I have a chronic illness. Should I become a parent?
My husband Ryan and I adopted our rescue puppy, Daisy Blue, a thirty-pound black Lab mix, a month before doctors figured out that I needed major surgery. After three ER visits, surgeons removed twelve inches of my small intestine due to inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease.
I missed the first two months of Daisy’s growing up, FaceTiming her from the hospital bed, hoping she might still recognize my voice and face. Once home and recovering, I missed most of her puppy training, walks, and dog park visits as I lay posted up on the couch, protecting my newly sewn-up stomach.
In the months that followed, Crohn’s and its symptoms left me fatigued and in pain, so I stayed inside for most of Daisy and Ryan’s adventures. I came along when I could, but I often suffered from severe stomach pain, dehydration, and headaches due to Crohn’s.
I felt guilty watching Ryan and Daisy’s bond grow stronger while I remained inside, wishing I could be a part of her active training and her early life.
Now, as a freshly minted 28-year-old newlywed, Ryan and I discuss the possibility of having children soon.
“I want to, I say. “But what if they get Crohn’s from me? What if I can’t take care of them? What if I can't give them all of the care and love and attention they need?"
These are my worries. I know that, often, much of the child raising responsibilities fall on the mother. We haven’t yet discussed how it might work out for us if Ryan needs to do more of my share of changing diapers, driving to soccer practices, or grocery shopping.
If I can barely take care of a puppy at times, how am I going to give a baby all that they need? What if I pass on this awful, chronic disease—the abdominal pain, the vomiting, the surgeries, the embarrassment of all of this—and worse, what if they develop Crohn’s even more severely than I have it? After all, children with a parent who has Crohn’s have a 7-9 percent chance of developing the disease, and a 10 percent chance of having an inflammatory bowel disease during their lifetime.
This past year, I’ve barely had a handle on my own monstrous medical bills; what if I wouldn’t be able to afford my child’s necessary treatments?
What if my future child hates me for the times I’m bedridden, unable to pick them up from school, unable to make it to their dance recital? Would they be too young to understand that I’m not being lazy? That it’s not that I don’t love them, but that I can’t do these things?
One day, I write my mother, telling her that I’m not sure if I should have children. She texts me back, saying, “Kids are the reason for our lives.” That we should pass on to them all of the opportunities that we’ve had. That life is the greatest gift we can give to someone. I think these sentiments sound nice, but what if the truth is that all I can give them are the same things they will resent me for?
I think often about the ways my mom was a good mother to me: Always up in the morning before me, she asked what I wanted for breakfast, like a private chef making ready-to-order meals. Cinnamon toast? Egg in a Hat? Monkey bread? I think of how she’s been my vigilant patient advocate keeping files on my disease, doing her own expert-level research, asking doctors all of the questions I never knew to ask at 17 years old when I was diagnosed. I think of my mother in awe, and I wonder how I might possibly be as good, already knowing my physical limitations.
Like most parents, I want to be able to give my child everything they need and more. The attention they deserve at their track meets, during our one-on-one time playing outside. I want to provide for them, comfort them, and make them feel better when they are sick themselves. But what if these are things that I can barely do for myself?
I do want children very much. I know that now is as good a time as any to have them, given my age and financial stability. But I also know that Crohn’s is chronic—meaning forever. That I will always fight flareups and go through ups and downs. My Crohn’s will never really go away. And like any parent—including possible parents or future parents—I will worry about my children’s lives before they are even born, wondering if it is even possible for me to be good enough for them.