For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to kids. And like a moth to a flame, they have always flocked to me in return. I find children awe-inspiring and relatable. They offer a more pure, innocent, and at times all-too-honest take on things – much different than my skewed, cynical, and more mature perspective.
One might think my interest in kids would lead me to becoming a mother; it has not. My choice not to become a mother wasn’t something that happened overnight. Over many years, I did what all of us with CF do so diligently: I listened intently to my body. Throughout my determination to make this decision wisely, I was fortunate enough to be supported whole-heartedly by family, relatives, and friends.
Many people tie value to women because of their ability to have a child; thinking differently toward those of us who made the difficult -- yet often selfless -- decision not to have children. I think deciding not to have children should be normalized -- even celebrated -- more widely and accepted not only in the CF community, but also in the world we live. Gender roles in society are changing. I know many women now who can have children, but simply choose not to. No matter what, the decision whether to have children is a highly individualized one, with many things to consider.
I was diagnosed with CF at 11 months old after being hospitalized for failure to thrive -- too ill and malnourished to even cry. For as sick as I was as a baby, I had a pretty normal, active, and healthy childhood. I am the youngest of three and the only one to have CF. I remember being 16 years old and having a conversation with my mom in the car. She told me -- due to me having CF -- I likely would not be able to have children. I recall being old enough to understand, but too young and inexperienced to make a decision about what I wanted at that time. My mom and I have a close and cherished relationship -- she has fought for me in every way possible so I took her advice very seriously.
Growing up, I heard rumors about how women with CF who carried and delivered babies typically experienced failed health and -- untimely -- death shortly thereafter. The last thing I wanted to do was bear a child only to have that child later lose their mother. I did not want that on my conscience. From that point on, as I grew older and got sicker, things became more complicated in my life.
The next conversation I clearly remember regarding having kids was when I was in my 20s while taking a walk with one of my older sisters. I confided in her that I didn’t know if I wanted children or if I could bear the brunt of childbirth physically. I was curious and eager to educate myself on the process. She told me that if the time came, it would be easy compared to all of the pain I had already experienced in my life having CF – from the sinus surgeries I had to be awake for, to having my gallbladder removed and nearly dying from it. In her eyes, I was a hero who could conquer anything; I still did not know, however, if being a mom was in the cards for me.
At that time, the people in my life began marrying and having children. Of course, I was thrilled for them! Whether it was my older sisters or my cousins, I adored having kids around me and quickly learned all the hard work it took to care for a child. What would I be, if not a loving mother?
Yet how could I care for a child fully when I, at times, could not even care for myself without help? This painstaking decision made me feel different than others my age and often isolated. I did not have anyone in my circle who was going through similar circumstances.
Through these conversations, my experiences, and my frequent stays in the hospital, it became apparent to me that having children was not in my future. Once I made peace with my choice to not have children, I was then strong enough to mourn all I would lose out on by not being a mom. While in many ways that saddened me, I simultaneously realized there were many things I could be without being a mother. For example, I found purpose in volunteering to help survivors of sexual violence and even got to travel the world in my healthier days! I would be the doting cousin, helping my second cousins grow and communicate. I would be the favorite aunt (sorry if my sisters are reading this!), who goofs off with their nieces and nephews, while also being someone they could call if they needed me.
Drug advancements have come so far, and with that have come more stories of women with CF having children. As a 38-year-old woman, I have three friends with cystic fibrosis who each have a healthy child, though I know others who, like me, do not. Many people you know will tell you their opinions about you having a child; you, however, do not have anyone to answer to but yourself. There is no correct thing to do but listen to your heart and reach out to resources when you have questions. I know how hard of an internal struggle it can be. CF makes us sacrifice so many things -- be it time, energy, or becoming a parent. Every day I am grateful for myself and for others out there who can be positive examples to support those out there who are wondering if motherhood is right for them.
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