COULD MY CHILD INHERIT MY ILLNESS?

Many illnesses can be passed down the bloodline of a family, like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and so on. When we go to a doctor, we often have to fill out questionnaires of illness that members of our family have or had, but there is no questionnaire for mental illness. Some types of mental illness are caused by environment and can’t be passed on, while others can be inherited. An important question you might want to ask your psychiatrist before having a child is, “Can my illness be inherited?” It is something you must consider when you decide to start a family.

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I always thought I would have children someday. I thought about having a couple of children if I found the right man, but when I was diagnosed with depression, I started questioning whether or not I should have children. What if my child inherits my illness? Could I allow my own offspring to suffer like I have? Could I handle a kid who is also suffering with mental illness? Would it be selfish of me to have a child knowing he or she may struggle like I have? The questions swam in my head.

I started seeing a man who wanted children and had plans for a big family, but I had my doubts. I wanted to give him children if we were married, yet I didn’t want to pass my illness on. He thought up all kinds of possible ways we could make sure the child wouldn’t receive the gene that caused mental illness.

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I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t allow a child to suffer with a deep sadness that ate at her or his insides, feel so hopeless that he or she wants to die, suffer with an internal pain that nothing could relieve, or feel alone at the bottom of a dark hole. I also considered my ability to handle a sick child while struggling with my own illness. Could I handle the stress of being a mom to a kid who was suffering? Would I be able to help him or her through the darkest days of his or her life? I talked over these and other questions with my therapist and I decided motherhood was not for me.

My mom has felt some regret for my illness because her own mother had mental illness. She thought it was her fault I was sick. I never once blamed her or even considered it being inherited from my grandmother. It took my mom some soul searching to accept that no one was to blame for my illness. While my mom struggled with her guilt, I put myself in her shoes. What if I were the mother with a child who was deeply depressed? I probably would also struggle with guilt.

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So if you have mental illness, find out if your illness can be inherited. If it can, then ask yourself, “Do I want to pass my illness on to my child? Can I handle a child with a similar illness? Can I live with myself if my child suffers?” Discuss it with your therapist, and if you say yes to these questions, then by all means have children, but if you say no, then maybe children are not for you. This is something you cannot jump into. You have to consider it carefully.

There are also other reasons that may make being a parent difficult, like handling the stress of parenthood, postpartum depression, the status of your own illness, and your limitations due to your illness. These are all things you must think over carefully and discuss with your therapist and partner. Not everyone is strong enough to be a parent, and for those who are, I applaud you.

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I found a husband who doesn’t care if we have children or not. All he cares about is having me in his life. Sometimes I wonder what kind of mother would I have been, but I enjoy the freedom of not having children. My nieces and nephews have given me the joy a child can give you. They are the children I’ll never have, and our dog is our baby. I’m happy with my decision. My family is my husband and our dog. They keep me standing within the light.

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