This is a long rant about breeding. Yes, really.
I was always one of those girls growing up who said they never wanted to have kids. And all the young moms of my Catholic school peers would give my mom bright smiles at her little “tomboy” daughter: How cute, she doesn’t know what she wants! And my own mother was the same way. “Well, you say that now, but when you’re older…” So then, of course, knowing my bitter and moody personality, I grew quite resentful of the whole thing and became determined that I never wanted to have kids. In retrospect, I do legitimately think that’s how I felt, but I amplified it, feeling it was necessary to take that stance just to prove everyone wrong.
As I got older and older, it became a more salient thing. I have an older sister, and she had friends who had kids. Then, holy shit, I had friends who had kids. (Side note: I am abusing italics on this post. Don’t know why. Anyway, moving on.) People started getting married and getting babied and discovering their sexualities and goals. Almost everyone I knew wanted to have kids. In high school, it would always make me squirmy and uncomfortable to hear every guy I flirted with and went to dances with say that he wanted kids. Easy for him to say, I would think. And it is.
When I was younger, I guess I just picked up on the fact that I wasn’t maternal. Or even paternal, for that matter. I was not parent-y, gendered identities aside. It seemed like one of those “you have it or you don’t” kind of things. I was, and still am, extremely selfish especially about possessions, things I consider to be “mine.” And number one on the list of my possession is my body. When I learned how pregnancy works, right off the bat, it made me uncomfortable as a young girl. It felt like an invasion. (And it kind of is, but it struck me as much more scifi back then.) So I think my reasons for being anti-breeding back then were a little more basic, which is to be expected. Pain? Different body? Boys don’t have to do it? Psh, no. That was the basic idea.
And as I got into gender and sexuality issues, in my preteens-midteens, it was interesting to see some of the debates that came up. There’s a book I have on my to-read list that actually talks about how the feminist natural birth movement has approached the levels of anti-feminism, and as a non-parent-y person, I got those kinds of vibes at times. The adamence that “breast is best,” the harsh language in critique of traditional hospitals: this is not to say they were in the wrong about that. It just seemed so extreme to me. And so foreign to me. My mother went back to work six weeks after I was born. I was formula fed from the second I left the womb. So the anti-formula arguments I often find somewhat offensive, like formula babies are less bright or less happy or less this. Because I was one. Again, I’m not saying formula is better or even that formula is good, just that I was raised on it and thus my natural psychological reaction to affronts on it are, “Hey, shut the hell up!” And again, the idea of my body not being my own. I give it up for nine months, plus another 6 months to 2 years? And just the whole part of pregnancy where everyone gives you advice, everyone thinks everything you’re doing is wrong, everything you do has to be for the thing inside you, everyone touches you, advises you, is always near you. Plus, with extended periods of breastfeeding, which everyone encourages you, often pressures you (rightfully so, perhaps) to do, what about my poor boobs? I like my boobs. And they’re my boobs. So again, I had some staunch arguments that had stood the test of about a decade, but obviously we’re still in the somewhat childish section of my Ideas on Reproducing Evolution.
But then the diagnosis came, and that changed the entire game forever. Bipolar II, on paper, straight from the DSM-IV. Then 12 different medications, after which I settled onto a working combination of three (a fourth in times of high anxiety). A need to be constantly watching my moods, constantly swallowing my pills, constantly doing something or other.
And suddenly all these things about what I saw painful or awkward or too selfless or whatever about giving birth were absolutely not even relevant. Because whereas before I didn’t want to have kids, now I couldn’t.
There are number of reasons for this:
- Any medicine I take would go to my fetus as it was developing. A mood stabilizer/anti-psychotic and an antidepressant are not exactly fun foods for developing embryos. Which would mean I would have to go off my meds. Which would mean I would be completely screwed because the reason I am on these meds in the first place is because I literally cannot function without them. (At least, not well.)
