Happy News (about the Baby) that Made Me Sad (about Bipolar)

I started thinking about babies when John and I moved to the West Coast three and a half years ago. John wasn’t quite on the same page; he wanted some time to establish himself at his new company. He wanted some time to settle into our new life.

About two and a half years ago, we had a bit of a scare that left me thinking—briefly—that I might be pregnant. When I learned that I wasn’t, I was disappointed. I said as much to John, but once again, he wanted to wait. He wanted to make sure his company was stable and his future there secure.

To be honest, his reluctance to start a family pissed me off. It made me feel as though what I wanted was less important than what he wanted for his career.

So I got passive-aggressive.

“How’s married life?” my single friends would ask.

“It’s good. John’s working a lot. We don’t see each other much.”

“Anything new?”

“Well, we’re thinking about buying a house. We’re thinking about having a baby.”

“Oh, my God, it’s a great time to buy!”

“I know!”

“And, wow, Heather, a baby!”

“Early days,” I’d say. “But we might start trying in February.”

It was true about buying a house. We’d been working with a realtor and had even put in a bid on a condo, but we certainly had no plans to conceive anytime soon.

In my mind, though, February was an ideal time to get pregnant, and talking about it with my friends made it seem more real. We’d have the baby in the fall, which would mean I could leave my crappy teaching job a month or two after the start of the new school year, fully qualified to receive maternity benefits. We’d have bought our new home, which would mean there’d be plenty of room for a baby. And finally, I’d give birth before Christmas, which would mean we might even be able to make the trip home to Toronto to show our new child off to my grandparents, who certainly weren’t getting any younger.

Oh, and if we had the baby when I wanted to, I’d be thirty at the time, the age I’d always pictured myself starting a family.

So you see, I had it all figured out. I knew what I wanted to see happen over the course of the next few months, and when John made comments while we were house-hunting like, “Gee, I don’t know if I’m comfortable putting down roots. The company’s still basically a start-up. There’s still a chance it could go under,” I ignored them. They bounced right off me.

I had a plan, and I was going to make it happen.

Until, of course, bipolar disorder entered our lives.

*****

When John became psychotic, everything that had seemed important to me before lost all its significance. I didn’t care if we bought a house. I didn’t care if we had a baby. I just wanted John to get better. I wanted his mind to be restored.

And he did get better. His mind was restored.

For the most part, I really do feel like we gained a lot as a couple from the experience surrounding his break and, as the Big Book states, “[I] do not regret the past, nor do [I] wish to shut the door on it.”

But every once in a while, a bit of sadness creeps in, a bit of grief that either one of us had to go through such as traumatic experience at all.

*****

John and I learned the other night that John’s brother and his wife are also having a baby. Theirs is due in July, so our little one (due at the end of February) will have a cousin to play with during the holidays.

It’s great news, and I’m really pleased for them. But it also triggered some of my sadness around John’s bipolar.

John’s brother is about to turn 29, which is the age John was when he had his psychotic break. It’s also, as I mentioned earlier in the post, the age I had wanted to get pregnant.

I am a firm believer that things tend to work out for the best (can you imagine the stress of being pregnant and dealing with a psychotic spouse? Can you imagine trying to care for a baby while helping your husband deal with the depression that follows mania?), but my brother-in-law’s announcement brought up some of my grief around the wrench that John’s bipolar disorder threw into our lives.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled to be having a baby now, and I’m thrilled that our baby will have a cousin. But our baby won’t get to meet my grandmother, and it won’t get to meet John’s mom. Those are real losses, and I have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel sad for the lost people, the lost time.

*****

When I brought up my feelings in therapy the other day, our therapist pointed out that John and I are on the cusp of a life-changing event, and that the last life-changing event we experienced was a profoundly negative one. It’s natural, she said, that some of the feelings I experienced during John’s illness would rise to the surface now, especially given my brother- and sister-in-law’s news.

It was a relief to hear her say it, because there are times when I feel guilty that I’m still experiencing feelings of loss. I beat myself up because I’m not over it yet. I beat myself up because there are days when I know I haven’t fully moved on.

But grief isn’t something you experience once and then let go of forever. It comes in waves—it ebbs, it flows, it rises, it recedes. It peaked again last week, but it has already retreated.

Today, I’m grateful that I have the tools to cope with uncomfortable feelings. I don’t have to resort to passive-aggressiveness anymore; I don’t have to try to control every single situation. Instead, I can be honest about my emotions and process them with the people who matter most.

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9 Responses to Happy News (about the Baby) that Made Me Sad (about Bipolar)

  1. Bridgit says:

    So, well said dear one..grief isn’t something you experience once and then let go of forever. It comes in waves—it ebbs, it flows, it rises, it recedes….
    So, glad you have the tools to cope with your feelings. That in itself is totally freeing!
    Best of luck in this last month of pregnancy. Enjoy the journey, my friend!
    ~b

  2. Every few years, I have to focus on my own grief work again, and the one thing that strikes me each time I re-read Kubler-Ross or some of the others is that there are LOSSES even when something wonderful happens.

    You & John are having a baby – and that’s terrific, and it’s great that your child will have a cousin so close in age.

    You are also losing YOU – your pre-baby identity, able to go to the movies or hang with girlfriends or do whatever, at a moment’s notice, without major planning. You are losing you-and-John as a couple without the complications a child brings into one’s life. GOOD complications, of course, but from now on, when you think about moving, jobs, etc., it’s not “Wouldn’t it be fun to live in a big open loft like artists?” it’s “Is it near a good school? Where will we put the crib and dresser and stroller?”

    It’s normal to have somewhat conflicted feelings when such a major life change takes place, and to grieve for the part of your identity that you are losing, as well as reliving, to a certain extent, the last life-changing event, which as you write, wasn’t that positive.

  3. Lyz says:

    My pregnancy has brought up another type of grief for me too, one I thought that I had dealt with. I wonder if all new phases of life mean grief for what has been lost and joy for what’s being found. There is no shame in grief. Also, I love your blog!

  4. Emily says:

    Thank god I found your blog. My husband just had his first major manic episode and I had to check him into a mental hospital to stabilize. It seems so funny how much I relate to this post, I was literally telling my friends just months ago we would start trying for a baby in February. Not only do I finally have someone to relate to but I completely understand the grief and my total lack of desire for the things I wanted before the bipolar. Thank you for writing this, can’t wait to read more.

    • Hi Emily,

      I’m very sorry to hear about your husband — I hope things are getting better. I’m glad you can relate. I’m actually about to have baby #2 (due in about a week and a half), and I’m grateful that I haven’t had to deal with similar feelings of grief or loss this time around. Life goes on and things get better, so hang in there!

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