Wife has cancer (terminal, eventually) -- is it right/okay to have children?
August 18, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

My wife has (inevitably terminal) cancer, but we are considering trying to have a baby -- need some help identifying and giving thought to moral, ethical, and medical concerns. My family and friends are too close to the situation to give unbiased advice.

So here's the background:
- We are both in our early 30s.
- My wife (then girlfriend) was diagnosed with a brain tumor 5yrs ago, the most advanced part of it was a grade 3 with an average survival of 3-5yrs. She has undergone surgery to remove most of it, radiation, then chemotherapy, all of which is complete. She's now only on anti-seizure meds, just in case.
- We got married a year ago, knowing we probably would not be in a position to have children, and knowing that she was already on the "edge" of the average survival. Still, this weighs heavily on us, as we would love to be parents... I know we would be loving, hopefully great parents. Were okay financially (no worries about any bills/debts, saving regularly).
- Her doctors say that she would have to stop all meds in an attempt to get pregnant, but this is not a significant risk to her condition. The docs say that the radiation/chemo would not have affected her eggs, though I'm a bit skeptical about this and we did have zygotes cryopreserved prior to any of the radiation/chemo, just in case.
- My side of the family is supportive and encouraging. Her side of the family? Well, they can be head-in-the-sand about things and probably don't want to address it head-on.

And here are the questions I'm hoping some of you can weigh in on, even if it's just an opinion -- don't spare our feelings here:
- Is it right or even selfish to have a child, knowing that mom is not likely to see his/her 5th birthday, much less any later milestones? This is not a case of "anyone could die in an accident any day" sort of thing -- unless someone comes up with a cure for cancer in the next couple of years, it's an inevitability. Our child would grow up with one parent (me, probably the lesser half) and possibly having to deal with the trauma of losing mom.
- Has anyone else been in (or known of) a similar situation, what others decided to do, what the outcomes were, and whether having a child might create an additional undue stress?
- Heck, most generic question of all (and probably one I should just search for)... how does one know when one is ready to be a parent?

Sorry, heavy questions -- I'm not necessarily looking for definitive answers, but at least your opinions will help us make a better decision and consider more points-of-view that we are shielded from.
posted by theplatypus to Human Relations (88 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
There is a website, called Mothers with Cancer that I think you should read. These are all women who had the child before the diagnosis, but they are blunt and upfront about the challenges of trying to parent a child while balancing their medical care.
posted by anastasiav at 11:58 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, theplatypus, I'm so very sorry you guys are going through this.

Snickollet, a woman I know from the blogging world, went through a VERY similar situation (husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; they used IVF to conceive twins; he died when they were less than a year old). Her blog is wonderful and deeply affecting... and she's also a ferociously tough woman who has addressed many of your questions in the past. I'd recommend giving her archives a read.

Long story short, re: this particular blogger: her husband died. It was immensely painful. However, friends and family helped a lot (as did the two little ones, who are adorable). It's been approx. three years since she lost her husband, and she's since moved cross-country, gotten a new job and begun a very, very cool new life with her wee ones. I would say that she has little guilt/regrets.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:03 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Paul Linke's incredibly insightful and moving one man play, Time Flies When You're Alive, is about just this topic. It was also turned into a book. It deals candidly with the idea of life and death and pregnancy during cancer. I highly recommend it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:04 PM on August 18, 2010

You might be interested in the blog Snickollet, especially the post simply titled "The Decision": This is the long story of how John and I decided to have children, knowing that he was going to die and that I was going to end up a single mother.

Their situation is reversed from yours, but I think some of the issues they struggled with may speak to you.
posted by muddgirl at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2010

Two brief things:

1. I actually disagree with your contention of this being different. I don't think there's honestly that much difference between having a sense of one's date of death and not in the calculations of having a child. Every child "risks" having a parent die, "early" or not. We're not all guaranteed one or two or any parents throughout our childhood. Every child brought in this world is welcomed to a world where people they know will die.

I do know plenty of people who had a parent (or two) die and, you know, obviously it's NOT GREAT. But human beings have ways to deal with death.

2. I *do* however think there's a huge difference in emotional and actual workloads in raising a young child with a partner—and doing so while caring for, and possibly grieving, a spouse. I would find it difficult to manage parenting in that circumstance.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm really sorry to hear about your wife.

These people aren't dealing with cancer, but I suggest you read a little of CFHusband, if you can. Nate's wife, Tricia, has cystic fibrosis, and is definitely on the edge of average survival. He writes really well about their decision to have a daughter (who, by the way, is adorable). Because of Tricia's treatment, they had to deliver their child very early, and so a lot of the blog is about that, too.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

- Is it right or even selfish to have a child, knowing that mom is not likely to see his/her 5th birthday, much less any later milestones?

Well, even if you were both in perfect health and decided to have a child, you could bet that the child would encounter some tragedies and losses in life. The child's parents and other relatives would still die someday -- you just wouldn't know when. Presumably you would still think it was better for this child to have existed than not to have existed. The same would seem to apply to the scenario where the mom dies when the child is 5 years old. I think the bigger question than whether the child would have something very sad happen in his/her life (which is pretty much inevitable) is whether you, the OP, are ready, willing, and able to be a single parent.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also: no one is ever definitely "ready". Oh, people THINK they're ready. But someone with multiple graduate degrees and a huge house with a nice backyard isn't necessarily going to be any better of a parent than someone who gets knocked up in a Dodge Neon. You take what you've got an do the best you can and look back and go, "Wooooow... I thought I could PREPARE for this?!"
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

If it was me, I would not want to spend my last few short years in the world going through the intense physical and emotional ordeal of pregnancy and the work of raising an infant, especially with who-knows-what interferences because of my illness. And as her partner I would worry about your ability to support your family financially while simultaneously becoming responsible for the baby as well if your partner is too fatigued or ill to do it. You could spend these years together doing almost anything -- why spend them more exhausted, broke, and stressed out than absolutely necessary? And that's not even factoring in the grief of her having to say goodbye to a child she has barely had time to get to know.

I don't think right or wrong enters into it, but I'd say it would be a pretty radical course of action and I'd hope someone would err on the side of protecting the comfort and safety of those already alive.
posted by hermitosis at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2010 [12 favorites]

Anecdotally, my friend's mother died of cancer when she was 4 years old, and she was raised an only child by her father. She is a perfectly normal, well-adjusted woman in her late 30s now, with a husband and child of her own. And I don't think that her father was half as mentally prepared to raise a child on his own as you are (or are preparing to be).

I think you should do it.

I am sorry for your troubles.
posted by amro at 12:07 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Raising a child is difficult enough with two parents or alone...but do you think you could take care of her and a baby if the need arose? Would she feel guilty about not being there for the child after she dies?

I doubt anyone ever knows they're ready for a kid, though. I suspect some think they are and only some of them are right. Others are completely unprepared and they muddle through somehow.

But there will be some part of the child that will be missing their mother and that can be painful. Certainly a lot of how it plays out depends on how long your wife has with your child.

I can't tell you what you should do...but if it were me, I'd be truly selfish and not want to share a moment with the person I love the most if I knew our days together were numbered, even if it were our child.
posted by inturnaround at 12:07 PM on August 18, 2010

I don't think it's selfish.

About being ready to be a parent? I don't think you're ever ready! It's an incredible journey. I'm only on year 11 of it, and it's by far the best thing I have ever done in my life.

I have prayed for your family. I hope you have peace about whatever decision you reach.

(Might her family may have a different reaction because she is their daughter? Pregnancy can be difficult for any woman.)
posted by littleflowers at 12:08 PM on August 18, 2010

Listen, this is heavy, so heavy I hesitate to write. But I've been down some roads. I'm not suggesting you ignore reality, but I've had my share of scary statistics set before me and I am on the other side of them -- I simply did not fall into the statistical outcomes, who knows why? So there's that.

The other thing is that if the worst happens, well, you and your child and your wife or her aspect, along with friends and relatives and what's in the fridge and everything everything that is your world will become her experience, including the great sacrifice and tragedy and joy. And then that will become who she is. And you will all be not diminished, but just who you are. It's so hard to explain.

theplatypus, I don't hear selfishness in anything you've said. You are thinking the right way. It's an intensely personal decision -- I believe you will prevail, whatever you decide.