Note: Some women keep taking their medication while pregnant and have no problems with it, but some bipolar medications cause an increased risk of birth defects. The one I am on, lamitrogine, actually seems fairly safe. However, it is also fairly new, so there aren’t enough studies available. It’s also problematic because what works for me is a combination of two psychiatric medications which increases the risks of problems during a pregnancy. (x)
- Even if I did go off the meds for a bit, it’s not a bit. It’s nine months. Minimum. Which, back to the breastfeeding thing, if I did want to do that, that’s another several months. Or years. I cannot go that long without medication. Most people can’t according to pregnancy-bipolar studies that have shown that pregnancy doubles a manic depressive’s chance of recurrence of severe psychiatric symptoms (if the person was taking medicine before and had to stop) and that the symptoms of bipolar last for 40% of the pregnancy, an abnormally high rate and one that is 4x the rate of symptoms when on medication. (x) (x)
- Bipolar disorder is notoriously genetic. I am “lucky” in that I got the less severe form, but from what I can observe, the more severe form occurs in my family as well. Most research puts the probably of getting bipolar disorder at 25% if you have a first-generation relative (i.e. your mother). Additional statistics put the death-by-suicide rate for bipolar patients at as high as 20% or 1 in 5 individuals (x). And up to 50% of bipolar patients will attempt suicide at least once. (x) (These rates vary quite a bit though. However, manic depression is undeniably one of the most deadly mental disorders on earth.) In other words, I could very well pass down a scary, traumatic, and even deadly condition.
- Some studies have shown that, both because of the removal of meds and because of the natural hormone fluctuations of pregnancy and childbirth, having a baby can increase the dangers of an already-dangerous disorder. Pregnant manic depressives were admitted to hospitals 7x as often as their non-bipolar counterparts. (x) (x) There is also a noted disconcerting trend in severe manic episodes in pregnant manic depressives, a higher incidence than is normal for the individual and episodes that are much more severe, often including delusions. (x)
Now, in theory, I shouldn’t care about this. Well, I mean, I should because it’s sad for other people who truly want kids and then receive a diagnosis that makes that unlikely or impossible. But I mean, if I don’t want kids, why should I care that I can’t have them?
That’s where mankind’s awesomeness kicks in. The minute someone tells you you can’t do something, you’re like, “But what if I could? Why can’t I? Shouldn’t I be able to? This is wrong!”
It goes back to my underlying reasons for being an egalitarian individual: it’s all about choice, about everyone having the same starting place for the race and then getting to choose which direction they run. The less options you have, the less free you are. And this is a huge hit to my freedom.
I cannot have this phase of the American dream. I cannot have this part of life. I cannot have this. Regardless of whether I want it or not, I can’t have it anyway.
And it makes me feel like a kicked puppy.
Any intense relationship I enter: Oh, by the way, I can’t have kids. So you should know that now. That you’ll never have your own kids if you’re with me. Also, I’m crazy.
(Another note: Allen is okay with both of these things, but we’re young right now and recognize that the us that exists at the present time may not exist in the future.)
But maybe I can use it at jobs! No glass ceiling for me, right? Don’t worry about maternity leave or anything. I’m basically sterile!
I guess it’s just that emotion of wanting to have it all. Or, really, wanting the option to have it all.
This has been on my mind for quite some time, and I needed to get it out. I’m hoping none of the natural birthers flood in and talk about how I don’t know what I’m talking about. Honestly, I see a lot of beauty and strength in women who do things the natural way. It just never had an appeal to me; it never triggered any instinct in me. And now, like I said, it doesn’t really matter if it did or not. Pregnancy would be an incredibly risky thing for me, and it already is a risky thing. You’re more likely to die having a baby than you are jumping out of a plane and skydiving. (By quite a bit, actually. The 2010 maternal mortality rate for the U.S. was 21 per 100,000 births. [x] Some estimates put the skydiving risk at 1 in 100,000 jumps; most put it even lower. [x]) When you add that to the chaos that can come with a mental disorder, it’s not a happy situation. And I guess it bothers me that I enver seem to be able to have happy situations.
Okay, not true. I’m in a loving relationship with a wonderful partner, set of parents, and siblings. I am making wonderful grades at a wonderful school. I am financially mostly stable. I am in decent health. I have decent looks. But you always want what you can’t have, right? Like Dorothy Parker wit and an island in French Polynesia and the ability to determine easily your reproductive future. But alas. Shit happens.