The Relationships subreddit is full of the very best and the very worst of humanity. Sometimes you find gems, like the woman who wrote a novel of revenge plots against her husband’s best friends, or the man who got angry at his girlfriend for taking the cat to the park for its birthday. But then sometimes I find things that make me feel cold and sick, stories that hide in the corners of my brain for days and only show themselves when I’m lying awake, staring unblinkingly at the ceiling in the dark. This post, by 28 year-old ta93222, is one of those:
“I have schizophrenia. It's shown to be genetic although I'm not sure what the chances of passing it [on] is. So because of this my husband said he doesn't want a biological baby with me because he's scared I'll pass it down. We've talked about adoption and that sort of thing, which does make me happy. However, my whole life I've looked forward to having a baby of my own. Now that that's out of the cards, I'm extremely heartbroken even though I know he's just being reasonable. How do I move on?”
There is something about this situation which makes me incredibly sad. It’s not the fact that she may not be able to have a biological child, because obviously an adopted baby is just as much “yours” as one that comes from your own egg and sperm. It’s the way her husband has reacted to her. I’m currently on Citalopram and have had two intense courses of therapy in the past few years for depression, anxiety and PTSD. If my husband told me he didn’t want to have a biological child with me because I might pass down something about myself that’s unwanted, I’d be devastated. Heartbroken, even. Totally, utterly heartbroken.
I know that every parent wants the best for their child and hopes they’ll be the most perfect, healthy creature to grace the earth. But this is different
Part of me is angry for her. I know that every parent wants the best for their child and hopes they’ll be the most perfect, healthy creature to grace the earth. But this is different. This woman’s husband has made the decision for her. There’s no discussion, no seeing a genetic specialist or a doctor and looking at potential outcomes, no acting as a partnership; he has decided what they are doing because of her body, and that is that. That’s a horrible thing for someone to do.
It’s also a very strange stance to take. I spoke to several women who have mental-health issues about this problem and they all pointed out that, “It's all such a lottery anyway. All you can do is your best, and if you know there's a possible risk, then you can act sooner. I'd hate if my child had depression or coeliac like I do, but if he does I'll help him through.”
And so much of it isn’t down to genetics. There are so many cases where parents have mental-health problems and the children don’t, and vice versa. Environment plays such a huge factor when it comes to mental health – as one woman I spoke to, who is raising children that aren’t biologically hers, pointed out, “even if you don't biologically pass on an illness (physical, mental, whatever), there is still a plethora of ways in which you can accidentally fuck them up”.
He’s essentially saying, as one friend I spoke to put it, “I love you, but your illness is icky and I don’t want it in my offspring.”
I also spoke to someone who works in mental health and they pointed out that most mental-health problems can be managed as long as they are recognised early and there are sufficient coping strategies in place. A quarter of people in the UK experience mental-health problems each year, so there’s a fairly hefty chance of any child having some kind of issue, no matter who their parents are, and a parent who is already tuned into the signs is perfectly placed to help a child manage.
But it isn’t the husband’s mistaken belief about any child who comes from his wife’s DNA that is making me so sad – it’s the fact that he’s essentially saying, as one friend I spoke to put it, “I love you, but your illness is icky and I don’t want it in my offspring.” Another person said, “If I'm going to love and accept myself, I would need a partner who wouldn't be repelled by the idea of me passing on my genes,” and a third pointed out that, “The person who's meant to love and support her thinks her own illness – which she's clearly coping with, and she's living a good life! – is so bad people with it basically shouldn't exist.”
Mental-health problems aren’t everything a person is, but they’re a huge part of them. To have a partner say they didn’t want a baby with me because of the risk that this part of myself might be passed to our child would feel like a huge rejection of who I fundamentally am, and like they think my life is so horrible they wouldn’t wish it on another person. Someone else I spoke to said, “He can obviously see beyond her mental illness enough to want to spend his life with her, so why can't he see that his kids’ lives could be so much more than that, too?”
We’ve all got some biological baggage in our DNA and it feels a bit eugenics-y to decide that only certain people are “good enough” to have babies
There’s also the question of this being an incredibly dangerous slippery slope to go down. If we’re starting to decide that we aren’t going to have babies because we’re not of good enough “biological stock”, where does it end? One friend worried: “I have ADHD and a family predisposition to arthritis and strokes; at what point does ‘I don't want my kids to inherit what you have’ stop?!” We’ve all got some biological baggage in our DNA and it feels a bit eugenics-y to decide that only certain people are “good enough” to have babies.
This is a decision that needs to be arrived at as a couple and this woman needs to be respected equally. I know that plenty of people who suffer from mental-health problems ask these questions themselves – one person I spoke to said, “I have a very strong maternal instinct and have always loved children, but it often creeps into my head that I don't want to pass on the old bipolar to them. It brings into question whether I deserve to be a parent, in my darkest moments,” and others questioned how they’d cope with the emotional stress of being a new parent when there is so little support from medical professionals – but having the decision taken out of her hands by her husband is awful and I can’t help but feel for a woman whose husband has told her that he essentially doesn’t think lives like hers are desirable.
My husband and I think a lot about having kids. We think about the names we want to give them and the best ways to share my love of reading and his love of playing music with them. And yes, occasionally, we think about the fact that he has ulcerative colitis and I have a history of depression and how there’s a chance we’ll have to help our children cope with those issues, too. We don’t want our children to suffer in the way we do, but we know that we’ll help any child who has them through it, because we’re a team who respects each other and the lives we lead. Mental-health problems shouldn’t change that, for any couple, whether they have children or not.