A woman with schizophrenia has been left “heartbroken” after her husband told her he doesn’t want to have biological kids with her due to the risk the mental illness might be passed on.
“I have schizophrenia. It’s shown to be genetic although I’m not sure what the chances of passing it 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,” the woman shared in a post to forum Reddit.
The 28-year-old said she and her partner have discussed adoption, “which does make me happy”.
“However, my whole life I’ve looked forward to having a baby of my own,” she continued.
“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?”
Listen: The Olympian swimmer had post-natal depression – a condition many mums with a history of mental illness fear.
It’s a painful dilemma, but one it seems some people with mental health problems are grappling with.
When The Atlantic started a discussion asking its readers, “Has your mental or physical health been a factor in deciding whether to have kids?” they received several poignant responses.
“Of course I am worried that my family’s history of mental health issues (OCD, BPD, anxiety, to name a few) would be present in any child,” shared one woman named Farah.
“As it is, I have had an eating disorder for 20 years, and wouldn’t wish that on any child. I don’t think I could handle being pregnant. It would not be physically or mentally healthy to do so.”
Another, Nora, said she had suffered depression and anxiety and “would hate to inflict life upon someone else” through genetics.
Others shared tales of childhoods spent with mothers with various mental health conditions that they themselves experience to an extent and would not wish to have their children grow up the same way.
Then there was one woman in her 50s, for whom bipolar runs in the family, who made a devastating observation after believing in her younger years that she should not have children.
“But now, as I move into menopause, I am filled with sadness that my illness prevented me from living a ‘normal life’ and that I will move into the future without a family,” she wrote.
“I think I would have been a good mum, after all.”
Reading these honest, open and oft-painful confessions could make you think it’s never a good idea to mix children and mental illness, but as author Victor LaValle, who has a family history filled with schizophrenia and bipolar sufferers, writes in a candid piece for The Guardian, letting go of the fear can be a wonderful experience.
“I realise I might pass down an incurable illness to my son, but living based on what might go wrong seems like less and less of a life as I get older,” he writes after finding out his wife is expecting their first child.
“The one thing I can try to control is whether I teach my child to be ruled by anxiety, by fear. That’s something that gets passed down, too.”
Victor’s message is one of hope for creating a wonderful life for his son, despite any mental health problems that may surface in him or his child.
It’s that kind of determination that can be seen on Australian charity Children of Parents With a Mental Illness’ website.
The group recognises that more than a million children will have one parent with a mental health condition and that this can negatively affect a child’s development and wellbeing. However, COPMI has made its mission to help parents, by providing information and online resources for them and their family and friends.
“Our information is designed to foster better mental health outcomes for children of parents with a mental illness, reduce stigma associated with parental mental illness and help friends, family and workers in a range of settings identify and respond to the needs of the children and their families where parental mental illness exists,” the website states.
One such resource is a booklet dedicated to newly pregnant women – or those thinking of becoming pregnant – who manage a mental illness, titled ‘The Best For Me and My Baby’.
There, it recommends mums-to-be talk to their doctor about how they will manage their condition during pregnancy, as well as recommending developing a baby care plan in case they become unwell.
Instead of suggesting people with mental health issues shouldn’t have children, it encourages them to start conversations with the partner, family, friends, mums in similar positions and doctors to ensure they’re as informed as possible and know they’ll be supported. Just like any other mum-to-be should do.
If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety and need help or just someone to chat to, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636. For resources on parenting with a mental illness, visit Children of Parents With a Mental Illness.