It’s so hard to write this post, I’ve been trying to for over 2 years but I’ve always stopped part-way through because I worry that others will view my thoughts as judgements about the decisions they may make and I want to categorically state now that this isn’t the case. The thoughts and decisions I have about this are my own, about my own life, experiences and conditions, even if someone else were a carbon copy of me, I wouldn’t advise the same so please read this as my own decisions based on my own experience.
So, when are you having kids? This is a question I’ve been asked a number of times over the years, I’m sure almost every female of my age has, it comes with the territory of being 26 and in a long-term relationship. It’s amazing how little a person needs to know you to feel comfortable enough to ask you such a personal question and sadly, answering it is very personal indeed. So, when am I going to have kids? Well, the short answer is never. In fact though, there’s no short answer and no matter the answer I’ve given to people I’m usually told I’m wrong or that I’ll change my mind.
You see, planning a family isn’t so easy when you’re mentally ill. I’ve never been very maternal or had a strong desire to have children and for that I will always be very grateful. Many people when I state this look at me as if I’ve said that I hate children and all who bear them, or that I’m selfish, or I don’t have what it takes to be a mother, to put another human being first. The truth is, I’m all too familiar with doing that, in fact, I worry a lot that if I ever had a child, I’d struggle to be left with any identity at all because I’m so giving of myself to others and I can’t even imagine how much that would be amplified by that person being my own child. Anyone who knows me would describe me as caring, someone who goes above and beyond and who gives too much of themselves, this isn’t something I’m bragging about, or even something I’m proud of, it causes me a huge amount of problems because I’m so often taken for granted or taken advantage of. Imagine how I’d cope with a child when my self-esteem is such that I believe I should always come second to everyone around me?! Deciding not to have children is not a choice I’ve made for myself, it’s not for selfish reasons, in fact the vast majority of my reasons are for that child, rather than for me.
I’ve been mentally ill for 10 years, since just before I turned 16. Luckily, I hadn’t thought a great deal before that about wanting a family and I didn’t get into a serious, long-term relationship until I was nearly 21, by then, I’d decided that I wasn’t cut out to bring children into the world and therefore made this very clear to the boyfriends I had. Sadly, this isn’t a choice that many people accept as final, I’m told I’ll change my mind, that I’ll get broody, that I’ll get over my fears. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened yet and what the people saying these things don’t realise is that I have to fight quite hard to stay firm in my beliefs. I regularly waver, I consider having a family, being pregnant, having a mini me, I want to see what I’d be like as a mum, see my boyfriend be a dad, see my parents be grandparents and so much more. But I can’t allow those thoughts to take over because for me, the idea of being a mum to my own biological children is not a sensible one. There are so many reasons for this choice, one of the biggest being that I don’t want to pass on my genes as there is a large genetic component to all of the conditions I’m diagnosed with. Another, is that I’m untreatable with medication and due to having long-term depression and severe anxiety, my likelihood of getting post-natal anxiety or depression is very high and I’m yet to find a treatment that works that would therefore get this under control. I also have a lot of very severe fears that verge on phobias including needles, vomiting, hospitals, and pain. Each of these would be difficult to deal with on their own but combined they feel impossible to tackle and I therefore do everything in my power to avoid them, including getting pregnant. Mental illness is often exacerbated or even triggered by environment and therefore possibly giving my child a genetic predisposition and then having them live in a mentally ill environment is going to make them more likely to become ill themselves, something that I’m personally not willing to risk.
