The ABCs of Things to Consider Before Having Kids: Letter I
I is for Illness
If we’re talking about things to take into consideration before you decide to have a child, we have to acknowledge our current and collective predicament. As a parent who’s experienced firsthand the impact that this pandemic has had on kids, I’m gonna be real honest and suggest that you hold off on bringing another human being into this shitshow.
Do you think this is an enjoyable childhood for anyone? Masks, a deadly virus, adults acting more immature than kids? Kids not being able to go to school; not being able to make friends easily or comfortably; not being able to see family in person; having to stay at least six feet away from other people and kids; not being able to experience the same kinds of things that we all got to experience as kids?
Let’s put it this way: if you could choose to be a kid right now, would you do it? I would imagine most logical people would say no — and if the answer is no — why would you bring a child into the world who’s going to be forced into a situation that you wouldn’t choose to put yourself into?
We have no idea when or if we’re going to get out of this hellscape, and if we do, we have no idea what’s coming on the other side of it. There are a lot of adults making it a whole lot worse than it needs to be, and their behavior and decisions are dragging this pandemic out and allowing the virus to mutate — making the situation a lot more dangerous for kids. In my opinion, it’s really not a great time to bring more vulnerable and helpless humans into our very screwed up and ill world. So that ought to perhaps be taken into consideration before you decide to have kids.
If you’re someone who has any kind of chronic illness which impacts you on a daily basis, that would be something else that you really should take into consideration before you decide to have kids. It makes it very difficult to maintain the mental and physical stamina that you need to parent.
I have dysautonomia and POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), and there are a lot of days when I feel like bursting into tears when my son busts into the room in the morning because I just don’t feel ready to get up yet, but I have to because he needs me to get up. The majority of my experience with parenting has unfortunately been clouded by the fact that I have autonomic nervous system disorders which impact me in a wide variety of random and unpredictable ways all throughout the day, every single day.
One day last year, I talked with a woman at the grocery store who also struggles with POTS. We were sharing stories, discussing our symptoms, and giving each other advice. She told me that she’d had a year when her POTS got so severe that she couldn’t stand up without passing out. She ended up in a wheelchair, couldn’t work, and had to go on disability.
She then proceeded to tell me that she really wanted to have a child now that she’d gotten her symptoms more under control. She shared that she didn’t have a partner but was okay with being a single mom. She said that she was concerned about parenting with POTS and despite the fact that she’d learned how to better manage her symptoms, she was worried about having another bad flare-up and how that would impact her ability to care for a child. She asked how the experience had been for me, and asked for my advice on whether or not she should have a kid.
I had no idea how to respond. I didn’t want to leave her feeling bummed out and deflated if I was honest, and I also feel like because of the way that our society expects parents (especially moms) to talk about parenting — it can feel kind of scary to be honest about what the experience is actually like because you don’t want people assuming that you hate your kids.
I didn’t lie to her and tell her that parenting with POTS was awesome — and that I was handling things like a champion and she would, too — but I also wasn’t as honest as I now wish I would have been looking back on the conversation. I basically said that I thought that she could probably handle it if she felt like she had her disorder under control, but that it really wasn’t easy and that dealing with health struggles makes parenting even more of a challenge than it already is.
What I wish that I would have said to her, and what I’ll say now to anyone with the same concerns and questions, is:
Honestly, my advice is that you probably shouldn’t have a child with what you’re dealing with. Good days are pretty difficult and bad days feel extremely exhausting and overwhelming. It takes a lot out of you just trying to care for yourself in the ways that you need to in order to try and manage your symptoms every day, and adding the massive responsibility and hard work of caring for another human being on top of that situation can make it a lot more difficult to keep up with the level of self-care that it’s important for you to maintain.
Not to mention the fact that pregnancy and childbirth put the body through a lot, and that stress on your body — along with things you’ll be dealing with after you give birth such as extreme hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, etc. — can cause flare-ups in your symptoms. There’s also the overall stress that comes along with parenting, which can cause flare-ups in your symptoms.
In my experience, you won’t have days without symptoms — it just really depends on the day which symptoms you’ll have and what level of severity you’ll be dealing with. And it always seems like the days when you feel the worst are the days when your child wants or needs the most attention, is disagreeable, is throwing fits, and/or is whining and complaining all day long.
The main thing that has saved me from completely losing it has been the fact that my husband is extremely supportive, patient, and understanding, and he helps me a lot with caring for my son when I need help. For example, there are evenings when my brain fog and fatigue are so severe that I feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown when I realize that I still have to make my son dinner, brush his teeth, read with him, and put him to bed — and then get myself ready for bed, too. These are moments when my husband’s help has saved me from losing my mind, and if you don’t have that kind of support, you could end up getting very overwhelmed very quickly with everything you’d have on your plate.
You’ll spend a lot of time feeling extremely guilty and inadequate as a parent, because you want to be able to show up for your child more than you’re able to. It’s obviously your decision, and I’m sure you’ll make it work if you decide to reproduce, but my honest advice is that you shouldn’t have a child if you deal with chronic health issues.