it’s taken me a while to get around to writing this third and final instalment in this series of posts (see also: part 1 and part 2). i have been mulling over it a lot, and wondering what needs to be said, and how best to say it.
it’s also quite tricky because at this point everything is speculation. at the end of the day, nobody knows how parenting is going to pan out for them, whether chronic illness is a factor or not, so before you’re thrust into the situation, everything is just crystal-ball-gazing, and projection.
that said, the fact of chronic illness in my life means that i am approaching impending parenthood from a specific angle, and i have a certain set of worries, challenges, and strengths that i bring to the table because of this.
to begin with, i had to confront questions about the wisdom of having kids at all. to me, this was never a debate – no matter how hard having kids could be, it could never outweigh the grief and regret i would feel at not having a family at all – the questions came from other people. i tried to see them as expressions of honest concern rather than patronizing, but at times they hurt and frustrated me. did people seriously think we had not considered that this would be harder for me than for many other mothers? did they not imagine that the decision to parent with chronic illness was something that we had talked, thought, and worried about? especially as a same-sex couple – it wasn’t like getting pregnant could be anything other than a very deliberate, well planned, and considered decision for us.
some people advised me to wait until i was “better”, without understanding that it is very likely that will never happen. i wasn’t going to risk leaving it too late while waiting for my body to maybe get its act together.
so from the beginning i’ve come into this with the knowledge that i’ve been judged reckless, naive, and irresponsible by some people. and i have to be ok with that, because all i can do is what’s right for me and for s. i can’t control what other people think.
parenting with cfs is going to be hard (i am particularly apprehensive about being able to keep up with an energetic toddler in a couple of years!). i am going to be tired, and i am not going to be able to rest and self-nurture in the ways i do now. but i am going to do the best i can. in the beginning i am going to sleep when the baby sleeps, and we’re going to have lots of lovely snoozy cuddles and precious dozy moments. i am going to make sure i ask for help when i need it, and i am going to continue to be grateful for s who is the most supportive and wonderful partner, and is just going to be the best mother (babies adore her). knowing we are doing this together makes me a lot more confident.
and i think there are some ways in which cfs has uniquely equipped me for parenthood. i imagine most new parents are quite shocked by the levels of exhaustion they experience, when they are used to feeling energized and capable. i am so used to being exhausted, and finding ways to get on and cope when i am feeling rubbish, that i may well deal with it brilliantly.
parenting with an anxiety disorder is going to challenge me. all parents worry about their children, and this can only be compounded when you’re a pathological worrier. i hope i can have the courage to love my child fearlessly. i hope the anxiety management strategies i’ve learned in therapy, and the medication i’m taking, will help me keep this disorder under control. i am going to do my best to be mindful of my thought processes, and keep them as positive as i can. i’m also going to do my best not to beat myself up when i sometimes fail at this.
depression is, as i’ve said previously, more of a secondary problem in my current life, but it’s actually the thing i am most concerned about with regards to parenting. i grew up with a primary carer who suffered from major depression, and i saw how difficult she sometimes found it to be ok for my brothers and i. i also remember the sadness and sense of failure i felt when loving her with all my heart wasn’t enough to make her ok. i don’t want my child to experience that.
but having said that, growing up with first hand experience of mental illness has made my siblings and i more empathetic and emotionally literate than many of our peers. and though it was often difficult to see our mother so very sad, we never ever doubted that she loved us deeply – she instilled that knowledge in us from the very beginning of our lives, and continues to do so. at the end of the day, that is the most important gift any parent can give their child, and mental illness can’t stand in the way of that.
so, yes. these are my challenges to face on the parenting journey. they are not trivial, but neither are they insurmountable. i am an intelligent, resourceful, well loved, and well supported woman, and i am going to trust that these facts are more than enough to help me through.