I think you're ready to be a parent when you have so much faith in what you are building together that it's time to let the structure do its work supporting more LOVE.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:11 PM on August 18, 2010 [17 favorites]

If it was me, I would not want to spend my last few short years in the world going through the intense physical and emotional ordeal of pregnancy and the work of raising an infant, especially with who-knows-what interferences because of my illness.

On the other hand, if this is something she deeply wants to experience in her short life, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

As someone whose father died when I was eight, I think you should do it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:11 PM on August 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry. What a terrible situation. That said, I'll offer my opinion, coming from no personal experience whatsoever, just my thoughts.

I think that it will be hard, but after your wife (hopefully in a long time) passes away, you will be so grateful to have a piece of her still left on earth. It may be tough on a young child to lose his/her mother, but if you have something many others don't: time to prepare. I don't think it's selfish to bring a child into the world knowing one of his parents will be out of the picture in a relatively known timeframe - plenty of people do this. It's up to you to decide if you have the family/community support to be a good single father when the time comes. If you think you will be able to handle it, I think it is a great idea.
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:11 PM on August 18, 2010

If I truly loved someone (like, thought they were the bees knees, totally amazing, smart, funny, perfect on every level, wanted to spend the rest of my life with them), I'd want to eventually make a human spawn with them. If we knew that one of us was going to die in the next few years, well, I'd hurry up with the baby making. You sound like you are financially secure, and the fact that you are asking this question makes it seem like you are giving it a lot of careful thought. If you think you could handle caring for your child by yourself at any point, I'd go for it. Make babies.

And not to make it hit closer to home, but your child doesn't have to be a single-parent child for the rest of his/her life. Hopefully, after period of mourning, you can move on and love again. However, you'll always have those features, like her eyes, lips, etc too look at for the rest of your life. Whether that makes the whole situation easier or harder on you is probably something to think about.
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:11 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

how does one know when one is ready to be a parent?

As glib and facile as it sounds, if you're mature enough to ask that question seriously of yourself... then you're ready.
posted by Etrigan at 12:14 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Is it financially possible for you to hire a surrogate, so your wife wouldn't have to go off her medications or deal with any other possible pregnancy related repercussions due to the cancer?
posted by zarah at 12:19 PM on August 18, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm not seeing the part where she's actively fighting cancer now. So don't take that "average survival time" as a death sentence--it's just a statistic. At this point, she's shown by her survival that she's not one of the cases making that number lower. Heck, she could be in the long, successful tail, you don't know yet.

It'd be one thing if the most recent medical prognosis was "24 months at the outside." I know she'll never have a clean bill of health, but it sounds from your post like it's the cleanest it could be given the circumstances. You were given that survival information at the time of diagnosis, and the facts on the ground have changed since then. If I've misinterpreted something, or I'm missing information, I apologize, but it seems like the shadow you're living under isn't as large as it must feel to you. I don't think your wife is as unlikely to see the child's fifth birthday as you seem to.

Again, if I'm missing info or misreading your post, filter my opinion appropriately.
posted by stevis23 at 12:21 PM on August 18, 2010

I think it's an incredibly romantic idea. Which means it's dangerous and impractical, but makes an irrational, wonderful kind of sense. You don't want to lose your wife, you want to have something left of her after she dies, you want a baby together.

I think a kid can survive the loss of a parent, many do. He or she might be angry at your wife leaving her, that's common too. I don't think that's an intolerable burden to put on a kid, but it's a big thing to have to deal with. On the other hand, if it happens when your kid is very young, well, young kids are adaptable. I don't think a baby has strong opinions about who cuddles it. At least, mine didn't.

If you have a kid, you're going to have to put the kid first. That means when your wife is in the hospital, you won't be able to sleep overnight to be there with her. You'll have to be at home with your kid. When your wife has a crisis, you'll be picking your kid up from school. You will lose some of the time you would have had with your wife.

You're also going to have to make very different choices about your future wife. Some women may not want to raise another woman's baby. Some women will be okay with it so long as they have a baby with you. You'll have to find a woman who likes your kid, and one that your kid likes back. And dating with a young child is going to be much harder logistically.

(On the other hand, some women are going to hear why you're raising your kid alone, and they will think you are capable of incredible love and devotion. Proof of concept, if you will.)

You're in for a world of trouble if you do it. But it may be the thing that you need to do.
posted by musofire at 12:25 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it's okay to pursue having children, from a moral point of view, for a few reasons:

1. This may be an overly simplistic way of looking at it, but the child you have together would not exist otherwise to experience the other blessings of life. If anyone were to put themselves in the position of either being born to a mother who they only knew a short while versus not being born, I think most people would choose the opportunity for life, because it's a blessing, even with its pains. This isn't an argument for what a currently non-existent person would want, but a perspective on what your child would be thinking after the fact. If they were to choose for you now, I think they would choose to be born.

2. Don't underestimate the huge amount of good that your wife will be able to do for your child, even within a few years. The formative years for children may be the most important of their whole lives, and I think that a good foundation will outweigh whatever setback may come through the grieving process. Another way to look at it: your child will have the awesome opportunity to know your wife, if even for a short time. Instead of thinking what the child will be deprived of, think of this awesome gift.

3. I say this very carefully, but I wanted to share with you a personal story. A friend of mine recently had brain cancer that only old men get, and she was told that her time was very limited and that it was pretty much inevitable. She was pregnant with her child, and they recommended that she terminate the pregnancy so that she could take medication to help her condition. She chose not to do so and had the child, pursing treatment afterwards. She is cancer free today. I don't say this to give you false hope, as my friend's situation was statistically unlikely. I only share this to say that a medical prognosis is not the final arbiter of having children.

I do wish you and your wife the best, and I'm so sorry that you are having to go through this.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:26 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

- Is it right or even selfish to have a child, knowing that mom is not likely to see his/her 5th birthday, much less any later milestones? This is not a case of "anyone could die in an accident any day" sort of thing -- unless someone comes up with a cure for cancer in the next couple of years, it's an inevitability. Our child would grow up with one parent (me, probably the lesser half) and possibly having to deal with the trauma of losing mom.

No, it's not selfish to have a child under these circumstances. In one sense, you're "lucky" in that you have an idea how this is going to go, giving you both time to prepare her and the child for the death. You guys will have limited time, but know it and therefore can try and make the most of it. I highly, highly recommend extensive use of a video camera. Perhaps mom can record messages for future milestones, graduation, birthdays etc. Record the crap out of all everything you guys do as a family while she's alive.

You two love each other and want to create a family, would not hesitate to create a family if she didn't have the tumor. The cancer is already robbing you of so much, don't let it rob you of that you two really desire, children.

- Has anyone else been in (or known of) a similar situation, what others decided to do, what the outcomes were, and whether having a child might create an additional undue stress?

There was a movie, "My Life" which dealt with a similar situation but the man was terminally ill. It's not a heavy hitting great film, but it might help you guys touch on some issues.

- Heck, most generic question of all (and probably one I should just search for)... how does one know when one is ready to be a parent?

1. No one knows, but that's ok. Having a child often makes you ready. That fact that you guys are seriously thinking about this and weighing whether to do says to me that you're ready. Will mistakes be made? Sure, but the secret is that as a parent those mistakes live with you forever and you always fret about them. However, to the kid, they'll barely be remembered.

2. Honestly, you guys sound ready. You're financially stable place and you both want it. Go for it.

Good luck to you both.
posted by nomadicink at 12:27 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am sorry you are having to make this decision. I think there are two things going on here-the emotional concerns and the practical ones....

The emotional - How bad does your wife wants to be a mother and how badly do you want her to be the mother to your child (you decided that you wanted her as your wife bad enough to take on the burden of knowing you would lose her so maybe this is easy to answer?). When I think about losing my husband, I am comforted by the fact that I would have his two little lookalikes with me to remind me of the love that we had for each other and how we literally brought that love to life. I enjoy seeing my children do the things he does.

The practical-can you afford to hire full time help if you need it when she is gone? Can your family chip in to help you out when you need it? Can you accept the burden of being a single dad? It's a big thing-being able to pass a screaming toddler to a spouse so you can have a break is a huge luxury.

As far as the moral issue goes-I think you're in the clear. None of us knows what the future holds. You can only make the right choice for all involved now. The two of you obviously love each other enough to weather her illness, I don't feel like I'm going out on a limb by saying you'd be a loving parent as well.

