• I thought back to my horrific manic episodes in my twenties. In my thirties, I have so much more to lose. (Digital Vision)Source: Digital Vision
Weaning from breastfeeding is never a fun experience. But weaning because of needing to go back on medication is a whole other story.
By
Noor Abdul

15 Oct 2020 - 8:52 AM  UPDATED 19 Oct 2020 - 2:41 PM

“Get into the bloody bathtub!” I yelled at my then 18-month-old. She stared up at me. My then four-year-old laughed and repeated what I said, a question in her voice.  

“Bloody bathtub?”

She’s differently wired, like me. And very literal. There she was, imagining blood in the bathtub. Shame flooded through me. I took a deep breath. It was happening again. Flashes of hypomanic rage. What kind of mother yells at her 18-month-old?

That was the first sign. Going from zero to one hundred in mum rage. The second sign: getting more impatient with other drivers on the road. The third sign: having a really hard time winding down to sleep at night, even though I’m utterly exhausted after running after my two daughters. The fourth sign: feeling so much more irritated at my husband, my friends, my family and my in-laws.

That was the first sign. Going from zero to one hundred in mum rage.

It was time to see my psychiatrist. 

I was happy to tell him how I felt, discussed the multiple art projects I had in mind, laughed, joked, and then he smiled and calmly said I was hypomanic. I blinked.

“It looks like you’re cycling up. Going back on medication would help you. It’s great that you’ve breastfed your daughter for this long. She’s eighteen months, so that’s plenty!”

I stared at my male psychiatrist who clearly did not have firsthand experience about the wonders of breastfeeding. Then I realised – okay, I’m definitely hypomanic if I’m irritated at him too.

“It’s been 10 years since I first started on Epilim,” I said. “Haven’t there been any more breastfeeding-friendly drugs? Couldn’t I try something new?”

He shook his head sadly. “Epilim works well for you. It’s better not to meddle with something that is already working for you.” I definitely did not want to go through the risk of side-effects while caring for two small children. 

After my appointment with my psychiatrist, I sat down for a rare solo meal and wondered what to do. He suggested going on medication for one week and coming back for a follow-up.

After my appointment with my psychiatrist, I sat down for a rare solo meal and wondered what to do. He suggested going on medication for one week and coming back for a follow-up.

I thought back to my horrific manic episodes in my twenties. In my thirties, I have so much more to lose. Now, hypomanic road rage could put me and my daughters at risk. 

I thought of my 18-month-old and how much breastfeeding was a bonding experience for both of us. I also felt guilty because I breastfed my oldest until she was almost two and a half. I didn’t know it at the time, but because my eldest has autism, breastfeeding was a huge source of comfort for her. 

Weaning from breastfeeding is never a fun experience. But weaning because of needing to go back on medication is a whole other story. Part of me wished I could just breastfeed her longer. The rest of me knew that I could only be a kind, patient and present mother when I’m emotionally balanced.

I decided to give myself a week to sleep better before I got myself back on medication. I spoke to my husband, who had been supportive of my mental health from the beginning. Epilim is a strong drug which can cause birth defects, so I had to wean off them completely before I fell pregnant with my first baby. He knew how hard I worked to wean off my meds, but also acknowledged how it was my decision to either stay off them, or go back on them.

I decided to give myself a week to sleep better before I got myself back on medication.

In the end, I managed to ride out my wave of hypomania with a week of focused early sleep. I had to put away my gadgets in my cupboard by 9pm to ensure I wouldn’t be tempted to just ‘check one more email’. I made it a point to go on daily walks and do yoga. I drank chamomile tea every night. I ended up waking up refreshed for the first time in ages. One day at a time, I felt my moods calm.

Until the next stressor sent my moods spiralling up again. That’s the nature of having bipolar. I know that the stresses of motherhood, especially in a pandemic, will not end. As my kids get older, their challenges will change too. The irony is that my youngest daughter ended up losing interest in nursing anyway, after I fretted about weaning her. 

I am still faced with impossible trade-offs. My oldest is five now, and sending her to preschool in this pandemic is so difficult. I’ve tried homeschooling her, which failed. I also recognise my need to have breaks away from her, so I can recharge, be more patient with her, and spend time with my younger daughter. 

Each time I do manage to send her to preschool, even with hand sanitising, her mask and social distancing…it’s a gamble. She came back with a cold last week, which happens, and the rest of us got sick too. Soon I’ll need to decide whether or not I want to send my two-and-a- half-year-old to preschool too. My gut says no, and to hold onto her for as long as possible. But if I want more time for myself and my freelance career, then preschool for both my daughters is the way to go.

Although the challenges I face as a mother have changed and continue to change, what remains constant is my own awareness of my moods, and my commitment to self-care.

Although the challenges I face as a mother have changed and continue to change, what remains constant is my own awareness of my moods, and my commitment to self-care.

I’m much more open to returning to being on bipolar medication, now that I am no longer breastfeeding. Bipolar medication kept me alive in my twenties, long enough for me to get the support I needed to heal from years of accumulated trauma. And if the need arises, I always have the option of going back on them.

Noor Abdul is a freelance writer.

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