Alessandra Torresani, Who Stopped Her Bipolar Meds While Pregnant, Wants Better Info on Drug Safety

The mental health advocate and The Big Bang Theory actress is due with her first child in June and has suffered three "terrifying" bipolar relapses during pregnancy

Alessandra Torresani photographed in Los Angeles, CA, on April 25, 2022. Photographer: Jana Cruder Hair: Scott King/The Only Agency Makeup:Brittany Spyksma Howard Stylist: Kimmy Erin Clothing Credits: dress: Jen's Pirate Booty rings: Bisoulovely and Gorjana
Photo: Jana Cruder (@janacruder)

Ever since Alessandra Torresani was finally given a bipolar I disorder diagnosis at age 22 and started taking medication for what she describes as the "volcanic eruptions inside my body," she had believed two things were certain: "Medicine saved my life," says Torresani. "And, I was told from the beginning that if I want to have children, I'm going to have to get off it. That idea was always there: 'It's dangerous. Can't have a baby like this.' "

Torresani, now 34, only learned recently that this isn't true. Months earlier she had weaned off the medication lamotrigine that had been controlling her bipolar symptoms for 12 years because she was pregnant with her first child, who is due in June. But over dinner in February her friend Eden Sher of TV's The Middle, who also lives with bipolar, said she had continued taking lamotrigine while carrying her twins because her doctors said it was safe.

"It was the most wild thing when she told me she stayed on," Torresani recalls in an interview for the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. "I was like, 'What do you mean? I have been told the whole time you can't.' But you don't want to place judgment and be like, 'I'm the mother that wouldn't do that.' It was just like, 'I'm so confused!' "

Then in March Torresani interviewed a Cedars-Sinai specialist in reproductive psychology for her mental-health podcast, EmotionAL Support. "And when I explained how I was not on my medication, she was shocked," the actress says. "It was confusing. You hear so many different stories and theories."

That's a problem, say physicians at the intersection of psychiatry and obstetrics, where the stigma of mental illness and the historic neglect of women's health research can make for an especially dangerous combination.

Mental Health is Not 'Elective'

"There's a kind of knee jerk with mental health, more so than with other conditions, to stop meds as if they are elective," says Dr. Tiffany Moore Simas of UMass Chan Medical School's Lifeline for Moms. "You would never just stop somebody's diabetes or hypertension meds."

The fact is, adds Dr. Susan Kornstein of the Institute for Women's Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, the data on the safety of lamotrigine use during pregnancy is "very reassuring."

"While an early study found that infants exposed to lamotrigine during pregnancy have a small but elevated risk of cleft lip or palate deformity, a number of larger studies since then — and a large meta-analysis — concluded that there is no association between lamotrigine use during pregnancy and birth defects," Kornstein tells PEOPLE.

And because women with bipolar disorder are a high risk of postpartum psychosis — associated with increased risk of suicide and infanticide — "the conversation needs to change from 'medication or no medication?' to 'treated versus untreated disease' for these serious mental health conditions," says Moore Simas.

Her Lifeline4Moms program developed a nationwide network of perinatal psychiatrists who are available to consult with anyone who cares for pregnant, postpartum or lactating women about which mental health medications are safe and appropriate to continue.

Toolkits and apps available on the Lifeline4Moms website also offer access to the latest information on medication safety in pregnancy.

"People focus on the risks of medication exposure but it's important to keep in mind that psychiatric illness itself can cause harmful effects on the fetus," says Kornstein. "A woman's psychiatrist should work closely with her obstetrician to manage her medication."

As Moore Simas sums it up: "You can't have a healthy pregnancy and baby without a healthy mom."

'Lucky to Have Resources'

pix from Alessandra Torresani: her backyard wedding in LA on July 4, 2020.
Alessandra Torresani and Sturgis Adams, July 4, 2020. Courtesy Alessandra Torresani

Torresani decided to stay off her medication — "I didn't want to make a mistake and be that [tiny] percent chance of a problem," she says — but her second trimester was a reminder that her untreated disease can be terrifying.

But since she knew bipolar would be a challenge, Torresani and her husband Sturgis Adams, 44, a tech-company executive, went into the pregnancy feeling as prepared as they could be. Adams "did his own research, met with doctors and specialists and knew the most important thing was to nurture me," she says.

The couple hired a $300-per-session psychotherapist specializing in bipolar and pregnancy ("I know I'm lucky to have resources," Torresani says) and the actress, while closely monitored by her psychiatrist, used what she calls "woo-woo" practices like meditation, acupuncture, cupping, journaling and hypno-birthing classes to keep herself in balance while not on the lamotrigine.

THE BIG BANG THEORY, l-r: Kunal Nayyar, Alessandra Torrensani in 'The Fermentation Bifurcation' (Season 9, Episode 22, aired April 28, 2016). ph: Michael Yarish/©CBS/courtesy Everett Collection
Kunal Nayyar and Alessandra Torresani on The Big Bang Theory, 2016. Michael Yarish/CBS/Everett

It worked. Until it didn't. She suffered three relapses in her second trimester.

'The Darkest Phase'

"I had been told second trimester would be the giddy time where you have bursts of laughter — the honeymoon phase," Torresani says. "For me, it was the darkest phase of the pregnancy. I had never felt more out of my own body than I had pre-medication. That same feeling of being out of control. All I wanted was for someone to take my baby for five minutes and just let me scream."

"In my darkest stages," she tells Sher in an upcoming podcast episode, "I got to the point where I was like, 'I don't deserve to live.' "

Feeling better now that she is in the third trimester, Torresani is only looking forward — and outward, interviewing experts and recording a new season of EmotionAL Support while also nesting for baby.

"The information about medication safety should be common knowledge to every OB," Torresani says. I just want a healthy baby — and I want more from the medical community."

Related Articles