FWIW, I do have a friend who died last year of pancreatic cancer, leaving behind three children, all conceived after a bout with leukemia that should have been fatal earlier in life. She knew her life would be abbreviated but couldn't bear the thought of never being a mother. Her husband is a good guy-she made sure those kids would be taken care of after her death by choosing him carefully. Maybe your wife did the same?
posted by supercapitalist at 12:28 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

You need to seriously and honestly examine your motivations for having a child in this situation. Some of the comments above about "having a memento of your wife" seem troublesome to me. I would highly highly recommend therapy in all aspects of this endeavor, beginning right now with the planning. You're going to experience a period of mourning, and it would be awful for everyone involved if you somehow associate the child with the mother's death. Or any number of possible psychological outcomes. Therapy will help you make decisions together, and also help you prepare yourself for the eventual grief.

That said (since you asked for personal opinions), if you're both in the right place, I would go for it. Good luck.
posted by purpletangerine at 12:30 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't think I would feel "right" bringing a child into the world knowing fully well that other people would be left with the responsibility of raising it. I would not have a child I did not feel I could personally care for.

Also, what happens to the child if something serious were to happen to you in the next eighteen years? Are there people in your life you would feel comfortable transferring this responsibility onto? I understand the point people are raising about how tragic variables could arise in anyone's life at any time, but foreknowledge of this makes a big difference. If you are reasonably sure you will be the child's sole parent, that puts a great deal of pressure on you to consider all possible scenarios, including the very worst.
posted by hermitosis at 12:35 PM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry you're dealing with this too.

I think if you would still want kids with her even if your spouse were not likely to die within a few years, you're good to go. If you were only doing it to keep her DNA alive in the universe, I'd hesitate. But you didn't say in your question, "I'd love to have something to remember my wife by," which to me is not a good reason to produce a human being. You said, "We would love to be parents. I know we would be loving, hopefully great parents." That's perfect. You're financially stable and have a supportive family network (for the most part), so as long as you're honest with yourself about your reasons for doing this, I say go for it and God bless.
posted by Gator at 12:37 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should talk to your side of the family about what supportive means in this situation. You will need a lot of help when your wife gets more ill. I honestly don't think it is possible to raise a small child, work and care for a spouse with a terminal illness alone. But with the help of your parents or siblings on a daily basis (or hers), it would become much more manageable.

As some have said above, raising a small child is incredibly difficult. Your wife really needs to think about how important that is to her. Does she want to do it because she wants to care for an infant and small child? Because she wants a piece of her to survive her? For you? Or are there other ways that she can feel that she has fully lived her last years?

I think for you, having a small child will be a consolation after your wife's death. You'll be focused on the child and your future. And if you really want to be a dad, this may be the best opportunity for you, because you don't know what the future will bring either. Perhaps your wife will continue to outlive the statistics. Perhaps you won't find another partner.

My heart goes out to you.
posted by Sukey Says at 12:38 PM on August 18, 2010

I can't begin to comprehend what a difficult decision this must be. I'm sorry for your eventual loss and I'm glad that you two are thinking about how you can maximize your happiness in the remaining years.

Is there any possibility that things could change and she could end up having to go back on her medications and/or go through chemo? It would be extremely difficult to choose between giving your wife the treatment she needs to prolong her life and protecting the health of the baby. Just another thing to consider.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 12:40 PM on August 18, 2010

Have you considered fostering children? I'm surprised nobody has brought it up. I think you and your wife is being selfish, for what it's worth, especially in light of research that has shown that predisposition to cancer can be genetically inherited.
posted by halogen at 12:44 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you read "matt, liz, and madeline"? Matt writes beautifully about being a single father and about what he went through when he lost his wife (not to cancer, but it's analogous to your presumed situation). The format takes some getting used to, but stick with it.

Good luck. I think there are arguments to be made either way about this being a good/bad right/wrong decision, and no one and every one will be right about it. But no one else is you, and no one else is your partner. Take care of yourselves and make the decision that feels right to you.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:46 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm going to have to be a dissenting opinion on here. Having lost a mother to cancer - one who was pregnant with me while having advanced malignant melanoma and diagnosed the morning I was born - I'm going to have to say that I do think it is selfish to knowingly bring a child into the world knowing full well that the child will have to watch one of its parents die, and then grow up without them.

My mother could only breastfeed me a few weeks before she had to begin treatment ASAP. For my first year of life, I basically lived with a family friend, because my mom couldn't take care of me, and my dad was busy taking care of my mom. We were *incredibly* fortunate. The year of treatment my mom underwent was successful, and she had a few healthy years before the cancer returned (as it tends to do) and was fatal the second time around.

As a child with a mom that had cancer, it is incredibly difficult to witness. Watching someone die of cancer is heartbreaking at any age, but from a child's perspective, it's not just growing up without them, it's hearing her on the phone asking you to visit her in the hospital. But you're scared. You're really fucking scared. And when you do decide to visit her, she's screaming in agony the whole time. It's watching her hooked up to tubes and machines, becoming bald, becoming skin and bones, with tumors all over her body. It's having to grow up very quickly and suddenly. Instead of her helping you, you're helping to feed her. Instead of going to your friends house to play after school, you're tasked with helping them go to the bathroom, and emptying and cleaning her bedpan. It's watching them crying and screaming in pain every single day. It's wondering if maybe you hadn't been born, your mother could have had more time and energy to take care of herself, and just be happy and healthy. But you know that just by being in her stomach, you know you made things worse for her. Not intentionally, but still. It's the wondering… It's being a child, home alone, with your mother in the hospital and dad taking care of mom. And you're home alone with a fever of 104, vomiting, and there's no one to take care of you. Because mommy's sickness is important and more severe, so naturally it takes precedence. Not only do you not have a mom around, you have a father who is exhausted taking care of them, so they can't properly take care of you. Then there's the growing up without a mom stuff. And that's a whole other set of pains and challenges.

I know you love your wife. I know you love them so much, you want to procreate with them and bring a child into this world that is a part of both of you. But I do think it is selfish to not think of the added pains a child will go through - to knowingly bring someone new into the picture, but not be able top give them your all. It's not just about not having a mom not be there for their 5th birthday, but it's about the stuff even before that point.

But I think the crux of the matter for anyone considering having kids is, if you can't knowingly provide the best that you can for a child, it's in the best interest of the child-to-be to not have them.
posted by raztaj at 12:48 PM on August 18, 2010 [26 favorites]

I'm going to say "yes, have the baby". I'm glad some of the above posters mentioned Snickollet, that was a wonderful and sad blog to read.

If I was gone and my toddler still had his dad, I have no doubt he would still be a happy, well-adjusted kid, though I'm sure he would miss me. But his life would continue and it would be full, without me. And perhaps this is a purely selfish thing, but his existence would make my death, or my spouse's death, a little more bearable.

Life will go on after your wife eventually passes either way, but I think your life will be much richer having had a child with her.

And while musofire is right in that your child will need to come first - if you have a good support system in place, it will not be impossible to be there for your wife. We have in-laws in the same state, and at 18 months our son's had a few sleepovers and a lot of evenings away from us (and is right now hanging with his grandparents for the afternoon). If your family is near you and helpful, raising a child becomes much easier - and if your wife needs to be cared for in an emergency, having someone to take the baby overnight may be completely possible.
posted by kpht at 12:50 PM on August 18, 2010

Is it right or even selfish to have a child, knowing that mom is not likely to see his/her 5th birthday, much less any later milestones?

It depends. To quote the very wise Carolyn Hax: Would you want to be this baby, and have you two as parents, given this situation? For you specifically, that means taking a clear-eyed look at what your strengths and limitations are, since it's extremely likely that you'll be doing most of the work of raising this child alone. Can you provide the life for your kid that meets the standards of what you would want, if it was you being brought into this family?

This isn't meant to discourage you from having kids; I think there are lots of single-parent families that definitely pass this test. Believing that you can create the sort of childhood that a kid would actually be happy with isn't about meeting some standard of "everything must be perfect" (two parents, lots of money, his/her own bedroom, horseback riding lessons, yadda yadda yadda). But it does mean taking a clear-eyed look at what you are and aren't able to offer to your kid, and being honest about whether that is enough. Can you provide a stable home? Can you be emotionally there for your kid, as you are caring for a very sick wife? Will you have enough (family or other) support for those hours away when you need to be working in order to support your family, if your wife is no longer there?
posted by iminurmefi at 12:52 PM on August 18, 2010

Your story is heartbreaking and I admire the courage and love for one another you and your wife are demonstrating (for all of us looking in) in dealing with a tragic situation. You have received some good and compassionate advice already. I agree with much of it, particularly about the idea that raising a child is difficult, physically and emotionally demanding, and stressful under the best of circumstances. I'm going to offer couple of ideas with all due respect for your situation.