While I do have very sensible, logical, and robust arguments against having my own children, as I mentioned before, this doesn’t stop me from wishing it were different or regularly contemplating the idea. You can probably imagine that when people then ask me when I’ll be having children or why I don’t already have them, it’s a difficult topic to talk about. You all know that I’m very open and honest and I’m happy to have difficult conversations but most people aren’t prepared for this when they ask these seemingly innocuous questions, they don’t think about the people who can’t have children, those who are trying but not having success, those who’ve lost children, or those like me, who would love for life to be different but have made the difficult choice to not have children. Most people around me don’t understand this, most people who want kids say they wouldn’t let anything get in the way, that having kids is everything to them and even in my situation they’d still have them but you can’t possibly say this because you’re not me, you haven’t lived my life, you’ve not walked in my shoes and you don’t think about the world in the way that I do. So many people think I’m wrong for making this choice, that I’m selfish, but I’m making the right choice for me because I believe it would be selfish to allow my desire for children and to be a mother to take over the fact that I’m pretty sure that I would be bringing a disadvantaged child into the world, that I would be giving them a very difficult start in life based on mine and my boyfriend’s genetics and that I don’t want to risk that or risk feeling guilty or responsible for the rest of my life. I don’t want to make my child or children suffer and I can’t put myself through the fear or worry of knowing that it might, let alone try and get through the ordeal of pregnancy or giving birth that I’m so not cut out for. Living life with anxiety is extremely difficult, I can’t even imagine trying to do that whilst looking after a child, I’d just obsess over everything, worry over every cough or sniffle, and probably never let them out of my sight; we all know how much new parents worry, add an anxiety disorder on top of that and I’m not sure I’d do anything other than worry and panic.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t be a mother. I do believe that I have a lot to give, as I said before, I’m extremely caring and I would love to look after and nurture a child, but I don’t want to be biologically related to them. I really hope that one day my boyfriend and I might be able to foster children and possibly even adopt if our circumstances change and become more stable, it’s certainly something we’re working towards. I think we’d make great parents, even with my health problems, because I’ve learnt so much compassion, understanding and awareness. I’ve learnt to read people, to understand emotions and feelings and the issues that can arise if we go through adversity in our childhood and more importantly, I’ve learnt a huge amount of skills and techniques to identify those issues and change or improve them. It’s these things that make me think I could be a great mum, an understanding foster carer who could help guide a struggling child, to help them find themselves and become who they want to be and to get them back on the path to a better, happier life. I think I could love and care for a child whom I have no genetic or chemical bond with because I want to help, I want to offer a safe and stable place for them to call home, I want to be a person in their life who will never leave or knowingly let them down. There are so many children in the world who are crying out for homes, for parents, for love, and I feel that I could offer that, I just can’t for my own biological children, the world doesn’t need a mini me, it doesn’t need an extra child or two of mine, but it does need people to help those already here who are struggling and that’s where I think my place is. If I believed in God, or a higher power then I guess I’d describe it as my calling though it’s not half as dramatic or profound as that, more a realisation over the years that while I can’t face creating and bringing up a biological child, I have far too much love and care in me to never be a parent. I don’t feel that I was born to be a foster carer of an adoptive parent, not like I do about working in mental health and making a stand about that, but I do feel drawn towards it, towards helping those who’ve not been given a great start in life and to try and make that better with them. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be stable enough health-wise or financially to be able to even consider fostering, but the hope is there.
As you can see, it’s not a simple question, and it certainly doesn’t have a simple answer, it’s one of the most personal questions you can ask a person and yet so often it’s asked by strangers, in an offhand way, catching you off guard and giving you no chance to fully explain what you want the people around you to know and understand. I’ve always told people that I don’t want children, it’s easier that way, it means that I get the comments about changing my mind or being selfish but it’s easier than having to listen to people try to persuade me into having children that I don’t want, and it’s certainly easier than trying to explain that I have to work very hard to stay this strongly against having biological kids because I wholeheartedly believe that it’s in my, and theoretically their, best interests, that giving up the idea of having children is as far from selfish as I could possibly be and is actually me trying to be selfless and put them first, ahead of me. I’m not religious and therefore I don’t believe that any of this is God’s plan or destiny or anything pre-determined like that, I don’t believe that it’s God’s will for me to have children or that I’m deviating from the path set out for me, I’m using my free will to decide that procreation isn’t for everyone, we’re already in a pretty sorry state thanks to the sheer number of people populating the planet and I don’t want to contribute to that, I don’t want to add to that burden, or make myself ill, for the sake of carrying on my genes. I don’t need to be related to my children in order to be a parent or a mother, I don’t need to give birth to them in order to love them and protect them. I know that if I become a foster carer or adoptive parent, I might be in the firing line for judgement from those who might believe that I can’t possibly love my children quite as much as those who’ve birthed them, that it’s not the same if they don’t look or act like you, that you don’t have the same bond if you’ve not parented them since birth, but I simply don’t believe those things to be true and as with all of the other things I’ve received judgement about in my 26 years, I’ll fight the stigma, I’ll fight to be understood, because I may not be a mother yet, but I’ll fiercely fight as if I am one.