Resources for deciding to be a mother?
November 2, 2013 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for resources (books, websites, etc.) to help me gain a balanced perspective on whether or not motherhood is right for me, given my anxieties and health issues.

I've been adamant about not having a child since middle school--the time when I began to develop severe anxiety and self-esteem issues. In high school, I surrounded myself with toxic people who also derided the notion of parenthood, and who also belittled my self-worth as a human being. To make matters worse, I began an even more toxic on-again off-again relationship with a man that lasted for ten years where having a child was definitely not an option helped to solidify this belief.

In college, I was diagnosed with MS. Combined with my already-formed feelings about pregnancy and motherhood, I declared that I would never bear a child of my own out of fear for the life I would have to lead as a mom with a potentially disabling illness. Although I don't have any permanent disability and I'm actually healthier than anyone I know, the fear of not being able to be an awesome mom has always been in the back of my mind. I decided that I would adopt an older child or be a great foster parent, but never the mother of an infant--primarily out of anxiety stemming from the sleep-deprivation that accompanies a little one.

Now, I'm in a healthy and awesome relationship with the man with whom I want to spend the rest of my life--who, as luck would have it, wants to be a father more than anything. We've discussed this since we began our relationship, and he knew that I would want to adopt or foster a child if I met the right person. He is that right person. However, he has recently come to the conclusion that he is not okay with the idea of adoption or foster parenthood; he wants a biological child of his own. I see myself getting married to him and raising kids with him; I just had not deeply considered pregnancy, as I thought we had reached a conclusion and put the idea of bio children off the table.

Naturally, I'm horribly upset and confused: I thought that the question had been settled. But talking this through with him and doing some research of my own, I'm seeing that my previous mindset may have been a poorly-conceived defense mechanism to keep me from getting attached to the idea of having a baby when I'm such a mess of debilitating anxiety. We're in our late 20s and don't want to continue building a relationship that will only end poorly for the two of us--but I don't want to end this too early while I'm still wrapping my head around the idea of parenting.

I'm going to begin going to therapy to work on this with a professional, since I obviously have unresolved issues that need to be dealt with before I can realistically think about having a child. In the meantime, can anyone suggest resources on how to decide on whether or not I really want to have a child after all?
posted by Maya Cecile to Human Relations (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
As a resource, it might make sense to get some genetic counseling because of the MS - I wonder if that would help with some of the anxiety?

If this helps: I personally had a very difficult time deciding whether or not to have kids (I'm pregnant now with my first) and the way I made up my mind was by talking about it a lot - the pros and cons, my fears - to my therapist over the years. After about 5 years I'd worked through a lot of the logistical problems (how will we afford this, will I be able to be a good parent, should we not be biological parents because of the risk of passing on inherited disease, etc) and one day realized "well, if I've been agonizing to my therapist about whether or not to do this for the past 5 years, I probably really do - otherwise I'd have moved on to another issue." My husband said he could go either way, so I didn't have that pressure.

I mention my experience because I think it's unusual to agonize quite so much and because I ended up deciding almost by deduction - I never had a moment where the light burst through the clouds or anything. (Although seeing the tiny trick or treaters last Halloween gave me a sharp nudge towards having a baby for sure.)

Good luck with your decision. In your late 20s, you do have some time to consider this - and it's a completely valid choice to decide you don't want bio kids, or any kids, if that's the way you're leaning.
posted by data hound at 8:55 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was also going to suggest genetic counseling, that could be helpful on the medical side.

Would your partner be open to couples counseling? This is in the end a couples issue, and it makes sense that his rather large change of opinion would have a big effect on you. I could imagine you might be angry with him. Even if you're not, it could still help to work through things together with a counselor.

My other suggestion is the forum at altdotlife. Most threads are private, so you have to join to read them, but it's worth it. It's a community of (usually) thoughtful women, many of whom have kids. There's a section titled "Thinking and talking about potential parenthood" where people discuss questions like this.
posted by medusa at 9:14 AM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's one of the hardest things to come to terms with, but even with as many resources as you can muster, you will have to accept that the cliches are true: it's about the journey. So many doors will open to you (whatever you decide) that you can not imagine or plan for from your current vantage point. Look how much you've evolved already! There are so many inexplicable joys and sorrows connected to having kids or not having kids, and part of the beauty of life is that much remains a mystery, and gosh, I hope it remain ever thus, I really do.

Good luck, you sound like you are doing the work, and will get to where you need to be. Please just allow that feeling conflicted is a feature, not a bug.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:45 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Think about your experience with real live children. Being a mother isn't something you do by yourself, at least not being a good mother. Faster than anyone expects, a child becomes another person fighting for autonomy.

In my own opinion, parents who enjoy those "who are you and where did you come from moments" are best suited for shepherding the next generation.

And look at you - already reviewing and reflecting on your earlier ideas. Seems like you have an open and thoughtful mind.

With MS, even if you are not currently in a bad place, genetic counseling is an excellent starting point.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:20 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

[Just a reminder, OP is looking for resources - websites, articles, etc. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:20 AM on November 2, 2013

This might sound strange because I am an adoptee and a woman who has placed a child for adoption, but there is a growing movement to shift this idea of motherhood from the concept of a perfect mother to a committed and devoted mother.

This shift is seen in the reproductive justice movement addressing the needs of disabled mothers.

In addition it might be worth considering looking into some of the advocacy done on family preservation by adoptees and birthmothers who feel harmed by adoption oriented solutions for women coping with mental illness/disability/addiction, there is growing movement to address parent with disabilities who have needs and rights as parents.

This focus shifts away from removal as an ideal solution (moving away from seeking to "increase" or "promote" adoption as an industry especially if there is not abuse or desired abandonment) and focusing on supporting parents with special needs, whether biological or adoptive in getting the help and services they need to be good parents.