The passing of your wife will in no way diminish your love or remembrances of her. It will in no way diminish the qualities you hold dear in her that make your life more than it would be without her. It will in no way diminish the lessons she would impart to your child through you.

Death is inevitable. I'm scared of mine. It gives me comfort to think that maybe there are different "levels" of death. The first, and most obvious, is physical death. The second is when most people stop thinking about you. The last is the last time your name is spoken aloud. Nobody can control completely the first. Everybody can control the others. You have the power to make your wife live throughout your child's life whenever and with whomever you choose to have that child.

It's one thing to think about having a child, but the reality is, we have "children" only for a short period in their, and our, lives. They quickly become young adults, and mature into full-fledged, autonomous people. Much of the details of childhood dissolve. Only the love remains. Physical similarities are nice, but that is not the way someone is remembered. It's through their love.

You and your wife should not feel guilty about devoting your love to each other during what may be a very difficult time. That love can be passed on at any time. Your wife will be a part of your child no matter what.

You haven't mentioned anything about it, but from the compassionate way you have presented this, I can help but wonder if your wife (and forgive me if this isnt the case) may have a hard time if, give the worst case scenario, she felt she was not able to be the wife and mother she would like to be due to her condition, despite the best of intentions. It may not be the case, but is probably worth talking through.

I wish you strength. And peace.
posted by nickjadlowe at 12:56 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

shit. i feel like some questions should never need to be contemplated - this is truly not fair and im sorry.

my thoughts - when she passes, having a tiny piece of her still around will be painful, lovely and magical.

If it were me, and i had a good support network of family and friends, id do it.
posted by nihlton at 12:57 PM on August 18, 2010

If you have financial liabilities that occur monthly can you guys do it on one salary? If not, is life insurance even an option? I would definitely want to have a connection to my spouse through my child. With regards to people helping, what people say and mean to do and what they actually can do are sometimes worlds apart.
posted by MrMulan at 1:00 PM on August 18, 2010

Sorry, I'm going to have to go with the "yes it is selfish" crowd. Lots of people have kids for selfish reasons, though.

I was your contemplated child once, and looking back I don't particularly appreciate it. At the time I didn't know any better. I still have trouble relating to people in a way that most people would call normal, even though my mom ended up living until I was 15. It's disturbing how easily I can sandbox my emotions over death. Sounds great, but is in fact incredibly mentally unhealthy.

It sure didn't help when my dad dropped dead unexpectedly a year before my mom ended up expiring, since my mom was completely disabled by that point and had been for years.

Luckily, I had an older sister who could take on the parenting role after my parents died. Otherwise it would have been left to my grandparents, who at their advanced age weren't really well equipped to deal with a teenager any more. Not that my sister was well equipped, but at least she didn't have the usual pains of old age to make it worse.

All that said, if she passes on early enough in their life, your child will probably mostly forget about that time of their life.

If it's really what you want, your kid will have as good a chance as any as coming out relatively normal, but it's still selfish.
posted by wierdo at 1:08 PM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

Well, I can speak from some related experiences here. My mother died of cancer when I was 6 years old and my younger sister was 2. She was pregnant with my sister when her cancer appeared the first time, although because the doctors believed it had something to do with how my sister was positioned inside her, proper tests weren’t done until after she gave birth and by then it was pretty late.

My sister and I were and are still wonderfully lucky. My father is my hero and a completely amazing man who raised us with so much love and humor and joy in our lives. About 4 years after my mother died, my father remarried to my (step) mom. I don’t even say “step” mom and don’t think I ever did because she truly is my mother in the most essential definition of the word. She came into a family already populated with 2 small children and loved us just as her own. Of course, we had fights growing up and our ups and downs but I don’t think any more than a normal mother/daughter relationship endures. We never, ever, ever had a fight where I said “you’re not my real mom”. I knew that was something that could be said in the heat of the moment and I never allowed myself to say it because I knew how badly it would hurt (both of us) and in a strong sense, it just wasn’t true. My parents are still married and we all have great relationships.

BUT BUT BUT….none of this is to downplay the effect it had on me to grow up without my own mom. My mother, the one who gave birth to me and whose genes I have inside my body. There is so much I want to know about her and from her, so many questions I have for her still and I am now nearly 30. I feel that if my parents had decided to have me knowing that my mother was going to die from cancer, I would feel pretty angry that they cheated me out of some things that they knew I was going to miss and long for. I would feel a lot of unwanted pressure if I (even for a second) thought I was supposed to be some sort of momento or replica or stand-in for my mother so that the people who knew her could have something to remember her by. (It still twinges my heart in both good and bad ways when I visit my mothers’ hometown and see her old girlfriends who get tears in their eyes when they see me and say how much I look like and remind them of my mother.) I have heartbreaking memories of seeing her sick in the hospital and seeing her cry and not really comprehending it all. I remember the time she came home from the hospital as a special treat for my birthday---but she was in a wheel chair and sick the whole time and I hated it. I couldn't imagine being put through that... maybe not not purpose, but with the knowledge that it *could* happen. Not fair at all to a child. Also, besides all the above happy stuff I said about my family, there were definitely complications that arose—in particular with my maternal grandparents. After my father remarried a few years, we had to move many states over for a job. My grandparents from my mother’s side where not happy about that but at the same time, what could they do? They couldn’t make us stay but I could tell that it tore them apart, knowing that their daughter was gone and they didn’t really have a controlling stake in their grandchildren’s lives because of it. (Again, they were still fully my grandparents and my parents loved them too, but that dynamic changes when the parent that they were related to is now not there anymore).

I can’t answer your questions about whether it is right to have a kid in this situation or whether you’re ready to have a kid at all, but I do know how I it might have made me feel. Please feel free to email me (in profile) if you want to talk about this more.
posted by ejazen at 1:09 PM on August 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

I'm so, so sorry.

They say children cope better with death than intentional abandonment. So I wonder if cases where a parent died when a child was fairly young are really applicable to your situation, given that, at some point, your child would understand that the two of you knew he would likely lose his mother. That's what I'd make sure I had a good answer for, given how much pain this child will be in, if your wife leaves him at ages 3 to 11 or so. And maybe that good answer is just: The world is beautiful, and you are here in it, with me, and I love you.
posted by palliser at 1:09 PM on August 18, 2010

I think a consultation with one or more OB specialists who deal routinely with complicated pregnancy is a must before you make any further decisions. Pregnancy is difficult enough for those who are already in excellent physical shape with tons of energy. I think your wife needs a clear idea of how pregnancy might affect how she feels day to day, how it might change her overall prognosis, and complications that she might expect as a result of her body's compromised state (pregnancy is a whole-body condition and gametes okay =/= pregnancy okay). It sounds like she's already spoken with oncologists about this, but I think talking to an OB would also be useful.

How are her energy levels now, and how would she feel if she could barely stand to walk around the house some days because she's just too tired? How would she feel if suddenly she started having seizures and couldn't go back to the meds? How would you feel about having a child born severely premature because her condition spirals and an emergency C-section is called for? (I am not saying any of these are particularly likely; only a doctor is qualified to say that, I'm just providing hypotheticals to test your devotion to the idea) Of course all pregnancies have risks, and she may be comfortable with them. I just think she needs a very clear understanding of the range between best and worst case scenario provided by a specialist with a full knowledge of her medical history, and if she still wants to get pregnant, good luck to you both.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:14 PM on August 18, 2010

There are a lot of people here giving well-intentioned, supportive answers about how wonderful it is that you will be bringing a new human being into this world with the woman you love and how if it's what you both really want, you should go for it, but I think you should give the comments by raztaj and wierdo significantly more weight. Obviously it's impossible to know how things will turn out, and we all want to think it will be for the best, but in my estimation the odds are against it, and you would be selfish to go ahead (not to mention, as hermitosis said, the fact that your wife's last few years will be spent in an incredibly stressful and difficult fashion). My two cents: enjoy your time with your wife as thoroughly as possible, just the two of you. But obviously I wish you the best whatever you decide.
posted by languagehat at 1:19 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

Since you sound prepared for the experience, I think the person who deserves to be selfish in this heartbreaking situation is your wife. What last great adventure does she want to take - honestly? Does she want a grand tour of Italy? Take her. Make that happen. If her one great wish is to have your child, you sound like you are in a position to give her that.

