deciding to be a parent with chronic illness
January 21, 2008 8:49 PM   Subscribe

Having kids or not when you have chronic health issues: how did you decide and come to terms with it?

I have severe and frequent migraines that have been interfering with my ability to hold work. I'm continuing to try different approaches to sort these things out and I'm trying to stay hopeful in this process. Now in my early 30s, I realize that I really want to have kids and finally believe that I might be okay at it. But I'm also starting to question how possible it would be for me to be pregnant and/or to be a good parent given how often my migraines affect my life. Given the medication I take preventatively and prophylactically, I can't imagine how I'd be able to endure without it for nine months no matter how much I'd want to. And given the needs of any child, let alone an infant, I really wonder how I'd be able to respond with the pain, no matter how much love, instinct, and help are involved.

These doubts and realizations have been hitting me hard lately. I've been open to being pregnant, to adopting, or choosing to not have kids at all, but I think lately it's the thought that perhaps I *shouldn't* have kids because of migraines that is the most painful to sort out. And I don't like the thread of entitlement in that reaction either. My partner would like to have kids but he'd rather see me suffer less; he is unwaveringly supportive. I feel really muddled in this and while of course, this is our decision, I'd really appreciate reading others' honest thoughts on this sort of situation.

This must happen more often than I think? How did you decide to have kids (in any way) or not if you have distracting health issues? How did you deal with medication? What do you wish you had or hadn't done? What perspectives and insights helped you accept your situation and choice? Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How do you think you'll feel on your deathbed about this decision?
posted by gjc at 9:02 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Of course everyone is different, but I found that my migraines were much less frequent and less severe during my pregnancies. When I have them now, my husband cares for the kids, and as they grow older, they are more understanding and quiet when Mommy has a headache.
posted by Addlepated at 9:50 PM on January 21, 2008

My aunt has chronic migraines. She's had them since practically forever. She also has two wonderful sons. Going through pregnancy helped her migraines a little, as Addlepated experienced.

Trust your partner if he seems supportive. He already knows what it's like to be there for you when you're in need. If he feels like he's able to support you while also looking after kids when Mommy isn't well, then that's a huge step.

On the flip side, my mother has Multiple Sclerosis. It manifested just over a year after I was born. Although my mother really wanted more kids, having more might have worsened her condition. I had as normal a childhood as possible, but there were things she just couldn't do. She felt guilty about it sometimes, but she would stop beating herself up about it and concentrate on the things she could do with me. Her condition is more of a daily thing, but I feel the example is worth sharing.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:08 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

i just saw something on tv about a quadriplegic who decided to have a baby. my good friend's mother had multiple sclerosis when she got pregnant. my cousin parented wonderfully even though she had breast cancer for most of her children's early years. (she had a super husband, family support, and a very cool nanny.)

talk to your partner. this is not something you can do alone, but if you have family support, don't let the migraines stop you. and talk to your doctor--they will be able to advise you about what you can and can't take during pregnancy, which may help you decide if adoption is a better route.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:39 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to get sick a lot with sinus infections and lots of other respiratory infections. I also get migraines from time to time. I have Trigeminal Neuralgia and when it is acting up the pain is incredible. I was still able to function at work and somewhat around the house. My DH and I have one child. There are times when I have had to just crawl into bed and let them fend for themselves for dinner. Pregnancy rocked! I had no migraines, no TN pain, and no serious infections. By the time my son was 3, he would ask if he could get me anything when I was sick. About that time, I finally got my diagnosis of cyclic neutropenia. I still occassionally get migraines. I still have TN. The main difference is that I am able to avoid most of the infections I used to get.

When my son was young and the infections were kicking my ass, it was very hard. It has gotten easier as he's gotten older and my health has improved. We want another child. However, we decided that the risk of severe complications from my neutropenia and the risk of passing it to the child are too great for us to try again. Honestly, had we known prior to having our son, we would have adopted as we're working to do so currently.

You know how frequent and how intense your migraine pain gets. You know your current coping and treatment strategies. Imagine folding an infant in during your everyday life and during your worst pain. Could you manage long enough for your partner to return home (if he was away) to take over? I suspect, you'd find a way. If you are working with a migraine specialist, speak with your doctor about the impact a pregnancy could have on your specific condition.

