The Pain of Realizing I'm Not Healthy Enough to Have Kids
I have had depression and anxiety since I was a child. At 19 years of age, when I was a sophomore in college, I got fibromyalgia, with which I was diagnosed at age 24. In my 20s, I started having serious stomach pain issues as well. Those went undiagnosed for several years until I was finally tested for gastroparesis, which is what causes my digestive system not to work properly.
All of these issues get better and worse. I am now in my late 30s, and I am in a lot of pain most of the time from one thing or another — or all of them combined. How the pain will be on a particular day is completely unpredictable, so whenever I make a plan — even to go see a doctor — I cannot be sure I will be able to keep it. It is often difficult to get dressed or even to get out of the house, and I am unable to do that at all at least a day or two per week. I have been unable to work for several years now.
I try to cope by focusing on the good things in my life, and there are plenty of them. I have a warm, loving, compassionate husband who is intelligent and thoughtful and makes me laugh. We have a nice apartment in a good neighborhood. I have amazing friendships. I finally have a good relationship with my mother, and she is now one of my best friends.
Although we sometimes struggle to pay the bills on just my husband’s income, we have a lot of nice things. I have a large stash of beautiful yarn to feed my knitting and crochet hobbies. I have beads and other supplies so that I can make jewelry. I have adult coloring books and colored pencils in an array of gorgeous colors. I have comfortable clothing, and especially nice pajamas (very important when it hurts to wear “street clothes” all day). We are almost never lacking for good food.
However, there is something more painful than all my health issues combined:
My husband and I will likely never be parents.
I have always wanted children. I love kids, and babies completely fascinate me. I think my husband would make a truly wonderful father, and sometimes I even think I would make a good mother — if not for the fact that I struggle even to take good care of myself, and therefore could never take adequate care of a little one.
That is the exceptionally painful truth. That is what I live with that truly breaks my heart, more than never having a career or the feelings of isolation that come along with my days at home. I usually try to deal with it by not dealing with it, by just trying not to think about it. Mourning the loss of something so precious that we can never have is not something I can handle at the moment, even with the help of a great therapist.
I visited a friend and her husband and their new baby yesterday. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. They are wonderful people and clearly very good parents. Their baby is a beautiful creature, full of life and enthusiasm. She smiles a lot. I got to hold her in my lap and read to her, and I don’t think I could possibly enjoy anything more than that.
When I got home, I sobbed uncontrollably for hours. I want a child of our own more than I have ever wanted anything in my entire life, and it is just not meant to be. I can handle most of my own suffering and pain when I do not have to take care of anyone but myself (and occasionally my husband if he gets sick). However, when I cannot count on myself to be well enough to get dressed a significant amount of the time, I certainly cannot count on myself to do all the things necessary to take care of the basic needs of a child.
For the most part, I have received two very different types of reactions from well-meaning people when I explain this to them. The first is, “You shouldn’t wait until you have enough money/until you’re well enough/until (insert scenario here) to have children because it will never happen.” This is dangerous for me, because it sends me into denial. I try very hard to convince myself that I can be a mother and that I should be a mother, and that we should have kids now. It winds up hurting all the more when I finally come to my senses because I can’t do something simple like washing the dishes because my neck and shoulders hurt too much and the pain is radiating down into my arms.
The second type is, “You’re doing the responsible thing.” Yes, we are doing the responsible thing, but for some reason, it hurts greatly to be told as much. We know we are doing what’s best for a life that could potentially exist, and doesn’t, and more than likely won’t. But so many people don’t do the “responsible thing.” They go ahead and have kids despite the inability to truly take care of them, whether it’s for financial reasons or emotional reasons or other reasons entirely. And yet, to my knowledge, no one praises them for doing the “responsible thing” if they choose not to have children (at least, no one with an ounce of sensitivity). I am aware that being told we’re being responsible is not quite the same as being told that under no circumstances should people like us reproduce. Unfortunately, that is the way it feels to hear it.
The only good response when I tell you about our situation is empathy. Tell me you’re sorry we are going through this. Agree with me that it sucks, while understanding that I am not at all trying to downplay how difficult your life may be or whatever struggles you are having.
Accepting our childlessness is by far the most difficult thing I have ever had to face, but it is something I know I must do. Typing this out may be the first step along the path to acceptance, and even if I am never able to take another one, at least I will have done something. To those who may be in a similar predicament, please know that you are not alone. I hope you will be encouraged to tell your story as I have told mine.
The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.