So many great answers to read through and I wish you well.
posted by rainbaby at 1:22 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe this will be helpful, it's by and about a friend of mine: Shin's Cancer Blog
posted by bink at 1:32 PM on August 18, 2010

A word of caution on relying on a support system to care for your child while you care for your wife: for a very small child (under 2), this may work fine. For an older child -- or even for a particularly clingy child -- this will probably not work. The child will understand that there is something horrible happening, and he will want you. Not a grandparent or an aunt, but you, Daddy. And you will have to choose between leaving your wife in the hospital alone, and leaving a screaming, intensely distressed child to go to her. Doing right by your child, in my opinion, means you and your wife understanding that if your child is too distressed to be left with the support system, you will have to be home with him, even if she is at the hospital, and the support system will go to her. More basically, I think you and your wife have to accept that you can never put parenting on hold, and that you will have less time with her, and she will have more time alone, if you have a child together.
posted by palliser at 1:35 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you going to regret it for the rest of your life if you don't have a child right now? Will she?

In the end, this may be all that it boils down to. I kind of generally agree with raztaj that that experience will suck for the kid, but it sounds like so far you both would do the best you can to compensate for that. And plenty of people have parents who died at a young age. It's awful, but not the worst thing ever.

And in the end, you are the one who is going to have to live with the regrets about something that you sure as hell can't change five years from now.

Might I recommend reading Dream Chaser? Apparently Florence Griffith-Joyner knew she was going to die young and left letters for her daughter later. It does talk about the whole experience (through Mary's teen years) that Al and Mary went through afterwards.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:36 PM on August 18, 2010

I haven't had to deal with that. The closest I can get is that my father was killed before I was born, so I spent my childhood alternating between being raised only by my mother and a couple of her husbands. It was scarring, and I'm more than a tad fucked-up. If I had somehow been a frozen embryo my mother had implanted, or otherwise been a conscious choice instead of her simply being very pregnant when her husband died, I'd find it difficult to speak to her.

What would give me pause here is the strong possibility that at massively important periods of development in your kid's life, when neural paths that will last a lifetime are being laid, is exactly the time when you're likely to have to subject the child to horrifying stresses and either subject the child to nontrivial neglect or functionally have others raise the child while you're caring for your wife. Where you mention your child growing up with one parent, I have to agree that it would actually grow up with a fractional parent.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:45 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

An added not. My mother passed from cancer a few years back. It was important to her that she see her young grandchildren that came across the country to visit her. Children are generally not allowed into rooms in the oncology ward. It makes sense.

They eventually arranged to move my mom to a different rooms so she could visit them. We did not realize at the time that this kind gesture was because everything else had already been done. I don't mean to be a downer, just thinking that this could be part of your future and something that may distress both you and your wife. It complicates visitation and may make that time look different that what you are expecting.
posted by nickjadlowe at 1:48 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

My gut reaction upon reading your question was, yes it's selfish. But, people have children for selfish reasons.

Not only is it selfish, it's also a bad idea. There is lots of room for unknown and potentially awful complications during pregnancy, either from the chemo or from the effect of the hormones. Pregnancy is hard enough when you are healthy, I can't imagine how much more difficult it would be with cancer.

Second, do you want to be a single parent? One of the reasons I had a child with my husband was because I wanted to parent with him. Not by myself. Sure things can happen, but he's here for the long haul and I could not be a good parent without him. Knowing that you are eventually going to be a single parent going in might make it easier, but you must also factor in the fact that on top of taking care of an infant, you might also be taking care of your dying wife. What a terrible, terrible stress on all of you that would be.

Finally, what kind of life would that child have losing its mother (and father, at least temporarily while taking care of your wife)? I was so very fortunate to have both of my parents and still do, and even though I'm 34 and self-sufficient, I still dread the day when they leave this world. I can't imagine going through that as a child, at the time when you need your parents the most. It's one thing to have a child from the beginning with just one parent - the absence of the other parent is palpable, but manageable. But, the loss of one parent, especially when the child is old enough to remember the parent, is just cruel if you have a means of preventing it. And, you do have a means of preventing it by not having children.

I can't imagine the pain and uncertainty that you both must be going through, but I hope that whatever you decide, you find peace.
posted by Leezie at 1:56 PM on August 18, 2010

Another voice from the minority here. I think bringing a child into this picture would be selfish and ethically questionable. Certainly the child might well grow up happy and healthy (he or she would evidentially have a very caring and thoughtful father) but the probability of losing a mother at a time when parental attachment can be so strong I think sets your child up for an emotional blow so intense I can't imagine a parent letting this happen intentionally.

Other issues to consider: Might being a lifelong reminder of your wife burden your child? Might you in retrospect resent spending the last years of this marriage absorbed in the exhausting duties of new parenthood rather than enjoying your wife? Have you thought of how single parenthood will fit into your life and future relationships after your wife is gone?

I was so sorry to read your question. I wish you and your family the very best.
posted by applemeat at 2:01 PM on August 18, 2010

I'm so sorry for your hardship.

It's nearly impossible to say what one would do hypothetically; I think you have to really be there to know. But since you asked: I would not do it, for all the reasons mentioned in other posts of the same opinion. For me, having a baby under these conditions would be selfish. It somehow equates the act of bearing and raising a child with other desires I might want to fulfill before I died -- writing a novel, traveling around the world, who knows what. But obviously the consequences are not at all the same. Besides the health risks to both mother and baby, the likelihood of emotional scarring and the practical difficulties of raising a child under these circumstances, no one has mentioned the fact that there are already many more children in this world than we can feed, and our resources, as a species, are rapidly being depleted. If it were me, I couldn't help but see the bigger picture.

My heart goes out to you and your wife. Please let us know what you decide, if you feel up to it.
posted by Paris Elk at 2:10 PM on August 18, 2010

Response by poster: I'm so overwhelmed by all of your thoughts and recommendations in such a short time (overwhelmed as in appreciative, not burdened by quantity). Thank you all so much for contributing your thoughtful opinions and anecdotes -- I've been reading ask/mefi for so long, I finally joined because I knew that this community would be the right one to ask.

I've hesitated to reply in this thread because (a) I'm not sure if it's acceptable to reply in my own thread, and (b) I don't want to color any replies or stop the conversation. However, I thought I'd chime back in to answer some questions the best I can, recognizing that I cannot see the future beyond the facts I know now and I can only give a best guess about who I am now, much less how I might react to things in the future.

Sorry if I've painted some subjects with broad brushes:

- Child as memento: This thought had never crossed my mind, I know it has not crossed by wife's. I can say now that this child would not be conceived as a living memory of my wife, and surely, I would not harbor any negative feelings (right now) toward him/her, as we're trying to make the most informed choice possible.
- Wife's health: (knock on wood) She is in great health right now, she has an MRI every quarter to check if the tumor has come back (these would have to cease during parts of pregnancy, of course), but otherwise is only on a very small dosage of anti-seizure meds that are taken mostly as a precaution. Should her tumor return, it is likely to do so in its most aggressive form, leaving her with (mercifully), a shorter (6-12mo) period before the end. Complications could include surgery that might leave her with some physical deficits, but one way or another, it would signal the finish line, probably in a short time frame. This is not the sort of cancer that goes into remission indefinitely. We have consulted her neurooncologist and obgyn, neither has signaled that there is any real danger to having a baby. Of course, we have scheduled a followup appointment with each to ask more questions. There is no known genetic link to the type of cancer she has - if there were, this would be an automatic disqualifier for the idea.
- Support Network: Neither of us is the sort that has 500 facebook friends, but we each have (most shared) friends that we are very close to and trust. More importantly, we are both very close with our families. My parents are recently retired (hooray for them!), live two blocks away, and though they joke that they love their "free time", it is obvious they would love nothing more than to spend 24/7 with a grandchild. My in-laws are divorced - Dad is nearby but mostly distant, and while Mom does tend to be in the denial business, she is a caring, smart (also retired) woman who did a most admirable job raising her kids. We all would've been close anyway -- and my wife knows that once we have a child, that child would be our first priority (easier said than done at a difficult moment, I know).
- What She Wants: I'm certain that her last grand adventure would not be a trip around the world, to the moon, or across the galaxy, a billion dollars, or all of the material possessions in the world. She wants to be a mom, and would be a great one -- which leads me to my worry that she would only be a great one for a short while.

