I’ve always wanted to have kids, three girls to be exact. I’ve had names picked out since the age of 12 (OK, so those names have changed several times, but still, I’ve been choosing names for what seems like forever). On my 21st birthday, I remember shocking my dad with the news that having kids would come first–even before the family business.
Fast forward to now. At the age of 32 and recently married, I’m not sure I want kids anymore.
In my early 20s, having children was not an if but a when. I was just waiting for the right time. Then, at 24, my long-term six-year relationship ended, and I got really sick.
I woke up one morning feeling ill. This lasted for six weeks. Six weeks of violent throwing up every morning and a complete loss of appetite. Six weeks of having every test under the sun, six weeks of my arms becoming pincushions and of massive weight loss. Six weeks with no answers. Six weeks living in my parent’s house with my head buried in their couch because any activity was overwhelming and made me ill.
Five hospital visits, eight different doctors, more tests than I can count, and no one could tell me what was wrong.
I moved back into my parents’ house and from my bed I watched as they took care of me. As I freaked out about my illness, I wondered how they were coping. What were they thinking? How were they not falling apart with worry?
And that’s when I realized that if the roles were reversed–if it were me, caring for my sick child–I would be a blubbering, crumbling mess. I realized I wouldn’t be able to cope if my child was ill (or worse). From that day on, it seemed my dream of having children was over.
With no other answers, the doctors eventually diagnosed me with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) caused by stress. My mum sent me home. For three months, I did not work as I tried to regain my strength. Every morning for nearly a year I would wake up and assess how I felt before I struggled out of bed. I tried “de-stressing,” I tried elimination diets, I saw a psychologist, but I still felt sick.
Growing up, I was very lucky. I didn’t know anyone that was seriously ill, and no one close to me had passed away. It seemed that my family was invincible.
And then suddenly, I knew what the inside of an emergency room looked like. I knew how long it takes to get an appointment to see a specialist, and how difficult it is to wait for those results.
Suddenly, it was real. And if it could happen to me, then it could happen to my family, it could happen to my child.
I see sick children in the media all the time. I see parents sitting by hospital beds praying that they will see their children grow up. I watch as parents hold it together and do what it is they must do. I mourn for every sick child, and every death that I hear about. And I fear that if it were my child who suffered, I just wouldn’t survive it.
And yet, maybe I would surprise myself and have the strength my own mother had. She watched as her 25-year-old daughter failed to keep any food down. She sat in the specialist’s waiting room, waiting for the test results that might have spelled the end of her world. She managed to stay solid and hold it together when her daughter was so scared she was crying uncontrollably, almost convulsing in fear.
And there’s more than just the fear of having a child who might fall ill. There’s also the question of whether I am well enough myself to be a parent. How do you raise a child when some days you are too sick to get out of bed before lunchtime? Is it fair to bring children into a world where mum doesn’t feel like going out and playing in the park? How do you tell your child to stop bouncing around or swiveling on the chair because they are making mummy nauseous? How do you soothe a sick child when you yourself cannot get out of bed? What happens when the stress of raising a child gets too much and it actually makes you sick?
When I first got sick I was thankful that I could fall apart and it didn’t matter. I didn’t have a partner or kids who were relying on me to be there for them. I could lie on my parents’ couch all day, every day, for six weeks.
Seven years later, and I do have a partner. I also have only a few more childbearing years left, and I know it is time to decide.
I am getting stronger and better at managing my body. I was eventually diagnosed with Pyrrole Disorder, which has answered many questions. Last week I began a new treatment. Life is (mostly) getting better.
And some things have not changed. I am still obsessed with babies. I still want to experience a life growing inside of me. I am addicted to parenting blogs and I still dream about the ideal name for my child.
But I am plagued with fear. I am torn.
The time has come to make a decision, and I just don’t know which path to take.