Would You Have a Child If You Knew They Would Have Bipolar?
People with a first-degree relative (say, a mother or father) with bipolar I have a seven times greater chance of having bipolar disorder themselves. Offspring of a parent with bipolar disorder have a 50% chance of having another major psychiatric disorder.
And if both your parents have bipolar disorder or another major mental illness? Well, I have no idea how that works out by the numbers.
In short, if you’re bipolar and having kids, there’s a very good chance that your children will have a mental illness too.
So the question is this, if you know that your child will have a mental illness, should you be having children in the first place?
Genetic Risk of Bipolar Disorder
Now, of course, no one knows if you child will have bipolar disorder. Your child may beat the odds and not have a mental illness. It’s a roll-of-the-dice, genetically speaking. But according to the numbers they have a better than even chance of having a major mental illness, and that’s pretty remarkable.
But let’s say for a minute you did know. Let’s say that you knew your child would have bipolar disorder. Would you have children then?
If You Knew Your Child Would Have Bipolar
I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t bring another person into this world to live the life I have. I wouldn’t bring another person into this world to be stuck on medication forever. I wouldn’t bring another person into this world to likely end up in psych wards and attempting suicide. I will not bring another person into this world to likely suffer for most of his or her lifetime. I just won’t do it. It isn’t fair to the person. I won’t condemn a person to a lifetime of pain just because of my theoretical biological drive to have children.
But that’s me.
Now I’m not saying that people with a mental illness aren’t lovable (as I consider myself fairly lovable) or shouldn’t exist (as, you know, I’m here), I’m just saying, if you could prevent a person from having this illness, would you? Do you really feel you have the right to create a human that you know would suffer life-long?
The Reality of People with a Mental Illness Having Children
Like I said, in reality, it’s a roll-of-the-dice and some people choose to throw the dice and some people don’t. I’m not saying either choice is right or wrong. I do think people should consider the question carefully though, as someone is going to have to live with it for the rest of his or her life.
Tracy, N. (2012, August 24). Would You Have a Child If You Knew They Would Have Bipolar?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 10 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/08/would-you-have-child-if-knew-they-would-bipolar
Author: Natasha Tracy
Ooooh tricky subject indeed.
It's not really a fair question to ask, since you can never actually know whether your child will certainly have bipolar disorder; there are so many factors to take into account. It's a matter of probability.
I took part in a pilot scheme involving genetic counselling for bipolar disorder. This is now a unique service that is available here in British Columbia.
I have 2 children and Bipolar I. I wasn't trying to decide whether to have them, since I was diagnosed after that, but rather to see what their chances were. I can't explain to you how the process works exactly, but it does involve questions and compiling more of your family history than just your parents. It turned out that my children have a very low chance of getting BD, although they have a slightly increased risk of depression in later life.
If I was choosing whether to have children, I'd start with how capable I felt at the time. If I was taking medications at the time I'd consider the consequences of having to stop taking them for a while. I'd also like to get more information on what their chances would be.
Thanks for getting the conversation started Natasha, I'm interested to see what other opinions there are on this subject.
Further information about genetic counselling can be found here:
If I knew for certain, then no, I would not. I WILL say that knowing now what my mother did not know when I was a child makes a HUGE difference. I know what to watch for. I know when to seek help. I am able to identify the behaviors and watch for triggers...so if one of my children DOES end up with the illness, they won't suffer as long as I did before being treated. Recovery/Living Healthily with bipolar disorder involves learning a new way of thinking and living...not just medication. So, I am doing my best to raise them with those skills.
That's a hard question. I didn't know I had it when I had my son. The thought of not having him is unfathomable. I guess I would hope that in the 15-20 years he'd have to grow up, there would be advances to make BP more tolerable.
In reality though, if I *knew* a child would have it, I probably wouldn't.
I had to make that decision 10 years ago because I have scoliosis, had surgery at 13 that fused my vertebrae from T3-L4, and know I live with increasing chronic pain. Every year there is something else that pain prevents me from doing. So, I made the decision not to roll the dice. I got my tubes tied rather than my husband getting a vasectomy, since it was my genes that I didn't feel right about passing on.
Fast forward to 2010. I'm diagnosed with bipolar. Now there's another reason that I wouldn't want to roll the genetic dice for children, never mind that I've now had a hysterectomy too.
My husband and I can't think of a good reason for US to rear children. If that changes, or our biological clocks click in (mine sort of has...), we can adopt, something we've talked about since we dated.
I'm not sure I'd make a good parent at all as a person with bipolar. But maybe with a few more years of stability I would.
I agree. I am now in my mid 40's and made the decision in my 20's that I wasn't going to bring a child into this crazy messed up life that I am living. Am I glad to be here today? Yes! but I don't want to pass this on to another human being especially someone that I will love unconditionally. My biological mother had bipolar, maybe that's why she gave me up for adoption. I know the likelyhood of having a child with bipolar is too great for chance. One I am not willing to take.
That's a hard question. I have a 14 year old son and wouldn't trade him in for anything. I had him before I was diagnosed. He does have adhd and social anxiety disorder. I never had anymore because I felt I couldn't handle anymore. I think I knew that something was wrong. I would not have any children knowing that I have bipolar. Not only is their chance of having a mental illness higher but I can't take care of another child correctly. I feel I'm not taking care of my son right. But that's another story. I would not trade him in for anything.