I suppose there is not 'best answer' or 'right answer' to this question, but please know that your replies have given us so much food for thought, and more than once has left be misty eyed and unproductive in my office. If any of you have more thoughts on the subject, please post them - I will share them in one way or another with my wife (we are pretty open and frank about the dying part -- it's the living part we have questions about these days).

I promise to come back and update if and when we make a decision...
posted by theplatypus at 2:30 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

A lot of people wiser than me have commented above, from both sides of the situation, but it strikes me that there's one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet - you have the ability to give your dying wife an experience and a gift that she is longing for. It sounds like you have the ability and means to take care of a child after she is gone, so I think you should, if only so your wife can experience this (I'm told) amazing aspect of adulthood while she is still alive.
posted by twirlypen at 2:33 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm going to tell you my gut feeling: if I were in your wife's position, I would want to love and mother a child for as long as I could, knowing that when I died, he or she would be in the care of someone as thoughtful and as loving as I am, along with a loving and supportive extended family. I also don't think that the death of a parent has to be any more traumatic for a young child than for an older child or even a teen.

I think many, many children are born into this world outside the "traditional" healthy-mom-and-dad-who-pass-away-in-their-sleep-at-age-70 dynamic. It's tempting to privilege this one type of private tragedy as the worst thing to ever happen to a potential child is, but as someone mentioned in the comments to Snickollet's latest, awesome post, pain is pain, and pain is inevitable. If you want to shield your potential child from all pain, then it's best not to have on at all.
posted by muddgirl at 2:47 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am so very, very sorry. I have every confidence that you both will make the right decision so I don't have an answer, per se. I was just wondering if your wife has fully appreciated how hard it will be to say goodbye to her son or daughter. Just reading your post and imagining saying my final goodbye to my one year old son shattered my heart and made me cry.

I know the pain and feelings of loss I have suffered in my life pale in comparison to your wife's, but I have had a decent share. And I probably could not have appreciated the kind of pain I described above before we had our son. But now that I have him, the kind of inevitable pain your wife will go through saying goodbye seems utterly unbearable to me.

Again, I am so sorry you have to deal with this at all. I wish you every happiness that you both deserve.
posted by murrey at 2:59 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do it. Better done and regretted than not done at all.
posted by A189Nut at 3:00 PM on August 18, 2010

jenfullmoon writes "Are you going to regret it for the rest of your life if you don't have a child right now? Will she?"

Many people are considering this situation form this angle which I think would be fine if it were anything but a child. But in the OPs case it is a child and a parent should be considering what is in the child's best interest.

If your wife had a diagnoses of death in 12 months I'd say go for it. But it sounds like there is a fair possibility of your wife not dieing until the child is 4+ years old (IE: old enough to remember). A parent's protracted fight with cancer followed by inevitable death is a lot of pain and suffering to intentionally expose a child to and I wouldn't do it.
posted by Mitheral at 3:01 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom had asbestos related lung cancer (complete removal of rt lung, one lobe removed from left) in her early thirties, met and married my dad a few years later and had me at 36. Her lung collapsed during labor and it was truly a miracle that she pulled through. She survived until a month shy of my 12th birthday. She was weak/sick all of my life, there were many things she couldn't do that I wished she could, but she was my mom and I loved her with all my heart.

When I was younger I didn't understand why she had me. She knew how dangerous it was and knew that there was a good chance that I was going to lose her when I was young. Like raztaj I felt responsible for how weak she was and thought that she could have lived so much longer if she hadn't had me. I'm in my 30's now and a mother myself. Having my son taught me that if anything I probably extended her life. In addition, I am closer to understanding how she could have made the decision to become a mom when she knew she wasn't going to be around long.

In spite of my experience, I would encourage you and your wife to have a child if that is what is what you really want to do. There are tragedies in life - very few of us make it through without heartbreak, disappointment, and a fair bit of struggle. Love you child with all that you have, talk about everything and then talk about it some more. Provide your child with many memories of your wife to hold onto when she is gone and the two of you will be just fine. I wish you the best.
posted by a22lamia at 3:04 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

What She Wants: I'm certain that her last grand adventure would not be a trip around the world, to the moon, or across the galaxy, a billion dollars, or all of the material possessions in the world. She wants to be a mom, and would be a great one -- which leads me to my worry that she would only be a great one for a short while.

This says it all - do it!
posted by a22lamia at 3:11 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, this is a hard one. My mom died of cancer when I was 13, and it was awful, but I think you should go for it for one main reason: by asking this question, you're demonstrating that you're already a million more prepared for what's to come than my family was. Make sure you get all the support you and the child need to face whatever comes your way, cognizant of the fact that she/he will be born into much greater stress and chaos than most children (most people, even) ever face. And above all, make sure that you remarry someone great who's not threatened by the memory of your ex -- I can't stress this part enough.
posted by yarly at 3:20 PM on August 18, 2010

Sorry, I'm going to have to go with the "yes it is selfish" crowd. Lots of people have kids for selfish reasons, though.

Agreed. I would even say that having a child is generally a selfish thing to do (I can't even
think of situation where it's selfless, unless you're a surrogate).

And in this situation, it's exceptionally selfish. Being raised by a single parent sucked badly enough, but at least I wasn't sentenced to watching my mother die. Most people have kids with the best of intentions. Your intention is to take away the most important thing that child will ever know when s/he's very young, and for what?

She wants to be a mom, and would be a great one...

This isn't about her.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:27 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

> a parent should be considering what is in the child's best interest.

Repeated for truth. Make sure you're focusing on this at least as much as on what you and your wife want.
posted by languagehat at 3:28 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

One more thing I forgot to mention...it sucks constantly being aware that your parent is going to die soon. Most everyone has that experience at some point in their life (barring heart attacks and the like), but it's even worse when you're a kid. You end up thinking back to all the time you could have spent with your parent but didn't, because you were off doing kid things. It sets them up for a lot of regret later in life, not because they did anything wrong, but because they were too busy trying to do the normal things kids do.

I'm not a parent, though, so I can't really say if my mind would be changed by having my own children. It's certainly possible being a parent would.

I don't blame my parents at all. My mom had gotten her diagnosis before I was born, but her disease just so happened to progress much more quickly than expected. Rather than a decade or two before the full onset, it ended up being only a couple of years.
posted by wierdo at 3:30 PM on August 18, 2010

I would particularly think about what her decline and death will do to you, emotionally. Have you dealt with loss before? Do you have a really, really excellent support system, with close friends and family living nearby? Do you tend toward depression at all?

My father was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly before I was born, and he died when I was two. I think the greatest impact on me has been from the depression and anger that enveloped my mother as she tried to cope with my father's illness and death (she did not feel that she had a solid support system). A parent's mental health affects the child (not just in terms of the physical care they're able to give, but mentally), and this is especially true when there is only one parent around.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:33 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to tell you my gut feeling: if I were in your wife's position, I would want to love and mother a child for as long as I could, knowing that when I died, he or she would be in the care of someone as thoughtful and as loving as I am

I don't doubt it.

But my gut feeling is that I would not want to be that child. I'm sure the OP and his wife, while she could, would do the best they could. But honestly, this sounds like something where if I could, I might choose simply never existing over that life.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:53 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I addressed that in the second part of my comment. Many many many many children lose their parents and do not wish that they had never been born. This situation is fundamentally no different.
posted by muddgirl at 3:56 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

muddgirl wrote: "This situation is fundamentally no different."

There is a vast gulf between a parent unexpectedly dying and them knowing that they have a terminal disease prior to making the decision to conceive. They're simply not comparable situations.
posted by wierdo at 4:05 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

It isn't that children who lose parents (and experience a lot of stress and grief far earlier than anyone should ever have to) wish that they had never been born. I think the difference is bringing a child into this world knowing that they will have to witness the horrific suffering of their parent, and grow up without them. My mom was diagnosed about 2 hours before I was born, so it was pretty much a done deal. But intentionally bringing a child into the horror of cancer and death? I would feel pretty damn awful. That's a kind of heartbreak that makes me weep just thinking about it. ROU_Xenophobe noting that such kids don't have one parent but rather a "fractional" parent, resonates strongly with me. One can think they have the support of others, or that they can deal with raising a kid by themselves with the other parent having a terminal illness, but more often than not, the child isn't going to have even one full-time parent, as the healthy parent is going to be expending much of their time and energy away from a child. And other people? They also have their own commitments.

