My Facebook feed is breeding babies at the moment. Everywhere I look, babies are having baths, taking their first steps, smearing themselves in food, and flashing their gummy grins at the camera. I know that I’m supposed to follow this up with a rant about how sick I am of seeing other people’s spawn, but that would be a filthy lie.
I love it.
And my love of all things baby is a very good thing, as my sister has just bestowed my family with an heir to the throne: Baby Bear. Logically, I know that Baby Bear is typical of babies everywhere. He eats, he sleeps, he cries, and not much more. But to me, he is incredible. Holding Baby Bear in my arms, with his head nestled into my neck and his chubby cheek resting against mine—nothing has ever felt so wonderful.
It has been a humbling and moving experience to see Mama and Baby Bear’s love grow day by day. It makes my heart swell with tenderness to see how he stops crying when she picks him up, how she knows by his cry what he needs, the way she looks at him with fierce love. But seeing Mama Bear and Baby Bear together also makes my heart ache. Because I don’t know if I’ll ever hold a baby of my own.
As every single owner of a uterus will be able to tell you, the Kid Question is something that you’re asked more and more as your 20s march on. And now that I’m nearing my 30s (dun dun dunnn), I need to seriously consider what team I want to bat for. When quizzed, I usually say I’m not sure, but probably not. And the response is always, “But Bex, you’d be a GREAT mum!”
And you know what? I agree. On a good day, I would be patient. I would be kind. I would take delight in teaching my babies how to do things. I would play with them, I would make sure they had a place to call home, I would shower them with love, and I would try my best to make sure they didn’t want for anything.
But on a bad day? On a bad day, I’m lucky if I make it through a shower without bursting into tears. The kid conundrum is no easy puzzle to solve for anyone, but it gets a whole lot more complicated when you make your way through life with a mental illness riding shotgun. If I struggle to look after myself, how can I take on the responsiblity of growing and caring for a whole new person?
Part of what I’m struggling with is that I’ve only ever seen the worst case scenario of what happens when parents have a side of cray. Throughout my childhood, my parents see-sawed in and out of depression. I grew up with poverty that resulted from having one or both of my parents incapable of working at any time, and I live with the legacy of the neglect and abuse that came with my parents’ inability to cope.
I’m not saying that would be me and my imaginary babies’ fate. I mean, forewarned is forearmed, right? I definitely know what not to do. I know the warning signs of when I’m getting unwell, and I know how to claw myself out of cray. And who knows; maybe having children would be the incentive I need to wave goodbye to my cray for good?
But even if I can keep my head above water: What would my children inherit? What if they looked back at me with my green eyes—and my mental illness? There’s a strong genetic component to my brand of cray, with different flavours of it running through both lines of my family. Can I bring a child into this world, knowing that there are high odds my children might have to live with a condition that by its very nature is pure suffering?
I know that mental illness isn’t a death sentence: I’m living proof. And because I know the early warning signs, I could likely intervene at an early stage—so there’s a chance my babies might not have to live their life careening back-and-forth through cray town. But I still don’t know whether I can live with the possibility that my children might have to make their own painful journey through mental illness.
Would the world be a better place if I followed a different path? If I shelved the baby idea and instead devoted myself to a career-path that would help other people in need? Can I be content with “aunty” on my CV, and not “mother?”
I wish I could give you some closure here and say that I know what path to take, but I honestly have no idea. My heart aches for a child to call my own, but my head isn’t so sure. At the moment, I’ve put the decision off to some mystical time in the future, when my future self will miraculously know the right way to go. But for now, Baby Bear is enough.
What’s your take on the baby question when mental illness is in the equation? Tweet us @litdarling