when fear asks the wrong question

The greatest disagreement Chris and I have had in our relationship is children. He’s always wanted kids, and when we got married, he knew I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but I was very young, and we both assumed I would gradually come around to the idea. I haven’t. In fact, I’ve become more resistant to it.

We’ve had a lot of tough conversations. There have been lots of tears. It seemed like the question we both had to face was, “Do I have to choose between the person I love or the life I always imagined having?” For Chris, that life meant children. For me, it meant not having children. We reached an impasse.

I knew something was wrong with the question we were asking. I’ve always been very analytical and self-aware, and any question that seemed designed for heartbreak made me suspicious. I fully believe that there is no fear in love, and to be so fearful meant there was something going on.

I’ve had to ask myself a million times, why don’t I want children? It always comes back to my mental illness. The idea of pregnancy terrifies me. The medication I’m on has such a bad rap that there’s a thing called “Effexor babies,” where women have sued after being on high doses while pregnant, and having children with birth defects or who died. Of course, the healthcare system insists the risk isn’t too bad, but they have a horse in the race. Reading stories from actual women has convinced me that any kind of strong antidepressant is going to mess with the natural development of a child. However, the other option, going off medication, is just as scary and risky. Severe depression can affect a fetus’ growth just as much as a drug.

My fears don’t stop there, though. No matter what route I go, that’s just 9-10 months. It’s doable. But, then the baby is born, and it’s here for the rest of my life. It’s overwhelming. I’m at a point where I can just care for my own mental state, how on earth can I be expected to take care of a kid? Another human being, who is essentially a sponge? And then there’s the increased risk of the child also developing a mental illness, so that’s another layer of responsibility.

In going over my reasons, I noticed that Chris was entirely absent from my thought process. And then I realized that the reason I’m so overwhelmed is because I imagine dealing with all the complexities of parenting + mental illness by myself. I don’t have confidence that Chris would know how to deal. I’ve never imagined my life with kids because I’ve never known my life free from the ever-looming presence of mental illness, and I’ve never known what having a real partner in the fight is like. That doesn’t mean that Chris doesn’t support me or is unhelpful. It’s just that depression/anxiety has always been my “thing” that he comes in and out of, it isn’t something he lives with like I live with it. If we’re going to be a real team, we both have to live with it. If we were truly united, I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed about the idea of kids.

The real question isn’t choosing between us or a kid. It is, “How do we get on the same team when it comes to mental illness?” That’s something a counselor can help us with, and has lots of solutions both practically and spiritually. It’s a question we can tackle without feeling like we’re just butting heads. Fear always likes to ask the question that only has one, usually horrible answer, but that’s not how love works.

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