I can understand that the OP's wife would like nothing more than to have a child. That's sweet and telling, certainly. But it doesn't mean it's ethically ok to follow through with it. Seconding the comment that this "isn't about her" - believe me, I acknowledge the pain that comes along with having a terminal illness and feeling incomplete. But there's consequences to all our wishes - and this one will undoubtedly bring a lot of grief, stress, and anger for a child. Especially a child intentionally brought into such a situation. Suggesting that the child will just "get over it" or deal with it because a lot of people go through stress and trauma is incredibly insulting and ignorant. Children don't often express the anguish they feel, but it lingers silently and painfully for a very long time - usually a lifetime. And I say this as someone who, I feel, is actually pretty well adjusted, all things considered.

And what if the child has a disability of some sort? Can the OP deal with this on top of a terminal wife? My heart breaks for the OP and his wife. This is all heartbreaking to read, and I can't imagine what kind of anguish the OP and his wife must be going through. I do think, however, that it would not be a good idea to introduce a child to this kind of trauma unnecessarily. It would certainly not be selfless parenting.
posted by raztaj at 4:35 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think that your follow up that your folks are around the corner changes things for me. If they are willing to be extremely involved if/when they need to be (and are younger/good health themselves) and your wife is okay with that, I say go for it.
posted by k8t at 5:12 PM on August 18, 2010

I don't think it's selfish at all.

All parents are required to do is their best at parenting. There is no guarantee in life that children won't see suffering, or have to face seeing a parent die. Most children have to see their parents die at one point or another; many have to do it sooner rather than later. If your parents live to a ripe old age and see their grandchildren, it doesn't mean that your life was all roses and cupcakes. Better to have a fantastic mom for 5 years than a neglectful, destructive one for 40.

We are all going to die. Many of us have children anyway. As a cancer survivor, I really bristle at the idea that those of us with that experience suddenly have to modulate our expectations or desires in life. We're all bloody mortal. We all suffer. We all witness suffering. Joy comes along for the ride too, and life is good. Even in hospice, life is still life and it requires living. The dominant expectation seems to be that the moment you get a hint of your mortality, we all just give up on you. Like it's already over because we have evidence that the road has an end. That's bullshit. The road has an end, but there's still road between here and there. Enjoy the hell out of it.

Don't hold back. Life the life you've got together. None of us know how long we're here. All the days, all the experiences, all the opportunities are precious. You should take the ones you want to take.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:32 PM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry you guys are going through this, but look at it like this: she is holding her own now, her doctor didn't recoil in horror when the idea was mentioned, and you want the child(ren).

And you can't predict when anyone will die. It is good that you accept that she may die soon, but I wouldn't let that possibility change your lives. Don't look at it as "selfish or not", but look at it as what will you regret more: having kids, or not having kids? I would think that I would feel more selfish having made the decision not to have kids, and then being lucky enough to live a long time all the while knowing that "we could have".

It always sucks when a parent dies. Doesn't matter how old they are. It is something that almost all of us have had to, or will have to, endure. Don't let that guide the decision to have kids or not. I'm fairly certain the majority of us are better off for having had whatever time we got with our moms and dads.

And not for nothing, having kids around will certainly give your lives a sort of a goal. Another reason for her to fight the cancer and not (mentally) give up.

One of my friends died of a brain tumor in her late 20's. Losing her hurt us all like hell, but if that was the price we had to pay for the joy of being able to know her even for that short time, we got one hell of a deal.

Good luck and I wish you both long and healthy lives.
posted by gjc at 6:26 PM on August 18, 2010

First off, like many others, I am so sorry for what you and your wife are going through. You sound amazingly thoughtful and loving and I'm sure you'd make a great parent, but you said don't spare our feelings so here goes:

My mother died of cancer when I was 7 and I really think that it's had a profound negative effect on my life that I didn't even realize until I hit my 30s. It did affect me enough to decide quite young that I would never have children, but for some reason I didn't feel the true weight of it until I was older. You might want to read The Loss that is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father to understand what your hypothetical child will be up against.

That being said, without going into a lot of detail, part of my problem was that my father wasn't really into being a father, especially by the time I came along (my parents were in their 40s when I was born; my other siblings were all born when my parents were in their 20s). He loved all his children as adults, but really didn't have much use for them until they were 18 and out of the house. It was also different times, when death wasn't discussed and children (at least at our socio-economic level) were not brought to psychologists or grief councilors. It could be that a lot of what I've gone through could have been mitigated by a loving father; a close knit, supportive group of extended family and close friends; and the right type of support after my mother's death and as I grew older. It sounds like your child will be wanted and surrounded by love and that should go along way toward mitigating the affects. But they may always carry a hole in the heart that will never go away.
posted by kaybdc at 7:39 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would suggest that you and your wife sit down now and make a plan for what to do in the event that her cancer does return and you have a young child. Get out a notebook and put in it all the practical stuff, how much benefit time/money can you save if you need to take time off to care for your wife and then yourself and your child if she passes away, what will you continue to do for work, what will the childcare situation look like, etc. Make a list of everyone who you can call on for support both when she is very ill and in the aftermath of trying to care for a little one and deal with your own grief. Write down their names, phone numbers, and email addresses so you can see the network of support you have. Make sure you've made funeral arrangements now. You do not want to be doing this while caring for your child and in the midst of grief. Put the info about the contract/arrangements in the notebook. Make a list of the hospice programs/home health agencies your wife's insurance will cover in case she needs in home care including contact numbers and but it in the notebook. Talk about how you're going to have a baby/toddler and a dying wife in your house at the same time. Make a plan for who will do the dishes, who will cook, who will make sure the basics are cared for day to day. Then write down all the things you wife would want to do for a child if the cancer came back, videos, letters for each birthday, a diary, list of advice, etc. Put it all in one notebook, put the notebook in the back of a closet, pray you never have to take it out and use it, but know that its there in case you need it.

Saying goodbye to a child will be very hard for your wife. So you might want to look at see if there is a cancer support group/hospice support group at your local hospital. Many hospitals and hospice organizations also have grief support groups that might be good for you and your child at some point, more good info for that notebook.

The process of putting this together will help you to think about and plan for the things you'll need in the event of her cancer returning and the possibility of her death. It also gives you a chance to see if you actually have the resources to care for your family in the way you want to and might help you both with the decision to have a child. Going into this prepared means you'll get to spend more time caring for your child, and less time trying to find the information you'll be needing in the midst of a family crisis.

As an additional thought, you might also want to think about a plan for what you want to do if the cancer comes back early in her pregnancy. It would be a good discussion with her OB and her oncologist. If you think there might be a possibility of prematurity, learning about what's involved in raising a premature baby might be helpful too. A wife with terminal cancer and a baby in the NICU would be unimaginably stressful so you might want to prepare yourself for that possibility as well.

As a mom myself, my heart goes out to you and to your wife. All the very best to you both.
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 7:56 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

It always sucks when a parent dies. Doesn't matter how old they are. It is something that almost all of us have had to, or will have to, endure. Don't let that guide the decision to have kids or not.

No disrespect, but this is not true. However tragic it may be, losing a parent at 30, or even 21 does not affect one the same way as losing a parent during a critical phase of development. There have been studies about this although I don't have time to look them up (aside from the book that I linked to above, which I believe references some). Their are issues related to socialization; associating love with loss which affects one's ability to form close loving relationships, and being predisposed to depression among others.
posted by kaybdc at 8:09 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

"Are you going to regret it for the rest of your life if you don't have a child right now? Will she?"

Quoted because this is how I try to live my life. My question for you is whether you want to become a single father (I don't get this vibe, but are you just going along with your wife's wishes here?), and whether you've talked with your parents about the role you envision for them in your child's life.

So you know where I'm coming from:
1) I have no plans to procreate, but realize that I could very well change my mind in the next decade.
2) I watched my mother die of cancer when I was 15. I still haven't figured out how to talk about its effect on me while not minimizing how awful those years were. It's part of life, life happens. It made me who I am, which makes it impossible to play the "what if" game of alternate pasts. I've also realized that I was lucky - once my mom started to decline, she died quickly, so I didn't witness the horrors that others have. I was also old enough to know what was going on - I did my mourning before she died, while my younger sister seemed blindsided and more adversely affected.

