It’s four o’clock in the morning. Your baby has woken up crying its lungs out for the fifth time. Soothing the poor teething creature with a common cold back to sleep seems to take forever. Your migraine had already become severe at dinner, and the lack of sleep is causing it to escalate. You are sure it will carry on into the next day. Every shrill cry is like broken glass in your brain, and every movement makes you feel weak, achy, and nauseous. Your ice packs lay warm, strewn across the floor, and your pot of ginger tea has gone cold. You worry about the fact that you will not be able to work tomorrow. When the baby is finally back to sleep, the sun begins to peek through the blinds. You can barely move your heavy arms. You sink into the rocking chair and cry.
I would like to become a parent. Selfishly, I want to experience the love and joy they can offer, and also I think I would have much to offer them. But my plate is already very full with trying to take good care of myself, and when I imagine the types of situations that are challenging to parents under the best of circumstances, I balk in fear.
Parenting with pain
I have friends who live with chronic pain and illness who have chosen to have kids, who parent with all the creativity, resilience, and magic of a superhero. Parenting adds many triggers to their lives, and they find ways to cope, survive, and keep getting out of bed in the morning.
I have other friends with chronic pain who have made the definitive choice to not parent: some with sadness, and some without a smidgeon of grief. They have made, or are learning to make peace with the decision, and have prioritized their own physical and mental health over any desire to call a demanding munchkin their own for 24 hours a day. Some of them have wonderful relationships with the children in their life, and some have no desire to forge these connections.
A personal choice
I understand both of these very personal decisions. I would not judge, and better yet would fiercely defend, the rights of a person with disability to make this choice. But making the choice for myself has been a process fraught with longing, hope, grief, doubt, worry, and plenty of late night flip-flopping.
While I’ve been leaning more heavily lately toward becoming a parent, I still have so many questions. How could I possibly manage the process of trying to conceive and then potentially growing a baby if it means I can’t take the many medications that currently help prevent migraine attacks, reduce depression and anxiety, or help manage the pain? And if I become significantly more depressed and prone to frequent panic attacks, how will I cope? I don’t have good answers to these questions. At best, I think I will rally lots of support and find alternative treatments and make it through relatively unscathed. At worst I think I will fall into a scary depression and be unable to function normally for weeks at a time and that this will prevent me from being an effective parent, thus placing an unreasonable burden on my partner.
The adoption option
Experiencing pregnancy and passing on genes are not important to me, so I also frequently entertain the idea of adoption. My body may be more stable with that route, but adoption comes with even greater responsibility. Would preparing for and parenting a child who has experienced trauma be any less challenging than going through a pregnancy?
I know I’m resilient, and I also know trust myself to make the best of whatever path seems right in the coming years. But for me the choice is still anything but clear.
Have you made this decision for yourself? Are you on the fence? What are some of the factors at play?