doing research, I feel the best choice for me is to stay on my bipolar medications and feed my baby formula. Here's why this tough decision is best for me and my son.

By Sarah Michelle Sherman
May 19, 2021
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An illustration of a woman holding her baby.
Credit: Illustration: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong.

During the good, stable stretches of time, I sometimes forget I live with Bipolar II disorder. My morning doses of Abilify and Lamictal slip down my throat as easily as a multivitamin, giving me what I need to function and more importantly, experience joy.

On bad days, the madness weighs me down and I am aware of my condition just as much as the fact that at night, it gets dark. It's that simple, and that guaranteed. It takes over and it's practically impossible to distinguish what is truth and what is the illness. I believe whatever it tells me—often something along the lines of, you serve no purpose. It has its own schedule and stays for an unpredictable amount of time.

Fortunately, the combination of medication and pregnancy hormones seem to agree with me, as I've been amidst a good stretch for at least 28 weeks now. Despite this, my condition is very much at the forefront of my mind, being that it's forcing me to make decisions I wish I didn't have to make, like whether I will breastfeed or not. While the situation makes me a bit angry, I've chosen to channel that anger into resolve. There is no time to be mad; there are decisions to be made regarding the baby I'm due to meet in July. And my purpose is clear these days: take good care of him; protect him; love him.

I've opted against breastfeeding for one reason. For me to raise my child with stability, control, and confidence, I need to remain on the medications used to treat my condition. After consulting with my doctors and doing my own research, I've learned there's a chance the medications I take—a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic—can get into breast milk. While the possible effects on a nursing newborn are not clearly known, reading about the possibility of things like breathing problems and anemia, I personally am not willing to take any chances.

I'm well aware that if I were to get off my medications, I could offer my baby "liquid gold" and potentially give him "the best start in life." I'm knowledgeable of the many benefits of breastfeeding—to him and to me. But I know the best way for my son to begin his life, and live his life, is to be under the care of a medicated mama who isn't worrying about whether or not my medication might be affecting him.

If I were to abandon my medication, I fear that even just the inevitable lack of sleep that comes with caring for a newborn would be enough to push me into a hypomanic state, possibly causing me to spend money I don't have, make irrational decisions, and chase unrealistic goals. I also worry the depression that comes when I'm off my medication would lead me to hibernate and miss out on once-in-a-lifetime moments with my son and put all the responsibility to care for my child on my husband.

And then there's the self-hatred that often comes when my mood spirals and that's not something my baby should have to witness, as it carries over into every aspect of my life when it strikes. It makes me doubt myself, my abilities, my purpose. And I don't—even for a second—want to ever question my purpose once this baby is here, as he is it.

But there is also a lot of insensitivity when it comes to mothers who choose not to breastfeed, and a lot of people who are quick to shake their heads, reminding you that "breast is best." This is an obstacle I will have to overcome, and I will. Because I know the decision I've made is best for my son and for me. He will be fed exclusively with formula because I am a mother who is choosing to treat her mental illness, rather than ignore it.

My task is to provide my baby with the nourishment he needs to grow and thrive, and I will not fail at that. I may have to deal with the guilt, the judgment, and the shame that others may force upon me for not breastfeeding, but I will try as hard as I can to dismiss it. This is my choice, and I will make no apologies.

As I embark upon motherhood and welcome my son into the word, I pray my mood remains stable for as long as it can. I pray the only extreme will be the thrill of this new journey—one where I hold my son close to my chest as I feed him, wait for his eyes to meet mine, and quietly tell him, "I've got you," because I've got me.