Thursday, 23 May 2013

I have spent ages now trying to write this post and have deleted it several times. At this point I have no idea if I will manage to successfully get across what I want to say. Here goes, I'll give it one last shot.

I want children, I really do. I always have. I don't have any yet, partly by choice (the time isn't right) and partly because it's just worked out that way. I've been pregnant before and I would have chosen to keep that child despite the situation not being perfect but that choice was taken from me when I had a miscarriage. It sucks but there you go.

As a woman with mental illness I get hit with a lot of mixed messages about becoming a mother. On the one hand, my mental illness has interfered with my ability to develop a career and achieve any degree of financial stability. People keep telling me to sort out my career before I have kids. On the other hand, I'm not getting any younger and more often now people assume I've decided against having children or urge me to have them asap before the choice is taken away from me. Then there are the people who tell me having a child would be the best thing I could do. It would 'give me something to live for',  a reason to get better (apparently my own happiness and well being aren't good enough reasons). There are also the people who tell me the opposite, that as someone with mental illness I should never have children. It wouldn't be fair. I couldn't look after them. I could pass on my mental illness.

Now I'm not saying that these aren't things I should think about, of course they are. I do think about them, a lot. Particularly the stuff about my mental health and ability to be a good parent. I just don't think that other people's opinions are the best way for me to decide whether or not I'm ready to be a parent. Really, there are only two people who's views matter in this situation. Mine and my partners, as we'd be the ones going on to try for a child if we decided that was something we both wanted and felt ready for.

So then, career and finances. In an ideal world I'd have a career I loved and a steady income. It's not an ideal world and I don't. I might never achieve those things. In terms of having children this provides me with a difficulty as I'd like to provide my possible future children with an ideal life. One that's stable, where I can afford to provide them with everything they need. It's certainly something I give a lot of thought to. Right now I'm doing what I can to change my working situation. Stable employment, in a job I can stick with for more than a year or two at a time is the goal. Though I'll be honest and admit that this isn't something I'm trying to do just so I can have kids. It's more for my own benefit. It would be lovely not to have to worry constantly about money. Not to feel worthless because I have spent years at a time unemployed.

Let me tell you about my mum. She was physically ill and unable to work. In my mind, she was still a good mum. OK, so I was abused by my father and she didn't know about it because she was ill and bedridden or in hospital much of the time but I still think she was a good parent. In that situation it was my father who was the bad parent. Incidentally, my father also had a long term, steady job for the entirety of my childhood. It turns out the ability to work and provide for your children doesn't automatically translate into being a good parent. My mum wasn't well enough to work, she didn't bring in much if any money. Yet despite her illness she was always prepared to listen to us kids. When she couldn't get out of bed to play with us she used her awesome imagination to invent games we could play with her. She was the one who went through our homework with us, helping us find ways to figure it out when we got frustrated. She was the one we went to to have our knees plastered, to talk about our day and to read a bedtime story with. She wasn't perfect but she was an amazing mum. It turns out there's more to being a parent than providing financial support.

What about age? Well, age bothers me. I'm less than a decade away from the point where I can expect my ability to conceive and carry a child to start on a sharp decline. I'm not convinced I'm less than a decade away from establishing myself in a career, managing my mental health to a point where I'm happy and feeling ready to take responsibility for bringing a person into the world. That upsets me, because I want children. That said, more than half a decade is still a long time. For all my worries and concerns it is possible to achieve what I want to in that time, and if it takes a few years longer so what? My granny was having children into her early fifties. Her last pregnancy was problematic, but that was due to a non- age related illness. I know other women who have had children later on in life with no problems too.

Besides, what are these problems I could face? An increased chance of becoming infertile. That would be sad, but not the end of the world. I want children and I would be very upset if I can't have them. There's lots of things I've wanted in my life and not been able to have however. I didn't want to be abused growing up and it has had a long term negative effect on my life, but I'm learning to deal with it. I wanted a very specific career since a fairly young age and it's taken me time to make my peace with the fact that for various reasons I can't have it. It hurt and it continues to hurt, but I've still managed to have a life beyond that loss. People are amazingly adaptive. If I can't have children that will hurt, it will take time to come to terms with but I don't think it's impossible for me to do so if I'm faced with that possibility.

I could be at an increased risk of complications. That's a scary thought, but as with anything else in life you weigh up the risks versus the benefits. If the benefits seem worth the risk, then you do it. If the time comes then along with my partner I'll look at the risks, make sure I'm well informed and then make a choice. What about increased risk of disability in my child? Well, again I will make sure that I am as well informed as I can be but I imagine I'll go ahead anyway. I don't think a person with a disability is a person incapable of having a meaningful, fulfilling life. I know that not to be true. So I don't see why I would decide not to proceed just because there is a risk of having a disabled child.

So, moving on then. Should I have a child because it will give me a reason to live, because I think it will act as a miracle cure for my mental illness or so I have a purpose? No. Really, just no. Children aren't 'cures' or 'fix alls.' Children are people. Plus, I have a reason to live: Me. I've spent a whole lot of my life feeling like I didn't matter, I'm only just learning that I do. So please don't ignore me when we're talking about my life.

What about the opposite view? Should I not have children at all because I'm mentally ill? There's a lot to think about with this one. I need to consider how I'd cope with difficult times - and I know that there will be some. I have to think about how my mental health could impact on a child's mental health, quality of life and so on. Given that there are times I can't look after myself I need to think about whether I could look after a child. Of course I do. So should anybody who is thinking of becoming a parent.

Let me ask you something. Do you think people who have ever been physically ill shouldn't have children? I mean, they got better but they might become physically ill again. It's a risk isn't it? Mental illness is the same. It can improve, people recover and/or learn to manage their symptoms and mental health. Not everyone who has a mental illness will be mentally ill for the rest of their life. Most people aren't. My mental illnesses have been with me for most of my life, though I think they are better now than in my teens. More importantly, I've gotten better at recognising when I need help or support or to reconsider my treatment plan. I know how vital a good support network is.

I've never harmed or endangered anybody else, despite my mental illness. I've managed to care for and look out for other people, even when I've failed to look after and care for myself. I recognise that there is a difference between doing this on a short term basis and doing it long term, but I don't think the fact I have poor mental health should mean I will automatically fail at these things.

So there you go. I am not 100% sure I have really said what I wanted to but I've done my best. My basic point is simply that as a woman I already face a lot of pressure and judgement about my choices regarding parenthood. When you also factor in the fact that I'm mentally ill that seems to increase a whole load. And I don't think that's fair or right. Having lived with mental illness for a long time I'm much better equipped to judge how it affects my abilities and choices than a stranger.

So believe, if I ever decide the time is right to have a child I will have considered all of these points and more at great length. I will have weighed up the risks and done everything in my power to reduce them, as will the person who decides to become a parent with me.

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