To the Child I Still Imagine

How bipolar disorder complicated my dream of being a mother

Bryan Barks
7 min readDec 18, 2021

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I want you to know I agonized over your name. For years, I filled my journals with the most beautiful, interesting, unusual girls’ names that came into my mind. Sometimes I would be writing about something entirely unrelated and would stop mid-sentence to scrawl a new name into the margins. Dahlia. Calliope. Florence. I needed a perfect first name for my imaginary firstborn daughter.

I knew you would be a girl. I was absolutely certain. I knew your middle name would be Coleman, after my grandfather. I knew that’s what we would call you. I imagined you would hate it growing up, but you’d grow into your special name. I imagined you would carry it well.

I collected names everywhere I went. They were shiny, reflective tokens of hope that I tucked into my pocket. They lifted my spirits when I was bored or restless or blue because they reminded me of you. They reminded me that one day you would exist outside of my mind, and my life would be full and rich and filled with tiny socks. He and I talked about your name on long road trips, debating the merits of botanical names. We laughed and smiled and I reached for his hand, feeling like we were driving towards our future, closer to you.

For as long as I have seriously considered the question, I have wanted children. I started dating my husband when I was 17, and even in the early years of our relationship, I thought about what a great father he would be one day. Seeing him play games with and tell stories to children I loved made me want to be his co-parent. In high school, I watched him read to my four-year-old sister and hold my two-year-old brother with such tenderness. They looked at him with wonder. It made me love him more.

As we got older and our relationship became more mature, we talked more seriously about having children — how many we wanted, where we wanted to be in our lives beforehand, how we would raise them. Like so many couples, we were young and healthy and felt invincible. We didn’t account for any roadblocks. We didn’t account for illness. We didn’t account for bipolar disorder.

It came on gradually, then intensified suddenly. I was hospitalized twice in one year before the doctors…

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Bryan Barks

30. Mental health & gun violence prevention advocate. Baltimore.