3 tips for training for the mummy marathon

picture of Mariska Meldrum after finishing 5km charity run

Successfully completing my first ever 5km charity run (3rd from right)

Do you ever get to the end of a day and feel like motherhood is a race?  I must admit that I do.  And it’s not a quick 100 meter sprint – over before you realise.  It’s one of those long marathons… that can be both something we always dream of doing and something that’s totally overwhelming and beyond us.

I’m not a runner, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve watched as friends have trained for a half-marathon.  And I’ve noticed something that all of them have done – TRAIN.

Unlike a 5km fun run – which even I managed to do (once – see proof in the picture above!) with minimal training – you can’t front up and just run a marathon.

You need to have a plan for how you’re going to mentally and physically tackle the race. You need to put in weeks and weeks of training. And you need a support crew around you – not only cheering you on but also being there with snacks and water.

Watching a close friend prepare for an upcoming half-marathon got me thinking.  If more of us approached motherhood like a marathon, we’d probably enter into it a lot more prepared.

For those of us with a mental illness, fronting up to motherhood without having put in the necessary preparation is as unwise as expecting to run 25 or 50km without conditioning your body.

So here it is, my three tips for training for the “marathon” of motherhood:

  1. Have a plan

Your pregnancy, birth and first few months of your baby’s life may not be a trigger for a relapse of your Bipolar Disorder.  But research shows that this is an incredibly vulnerable time for women like us.  Make sure you tell your obstetrician and hospital about your condition – and make time to write Bipolar Disorder Action Plan with your psychologist or psychiatrist.   This will help you and your family to know what steps to take if you become unwell – and what the plans are to ensure your wishes for the care of you, your baby (and any other children) and home are, where possible, respected.

  1. Get in some training

Haven’t had much to do with babies or children?  Now is the time to get as much hands-on experience as possible.  Offer to babysit your nieces and nephews, or hang out with a friend who has had a baby.  Talk to friends and family about the day-to-day reality of being a mum – ask for the “warts and all” version, not the “Hollywood” show reel.

You want to feel as confident as possible when embarking on the marathon of motherhood.  Already a mum and feel unsure about your parenting skills?  Enrol in a parenting course – or ask your GP or local council if they can recommend a support group.  Don’t leave it until you’re at crisis point to ask for help.  You wouldn’t expect yourself to run a marathon with no training, so don’t expect yourself to throw yourself into motherhood without giving yourself the same courtesy.

  1. Gather a support crew

Motherhood is one of the most amazing things you’ll ever do.  But it’s also one of the most draining, frustrating and – at times – tiring things too.  The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is so true.  It’s important to have people you can rely on to help if needed.  Whether this is a supportive partner, family, friends or a church, you need to know that someone is there for you as a mum.  It’s important that there’s a handful of people in your support crew know what your key triggers are, what symptoms to look out for and what action to take if you become unwell.  They also need to know what’s in your Bipolar Action Plan – and how they can support you if you become unwell.

Motherhood isn’t a short sprint – it’s a marathon.  Whether you have Bipolar Disorder or not, it makes sense to get yourself as prepared as possible.  That way, you can embark on your motherhood journey feeling confident in yourself and your ability to juggle both motherhood and your own health and well-being.

Mariska xx

PS.  Do you have any tips to share with women with Bipolar Disorder who are preparing for motherhood?

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Have my meds affected my kids?

seroquelOn Tuesday night, my kids raced to the front door to greet a special visitor.  Her name was Ameka and rather than dinner, she had come to spend two hours interviewing the kids and I.  By ‘interview’ I don’t mean the journalistic kind… rather, she was there as part of a new research project into the effects on children aged 1-5 of taking anti-psychotic medication during pregnancy.

I’ve shared before about how – after a horrific experience following the birth of my first baby – I decided to go on Seroquel in the latter stages of my subsequent two pregnancies.  This wasn’t an easy decision. Before I fell pregnant the second time I went to see  one of the world’s leading specialists in women’s mental health – trying to find out more information about possible effects of anti-psychotic medication on unborn babies.

Unfortunately, at that time (five years ago) there wasn’t much research to reassure me that it was safe or not. In fact, the specialist I saw was embarking on a world-first study into the effects of Anti-Psychotic Medication on babies.  At the time, they had a database of 25 babies (all healthy!) whose development they were tracking from birth to 12 months.

Knowing how desperately needed this research was, I readily agreed to participate in the study.  The phone calls and visits continued until my each child turned one.

I must admit, I was a little disappointed when our time in the study ended. as they learn to walk, talk and really start showing their true personality. Surely studying babies only until they turned one wasn’t giving the researchers the full picture?

So I was pleased to receive a phone call last month, letting me know that Ameka, a medical student, was joining the team and continuing the research up until the age of five –  as part of her thesis.  I readily agreed for her to interview my younger two kids (now aged three and five) and I.