I'm not trying to snark or to derail (and am certainly not a scholar of philosophy/ethics), but I am baffled by the argument that it is unethical to have a child now. The hypothetical child doesn't exist, so I have trouble giving it any moral standing. It's not a question of being born into this situation or being born into some "ideal" family. It's this or nothing. Of course, once a child has been created, from that point on you are morally required to make decisions based on what is best for it.

Is it also unethical to seek to become a single parent from the beginning? What about if one parent is physically disabled, but with a normal life expectancy? What guarantees - emotional or physical - do you need to make before it's ethical to have a child? I know some make the argument that it's never ethical, because the human condition is such that moments of pain outnumber those of joy. I disagree. I would have thought that the promise of being born into a loving family with the means to provide for all of the child's material needs is sufficient - even laudable.

I have trouble with claims of the form: "better to have never been born than to ____". I wouldn't presume to judge that for anybody else's life. People with objectively fantastic upbringings and every advantage wind up miserable, while people live and thrive with burdens I can't imagine coping with.
posted by Metasyntactic at 8:12 PM on August 18, 2010

sorry for all the typos. This is obviously something very close to the bone for me and my brain was spinning faster than my fingers were typing.
posted by kaybdc at 8:12 PM on August 18, 2010

Quoted because this is how I try to live my life.

Me too!

Heh. Okay, enough with the funny. I think from what I have read of this thread, if one is going to undertake parenthood knowing that one parent might not survive for most of the child's growing up, this is probably about as good as that situation is going to get. I don't get feelings of disaster (otherwise) reading the posts by the OP. Other than her being at the tail end of "expected" life span, it doesn't sound like anything is superlikely to go wrong if she goes off the meds, everything gets checked out beforehand, etc. Hell, for all I can tell she might go longer. So on that level, and if they really really want it, and if they will regret it if they don't... then there you go. Some people want kids so badly that they'll have the kid even if they know the kid is going to inherit a fatal disease (I actually do NOT approve of that), and I'm well aware that some people want a baby so bad they don't or can't care about what the baby is going to think about what they are born into. That may be the case here: that it is so important to these folks that they become parents that they just need to do it.

However, the opinion of the child is something we just can't ask or figure out really here. We do have people with very painful experiences of this that would recommend not doing it, and on that level, hell, I agree with them somewhat too. I didn't start to lose my dad to disease until I was 18, I have no idea what that's like on a childhood level.

I've also realized that I was lucky - once my mom started to decline, she died quickly, so I didn't witness the horrors that others have. I was also old enough to know what was going on - I did my mourning

I'll bet. I honestly think the worst thing about my dad's was that it was wrung out incredibly slowly and badly for ten years, and I was done with the mourning by the time it was done. Also, well, I was an adult and thank the gods I wasn't living at home for the bad parts. But unfortunately you can't help how long it's gonna take for you to die of disease. (I have no clue on how long brain cancer will take.)

As far as I can tell from reading Snickollet and someone else I know who did something similar, they seem to be managing okay. But the kids are small and we have no idea how they're going to react later. And in the end, the OP and his wife can only take a guess at how the kid would react and figure it out from there. Either way there's going to be happiness and pain, so...
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:16 PM on August 18, 2010

Is it right or even selfish to have a child

If selfish in this context means that you and your wife very much want to have a child, and that you intend for your child to be someone you cherish and take as much joy as possible in, I would pray that every child is born to selfish parents.

Having a child will unquestionably cause additional stress. Whether it would be right to describe this stress as "undue" is a harder question. But the fact that something can be avoided doesn't mean it should or must be avoided.

What I hear in your question and follow up is that it is the true desire of your hearts to try to have a child together. I guess I don't feel like there is any more reliable guide in a life that is sadly often characterized by uncertainty and struggle. If we are to live at all I think we must strive to live like we are alive, not like we are dying.
posted by nanojath at 10:49 PM on August 18, 2010

Have the child.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:14 PM on August 18, 2010

My father was 7 years old when he lost his mother to cancer, and his 47 year old father had to take care of him. The sadness my father experienced stayed with him until only a few years ago when he finally, openly, talked about it with his own father. No one should have to go through 50 years of suffering about something that happened as a child.

There are no certainties in this life, but decisions should be made with eyes wide open and being aware of what may happen, good and bad.

Good luck to you on making this difficult decision.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:57 AM on August 19, 2010

I think you're getting great advice on how to do it right from people who went through this in some way and it was handled badly. Don't let these bad examples stop you, though. When your wife is gone, having a child the two of you created out of love will not be a memento but it will be a continuation of the life you two shared. Knowing that she was able to do the one thing she truly wanted, too, will be a small comfort while you grieve for her.

My very, very best to both of you.
posted by lemniskate at 5:56 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mother died of cancer when I was six. She knew that she had metastatic melanoma before she had my younger sister. My sister and I are doing fine; we're both adults now. Of course I miss my mother. Of course there are a zillion questions I wish I could ask her. I wish I had a chance to know her as a grown-up woman. But I am happy to be in the world -- and so's my little sis.

My father had, I think, never even considered what it would mean to be a single parent, and I don't think he would ever have chosen that life, had he realized that my mother was going to die. My extended family was a huge support and helped tremendously in our upbringing. There were rough patches, but we got through them okay.

You seem to be clear-eyed and realistic about the idea of raising a child in the face of your wife's illness. It will not be easy, but I'm told raising kids isn't easy, no matter what your circumstances. The most important factor is that you and your wife will love the child, and there seems to be plenty of love in your family.

Make sure you and your wife remain communicative about treatment plans (for every contingency that you can think of), your wishes and dreams and hopes for your child's upbringing, the involvement of your extended family, and your hopes and fears and feelings as you start your family. (Couples with no known health issues should do this stuff too!)

Take lots and lots of family photos. (Take lots of photos and videos of just your wife, too.) Make lots of memories while you have time.

This is your one life. If you and your wife want to start a family, I think you should do it.

Best wishes to you both!
posted by Spinneret at 5:56 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you considered fostering children? I'm surprised nobody has brought it up.

My husband and I are currently in the process to get licensed for foster care. They grilled us about our health history. I can almost guarantee you that you would not be approved.

As for the main question, I have a strong visceral reaction and I can't support what I say with any kind of logic, but no, I do not think it is a moral decision to bring a child into your lives. I am completely flabbergasted that the vast majority of responses think it's OK.
posted by desjardins at 8:43 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have no idea what I would do in your situation, but you asked for anecdata, so...

There was an incredible woman in my birth prep class whose partner Kevin had died of leukaemia. They'd banked his sperm before the chemo. Their daughter Isabella was born on Halloween, after a birth so straightforwardly joyful that my prenatal yoga teacher was bubbling over with the news the next day, having heard about it on the doula grapevine.

A couple of years later my friend's twins Abigail and Desmond were born on April Fool's. She said that this was final proof, if proof were needed, that Kevin had a sense of humour.
posted by rdc at 11:05 AM on August 19, 2010

I think you should give the comments by raztaj and wierdo significantly more weight...

The thing is, both of those people can take the time to comment because their parents had them. It's a strange existential sort of situation.
posted by chunking express at 11:31 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would like to see desjardins flesh out her opinion quite a bit more.

I believe my children are a tangible and living result of the love my wife and I have for each other. None of us have any guarantee that we or our spouse will live to see our children grow up. Sometimes both parents perish. Yet, people still choose to have children and take that chance.

If it would make you both happy to have a child together, go for it. If I were in her shoes, I would want to get as much living in as possible. Lots of people are raised by a loving single parent and turn out fine. I your wife does pass away, it's not outside the realm of possibility that another woman could come into your life and want to help you take on the role of spending the rest of her life with you and help you raise your child.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:55 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Over the last few days I've found myself thinking more and more about this question. In a conversation with my spouse the other night the fact came up that many people in the military leave behind newly pregnant partners when they are deployed and I've never seen a strong negative reaction to that particular phenomenon. I can't see much different about the two situations. Just a little more food for thought.
posted by a22lamia at 2:10 PM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

The difference is Military service is not any where close to a terminal diagnosis. Even now during the US's current adventure the risk of dying while in active service in Iraq is, depending on how you want to massage the numbers, at worst around 3X greater than those not in service. The vast majority of First World armed forces personnel do not die as a result of active service.
posted by Mitheral at 12:50 AM on August 21, 2010

There are an enormous number of kids that don't have a single loving parent. This kid sounds like they'd have one and then some. Ethically, that's a win.
posted by talldean at 2:08 PM on August 23, 2010

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