Monday, August 11, 2014

When It Comes From Us

Last week, I asked if there were any topics that my friends and fans were interested in reading about. I asked because my brain is like a giant jiggly bowl of Jello right at the moment and I'm having a harder time than normal focusing on things. Mostly, I'm just constantly distracted. I'm sure that I am coming up with some brilliant topics, but they are departing my head almost as fast as they arrive right now.

I wasn't entirely prepared for the topics I was asked about this time.

Usually when I ask, I'll get people who want me to explain some legal issue or analyze some medical condition or touch some forbidden third rail in the land of blogging. I get a decent number of people who antagonize me and want me to write about things that are very controversial, and for the most part I oblige. I tend not to shy away from controversy as it is, it's just something I have to be in the right frame of mind to invite into my life.

Instead, this time, the things that people have asked me to write about are something else entirely. Deeper, harder, more real. Things that many of us have either struggled with in the past, are dealing with right now or will face at some point in the future.

If you don't think it'll happen to you, wait a few weeks or months or years. You'll get there. Maybe not in the same set of circumstances, but somehow you'll find yourself in these situations. One of them asked me to discuss the struggles inherent in having friends who parent their children in drastically different ways, how conflicts arise as a result, and coping mechanisms for when that happens.

Ack. Right?

I'll tackle that one Wednesday...because it's hard and I need a few more days to think about it. The trouble with having a blog that isn't anonymous is that a lot of my family and friends read it. They obviously know that I write it, and far, far, far too often some of them make the assumption that I am writing about them. It's something that has created conflict a great many times in the past and I have to decide how to approach it going in to that post. I'll stew a bit more and get back to you.

Today's post, not an easier topic, though it is one I have had a couple more days to bat around in my head. It's also one that I have dealt with many, many times personally and one that I am sure will keep rearing its ugly head as the years tick by.

Guilt. A specific kind of guilt. The guilt for giving our kids the very things that are wrong with us, for passing them down, for contaminating their genetic material.

The diseases, the conditions, the tendencies, the struggles.

The things that, undeniably, come from us.

Those apples don't fall far from the tree, do they?
The fan who asked, one who displayed soft markers for a genetic condition that wasn't fully diagnosed until after she had her children. Her children are diagnosed as well.

How many of us out there are in this boat? I know I'm there. My oldest daughter got her asthma and severe allergies from me. My younger daughter can thank her mother for her anxiety issues. Her bizarre allergies are closer to reactions further up my family tree. The ADHD comes from both sides. Little Boy and his Type 1 limbo probably have something to do with the decent amount of autoimmune conditions that run through the family.

My mother suffered from antiphospholipid syndrome, among other things. It's a rare condition which causes abnormal blood clotting issues. She pushed me to get tested for it for years before I finally gave in and had the bloodwork run. I was afraid, as was she, that I would have it. That my children might have it. Thankfully my tests came back negative, but that fear was enough to keep me willfully blind for a good long time.

Having children that struggle with chronic health conditions is heartbreaking as a parent.

Knowing it came from you makes it all that much harder. 

I needed to know because I needed them to know.

There is a tremendous amount of guilt involved, at least in the initial months and years after something is diagnosed. You beat yourself up about it, wonder if there is anything you could have done differently, know that there really isn't. Most of the diseases most of us will ever deal with are not the kind that can even be screened for during pregnancy...though the number of things they can identify during pregnancy increases with each passing year.

The more of these tests that become available, the more options parents have to know...but the more choices they will be forced to make as a result of those answers.

As a doula, I tend to encourage expectant parents to think about, really think about what they would do with genetic information before they agree to the tests. If it would change how your prepare, okay. If it would affect your decision of whether to continue the pregnancy, fine. If it wouldn't matter to you...think about whether the process would introduce too much stress and provide nothing beneficial.

Once you know these things, you can't unknow them.

Personally, I do not judge those who make choices based on the results of those tests. Some people do. I don't think it's for any of us to say what we would do until and unless we've been in that place and been forced to make those choices. Even if we have been there, it's not proper to tell someone else how much is too much for them to cope with or which conditions we'd deem acceptable and which ones we wouldn't.

I fear that this issue may only get worse going into the future as more and more diseases and conditions can be screened for prenatally. More and more parents are going to be presented with these options, these tests, these decisions...and where will it end?

Is selecting out for gender next? Will it be possible to avoid a diagnosis of autism? Of syndromes? Of diabetes? Of anxiety? These conditions all bring their struggles, for sure, but they all are also part of people you know right now, children you know, adults you know. Maybe you. Maybe your kids. Choosing to avoid a specific diagnosis might mean you don't get to have the kids you have before you...would you change them to avoid the condition?

The slippery slope of ethical dilemmas presents itself up close and personal with this topic.

I tend to dwell in the world of now though, rather than the world of what might be in the future, strictly out of necessity. I have things, hard things, to deal with already when it comes to my own children, many of them things that they could absolutely point a finger at me for having given them.

I take comfort in knowing that there is one huge benefit to these family ties...I am more equipped to help my children learn to navigate the world with their struggles than anyone else is because I have lived those same struggles.

There have been times, with my anxiety girl especially, that I have feared for what her future will hold. Then I take a deep breath and I remember what I was like when I was her age. I remember that with time, I learned to develop my own set of coping mechanisms. I am keenly aware of what her triggers are, I can see them coming from a mile away, I know when I have to intervene, when I have to let her sort it all out alone. I know that it will get better as she learns what works for her. I know that it will never go away, but I also know that she will be okay. She will find a way.

And I know that because I have.

Children are given to the parents they are for a reason, I think. Sometimes they bring struggles with them, and often those struggles are the same ones we've dealt with in our own lives.

Sometimes those struggles are going to force us to confront things in ourselves that we may not want to confront. Sometimes it means that we have to seek help for ourselves because we know we need to help them...and that isn't a bad thing. Sometimes it forces us to take that long hard look in the mirror that we've been able to avoid and gives us the motivation we need to do better, not just for ourselves, but for them.

Being a parent is the hardest job in the world, and dealing with a child who struggles isn't something we plan for...but it is something we can live with.

And so can they.

Honest.

Hugs, love and solidarity to all the parents out there helping their kids navigate a world with a familiar struggle. We got this.

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