Good luck with your treatment and whatever you decide.
posted by onhazier at 6:05 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd lived with MS for 5 years when I became pregnant with our first child. 10 years later (and 2 children later) I also developed ulcerative colitis. It wasn't easy for my husband and me. In fact, it was very hard - emotionally and physically harder than it would have been without children. And no doubt, having illness made raising young children more difficult. That said, I never thought for a moment that I'd wished I hadn't done it and that's because I knew how important it has always been to me to have a family. That's a priority and the illness had to fit into that priority. That's how I've always lived with it. I've made living with illness "normal" for my children - lots of people have difficult things to deal with and we're no different. But, only you can know what your ultimate goals in life are -- once you've got that figure out, the rest is relatively easy!
posted by at 7:23 AM on January 22, 2008

I get classic migraine and aside from the whopper I got at the very beginning of each pregnancy, they went away for the duration. Of course I get them again now and have to turn on the tv while I lie down until the optical stuff abates but it's manageable.
posted by MiffyCLB at 8:54 AM on January 22, 2008

I am struggling with this issue, too, except my problem is back pain. I've had a discectomy and have another herniated disc. I had just about made up my mind that it would all work out, that my back wasn't that bad, when it went out again right after Christmas. It's been a month and it's still not better. For the whole first week I could barely walk. I would have been completely unable to care for an infant. What would happen? My husband couldn't just stay home for a week to care for the baby. And when the child becomes a toddler, what then? I simply can't lift 20 pounds. I'm 41, there's no time to wait and see if it gets better, and realistically it is probably only going to stay the same or get worse. So I guess I know what the answer is but just don't want to face it.

These issues are quite a bit different from yours, though. I think you need to focus not on chronic illness, but on migraines specifically. Because they are only episodic, and you can, however wretchedly, tend to some simple tasks while you have one, I don't think it would prevent you from being able to do the job of parenting.
posted by Enroute at 9:26 AM on January 22, 2008

If going without medication during pregnancy is one of your primary concerns, you might want to explore alternative therapies. Acupuncture in particular is often helpful with this kind of pain management. It can't replace medication for ease of use, and it may be more expensive (depending on your insurance situation), but for nine months it might do the trick. If you explore alternative therapies now and find one that works for you, that's one less concern you have to weigh when deciding whether or not to get pregnant.
posted by Mender at 9:37 AM on January 22, 2008

No migraines during my pregnancy (wonderful) and only two manageable ones in the 11 months since he was born (I credit this to nursing keeping the hormone levels up).

I'm a single mom and thought about this issue before conceiving, but in the end absolutely knew I wanted a child, and I'd find a way to make it work.

I take the triptan drug Imitrex which has made my migraines fairly stoppable (I go directly to the "after" headache) - and my neurologist had me on Flexeril, as a preventative. Haven't taken the Flexeril since I got pregnant, by the way.

I think if you actively pursue the best medication available (for instance Imitrex in the injector is faster-acting than the pill), make some arrangements for short notice help (babysitting agency), and prepare to suffer till someone can relieve you - you can make this happen

That said - only you know how much you suffer.
posted by AuntLisa at 10:05 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, take a look at the reviews for Heal Your Headache. It works.
posted by changeling at 5:21 PM on January 22, 2008

It may be more doable than you think.

Migraine sufferer here (but seemingly much less severe than yours). In addition, I have a long history of Bipolar type II. I'm also the mother of a 18 month old. I had a pretty wretched pregnancy, plagued by every symptom in the book. I totally get the reluctance to have a child in light of having health problems - I spent much of my pregnancy thinking, "...what the fuck have I gotten myself into?". You know what? Things turned out okay, so much so that my husband and I are going to start trying again.

My migraines got worse in the first trimester and then tapered off somewhat. After I had my son they got worse but I was able to pinpoint the problem - lack of sleep - and got my husband and family members to take over so that I could get some naps.

I'd advise meeting with your neurologist to discuss getting pregnant just to get a clearer sense of what your medication options are. I was shocked to find out that heavy duty narcotics (demerol and oxydose) were considered okay but NSAID like Motrin and Aleve were strictly verboten. It was hard to get an appointment with my neurologist (4 month wait) so I didn't actually seem him until I was about 7 months pregnant. For this reasonI'd advise meeting with him/her well before you start trying - it would have been much easier to get through the first trimester if I had my meds lined up ahead of time.

I still get migraines but with the help of the right meds (MAXALT and Demerol) it really doesn't create a problem with looking after the kidlet. Again, talk to a neurologist and see if there is any safe regimin that you can do while pregnant. Having my son has been one of the greatest joys in life. I don't regret a second of the last 28 months, multiple health issues and all.
posted by echolalia67 at 8:59 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

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