That’s not entirely true – I always assumed I’d have them eventually, but now that nearly everyone I know is married and having kids, I’m questioning if I should have kids of my own.
Around three years ago now I found out that I have Crohn’s disease; chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The thing is, so does my mum, and so did her dad. The statistic is that people who have a close relative with the disease have a 5-10% chance of developing it. Here Mum and I are; proof that a 5-10% chance is more than high enough, and I’m terrified of passing it on.
My mum was devastated when she found out I had it, and I know her dad was devastated when he discovered she did. Mum sometimes tells me stories of my grandad’s struggles with it; stories about his misdiagnosis and then late diagnosis, about how his doctor put him on and then rapidly took him off prednisone. About how after that; his Crohn’s flared up and caused irreparable damage which left him needing a colostomy bag.
I’ve watched Mum go through struggles of her own. I remember, when I was younger, being woken up by my dad yelling for help in the middle of the night because Mum had passed out from the pain of an obstruction; I remember making sure she was breathing while he called for an ambulance. I remember sitting with my brother trying to convince myself that everything was going to be ok while she was in surgery.
Every time I get abdominal pain I freak out, if I eat the wrong food my insides feel like I’ve swallowed broken glass; sometimes food that’s fine for me one day is like poison the next. Food that’s healthy makes me sick, terrible foods don’t, go figure. I know I have a stricture (a narrowing) in my small intestine, and I just hope it doesn’t become an obstruction.
I know I’m lucky, it isn’t too bad for me; so far I’ve been spared the more serious complications. But I’ve seen what it can do, and I’ve seen into my potential future; I’ve seen into my child’s potential future. So knowing what I do – do I have the right to risk passing this on?
Logically I know that medical advances mean surgical procedures and treatments are better now than they ever were for my grandad, and even for my mum. I know that medicine will be even more advanced by the time I have children. I know that there are many risk factors in the development of Crohn’s, and that it isn’t all genetics. But it’s hard; symptoms for kids tend to be more severe, and Crohn’s can interfere with normal growth and development in children and adolescents. I was younger than my mum was when she was diagnosed, and I don’t want to risk putting a child through it.
I have it pretty easy, but I’m exhausted a lot; mainly because I’m anaemic, which means that if I can’t sort out my iron levels through diet and supplements I’m going to need intravenous iron infusions, and I really hate needles.
My mum and I both need to have blood tests every three months to monitor our health, both for inflammatory markers, and for toxicity levels from our medications. Sometimes my veins don’t cooperate and they have to tap both arms.
Mum and I both take immunosuppressant drugs. Hers come in biohazard bags; mine have possible side effects like lymphoma and hepatitis. I’m not really allowed in direct sunlight because my risk of skin cancer is higher than average.
Mum’s ok, and so am I, but I’m scared. I’m lucky, and I have no right to complain because there are people who are suffering more than me, but it feels like a constant struggle. All I can do is try to be healthy and hope for the best.
I don’t want it to define me, or the rest of my life, and I won’t let it – but more than anything I don’t want it to define the lives of my kids. I have knowledge my mum didn’t have when she had me; I know I have Crohn’s, and I know the risks.
So do I have the right to have kids?
Image attribution – Pixabay: froot