While I would like to add that I absolutely believe there is a NEED for foster parents and parents who will adopt from foster system, especially older children and want to commend you for wanting to do it, I am hoping some of the links might give you a more complex picture about what is going on with adoption and why your thinking about inadequate mothers- including yourself, actually fits into a sort of harmful view about what it means to be a truly loving and good mother who is responsive and aware of their child's needs rather than focusing on an ideal of perfection that is not only harmful to mothers but often to their children as well and fuels inadequate resources and support for moms across the economic spectrum. I have more links for you but I'm actually in a hurry and need to head out.

So in a sense, even if you were to adopt, you might want to challenge your views about disabled mothers and what sorts of supports should be available for parents with specific needs to be good parents (not that ALL disabilities can be accommodated, but that there are resources that if provided can allow plenty of parents to be very good parents despite various physical or even mental difficulties). And who should "allowed" to have children and who shouldn't, who gets to be celebrated as a mother and who doesn't?

Renee at Womanist Musings writes a lot about how race and class and parenting while having disability.

I personally think your decision should not be about an image of perfection but about willingness to create a child centered and loving home and to acquire the needed resources and supports within yourself, your community, and your partner to create a really healthy and enjoyable live for your little one. If you consider that you have a partner with good health involved in this decision, the main thing would be weigh the actual risks of any impairments you currently have now or might have in the future and talk about what resources you could access to make sure this doesn't interfere with ensuring the chores and duties and fun activities of family life can still get done even if you're having health needs or difficulties with specific activities. I could post more links for you but I really have to go eat lunch! If I were to add more I would do a search for MS parenting support groups specifically. That's the first I found. The decision to choose to birth when there could be health risks to the child is very complex and there are not answers, but I do believe that in addition to weighing the choice to give a person life that might include a disability, should be weighed all the good you might be giving to that person as well. And just to say, there's nothing to say you can't BOTH have a child biologically and adopt and older foster teen someday.
posted by xarnop at 11:12 AM on November 2, 2013 [12 favorites]

I read a few blogs about fostering and adoption, which might be helpful for getting a feel for what that might be like for you. Fosterhood in NYC, FosterWee, and An Instant Family. They have spent time trying to figure out why they are fostering or hope to adopt, whether pregnancy would be an option, and some of the day to day difficulties of things like fostering an older child with PTSD, or being placed with two infants at once for bonus sleep deprivation, or what the gut-punch of having a foster child put back into a not-great environment and not seeing them again. If you're trying to decide what sort of motherhood you want, it helps to have a clearer view of both these paths. (And if you ever want to talk about parenting with anxiety, feel free to memail me.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:38 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, the sleep deprivation with an infant is no joke, especially considering your health. In addition to deciding whether you want to have a baby, you need to make sure your boyfriend is truly on board to be a full participant, maybe even more than full, so you can stay healthy. But it can be done. I have a friend whose wife had a severe MS flare during pregnancy and right after, and they did it (are even having a second). But my friend is a really responsible dude who took charge of the infant. You need to make sure your boyfriend has the same capacity.
posted by yarly at 5:30 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your boyfriend is assuming that he will be able to make babies, which is not a given, and something to consider in your discussions.
posted by theora55 at 5:46 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some books that worked for us:

The Kid, by Dan Savage. He and his now-husband Terry adopted their son, so it's mostly about that, but there is also a very good section about the unexpected TRAUMA suffered by some of the other prospective adoptive parents about their own infertility. That latter one is definitely a good topic to think about beforehand.

Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott. Definitely had no problems conceiving. A lot of detail about the good, bad, and disgusting about pregnancy and parenting.

Good luck.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:01 PM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

It is possible for him to have a biological child that is not your biological child, either using an egg donor and you gestating or with an egg donor and surrogate. If you went the second route, you would not be a legal parent at all.

It's an unconventional and somewhat onerous solution, but keeping it on your list of possibilities might help you think more effectively about what is and isn't important for you both. There are all kinds of families out there, happy families. Maybe you can find a way to both have what you each want but together.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:06 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you went the second route, you would not be a legal parent at all.

Sorry, I should have said, 'you would not need to be a legal parent.' This is a developing area of law, IANYL, etc.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:07 AM on November 3, 2013

I don't have any children and don't plan to - Mr. Arnice and I may adopt one day, and may not. I love kids, and love spending time with kids. In fact, I think that I would probably be a pretty great Mom if I was a Mom. But here's the thing - I think that the only reason you should have kids, is if you really really want them and can't imagine not having them.

Kids are wonderful! Kids are tough! Kids change everything. And you should be in a place where you can't imagine not having them before taking that plunge. Could it work out, if you decide to have them even if you're not sure? Certainly. But this is the biggest decision of your life, as big or bigger than who your partner is.

If medical stuff ends up being your only holdup, you could either get a donor ova (and use his sperm) and have it implanted in you, or get a donor ova, use his sperm and find a willing surrogate to carry the child.

If this is a dealbreaker for you - and for him - that is ok. It is good that you're able to recognize this now. And I promise you, there will be other good, wonderful men who will share your feelings. If this isn't a dealbreaker for you and you do decide you'd like to be a parent - that is ok too! But couples therapy may be a great way for you to talk through some of your feelings about it.

Good luck!
posted by arnicae at 6:26 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask Moxie is a really thoughtful and nuanced parenting blog with a community that tries to be judgment-free - you might have a search through her archives for your particular areas of concern.
posted by hush at 4:04 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

he has recently come to the conclusion that he is not okay with the idea of adoption or foster parenthood; he wants a biological child of his own

He might want to get medically checked out to make sure he is able to have a biological child of his own before he makes any major decisions based on that feeling.
posted by yohko at 4:34 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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