So that’s how we found ourselves last night, watching my youngest son (a real clown!) hopping around the room on one foot, building towers out of blocks, drawing different shapes and doing puzzles.  Watching his younger siblings pass their tests with flying colours, my high achieving oldest son hovered by… confused as to why this special guest wasn’t interested in testing him.

As she left, I couldn’t help but ask Ameka, “So… do the kids seem ok to you?”  I’ve never had any cause to doubt that they are perfectly ok. But somehow, having a medical professional agree that the medication hasn’t hampered their development at all was… reassuring.

I might have bipolar disorder.  But like any mum out there, I want the best for my children.  My prayer is that years down the track, when  other women with bipolar are preparing for pregnancy, ground-breaking research like this will mean they can be assured that looking after their own health will not harm the ones they love best.

 

 

 

Stay in control: be armed with an action plan!

Many things about bipolar disorder seem out of our control.  We can’t dictate when depression will hit us out of the blue, or when we’ll be left picking up the pieces in the aftermath of a manic episode.

Still, there are some things that we can control.  And for those of us who are mums (or mums-to-be), with little ones depending on us, this is music to our ears.

Nearly six years ago, I was pregnant with my second child and terrified that things would go pear-shaped, like they did after my first son’s birth.

Trying to wrestle back some sense of control, I sat at the computer and wrote a Bipolar Action Plan.

This focused on manic episodes (the hallmark of my condition) and outlined a number of things – such as signs that I was becoming unwell, usual medications, contact details for my GP, psychiatrist and psychologist, and a list of the people I wanted to act as my ‘support crew’ during any future episode.

As a mum, the thought that I may not be in a state to care for, or see, my young children was terrifying.  Writing down instructions for their care, as well as that of our dog and house, was somehow soothing to my anxious brain.

For those who don’t already have a Bipolar Action Plan, I would highly recommend putting one together.  If you’re not sure where to start, why not adapt this sample one – based on the plan I put together: Bipolar Action Plan (sample). 

 Was the Bipolar Action Plan useful? I’d love to hear your feedback or suggested improvements!

Taking anti-psychotics during pregnancy: is it safe?

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Women with bipolar disorder are no different from other women around the world.  Being diagnosed with bipolar doesn’t stop the desire to have a baby, or add to our family.
In the lead up to their pregnancy, most women with Bipolar Disorder are advised to go off all medication.
Yet, what about those of us at risk of relapse if we stop taking our prescribed antipsychotic medication can be detrimental to our health.  Or for those whose pregnancy was unplanned, and may have already been taking antipsychotic medication before they discover they are pregnant?
Are we doomed to rest of our pregnancy worrying about the impact on our unborn baby?

The National Register of Anti-Psychotic Medications in Pregnancy (NRAMP) is an observational, nationwide study based in Melbourne, Australia, that is aiming to provide a better understanding of antipsychotic medication use during pregnancy, birth and the first year of a baby’s life.

This world-first, innovative study will give women taking antipsychotic medications, and the medical profession, with the information we need to make informed decisions before and during pregnancy.

I participated in this study during my second and third pregnancies.  The outcome?  Two very healthy babies and no signs of the mental illness I endured after the birth of my first baby.

Here’s the lowdown on this great research project:

What does NRAMP aim to achieve?

  • Provide a better understanding of antipsychotic medication use during pregnancy, birth and for the first year of the baby’s life;
  • Allow for the development of evidence-based guidelines for the best use and effect of antipsychotic medication during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal phase;
  • Assist healthcare professionals, and women with mental illness, to make informed decisions about appropriate treatment options, and encourage safer outcomes for both mother and baby, during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal phase;
  • Enhance our knowledge regarding the care of women with mental illness during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal phase.

What’s involved in the study?

Through regular phone calls and research, NRAMP follows the journey of mother and baby during pregnancy, delivery and for the first year of the baby’s life.  The study is designed to collect and record information on maternal and neonatal health and wellbeing during this time frame.  It is not designed to provide treatment recommendations, make mental health diagnoses or pass judgment on any individual.

Who can participate in NRAMP?

  • Women who are taking, or have taken, antipsychotic medication during pregnancy;
  • Women who are pregnant or who have had a baby in the last 12 months;
  • Women who reside in Australia;
  • Women who are able to provide informed consent.

How can I join NRAMP?

Referral by your clinicians: Healthcare professionals can refer potential participants to NRAMP. Clinicians are asked to briefly discuss the study with appropriate patients, and to ask their consent to pass on contact details to NRAMP research personnel, who will then contact the potential participant to discuss participation in the study.

By self-referral: Women who are interested in participating in the study can contact the NRAMP researcher personnel directly.

Contact details:

Ms Heather Gilbert, Senior Research Nurse

Phone + 61 3 9076 6591