A Difficult Decision
Choosing Not to Have Biological Children
What it's Not About
Because this is a controversial topic, it is important to preface this article with an explanation of what choosing not to have children is not.
First, adults who choose not to have children are not at all in favor of eugenics. They see the importance of having handicapped or differently-abled people in the world and how much they enrich it; indeed, they tend to be differently-abled people themselves. In other words, one should not view their choice not to have children as a way to rid the world of the disabled. This is, indeed, an offensive concept and far from the intent of an individual who chooses not to have children for genetic reasons.
Second, adults who choose not to have children are not attempting to proselytize. Sadly, when they share their personal opinions about their personal choices, adults who choose not to have children for genetic reasons are often judged by others who have the same health condition(s). It is important to separate our own personal feelings from those of others. There is no right or wrong answer, only personal conviction--one way or the other. It is entirely possible for a person with a genetic condition to not pass it on to a child (a genetics counselor can advise couples about risk). This article and its contributors are not here as a means to convince. Rather, they intend only to share and to show others who have made the same decision that they are not alone.
Third, this decision is not a cult. Its supporters are free to jump ship, so to speak, and have children. The decision not to have children, thankfully, is a choice. And, being people, we are always free to change our minds.
What it is About
For a high school project, my class had to make a week's worth of meal plans under the guise that we were pregnant adult females (the guys in the class really loved this project!). Shaken by my inability to create a week's worth of well-balanced meals, I wrote an explanation to the teacher about why I couldn't. When I got the assignment back, I felt relieved to see that my grade had not been docked, but dismayed to read the typical solution of, "No problem! Just take supplements!"
What most people--and even doctors, sadly--don't realize is that vitamin and mineral supplements almost always contain food ingredients. Being sensitive, I gave up in defeat and knew that a pregnancy, for me, would not be as easy as my teacher attempted to portray it.
Says Miriam, "If I were to get pregnant, would I be able to eat enough nutrious foods for the fetus, since my diet is incredibly restrictive? Would the baby reject any of the foods that I need for my daily survival? If I was to lose even one more of the food groups that is safe for me, it wouldn't be worth it for the consequences to my long term health." Miriam has determined that pregnancy, for her, would be high risk.
One's own health and well being, of course, is not the only issue adults with allergies might be concerned about. Genetics, sadly, is one of the few factors researchers have established as a definite cause of allergies. One of Miriam's reasons for choosing not to have biological children is that she is worried her child would inherit them.
Having more than one genetic condition also seems to be a deciding factor. Both Miriam and I each have other inherited genetic conditions. My non allergy condition is autosomal dominant, so that each child would have had 50% chance of inheriting it. Miriam's second condition is also autosomal dominant. My family additionally has inherited neurological disease and juvenile diabetes in it, leaving the percentage of a child inheriting a severe disease from me at around or over 75% per child.
The severity of allergies seems to play a quite a significant role in determining whether or not an adult is willing to risk passing on allergies. A person mildly allergic to milk would probably find it downright silly to worry about passing along allergies to a child, despite the fact that while allergies can be inherited, the severity and specific allergies are apparently not.
"If I only had one or two food allergies with only the moderate allergic reactions that I had in childhood," Miriam states, "then I don't know if food allergies would have been a consideration in excluding being a parent." However, Miriam now has over a dozen food allergies, and her reactions can be life-threatening.
And, while the severity and allergens would differ even if a child inherited them, Miriam says, "I just can't see potentially passing on that level of severity."
As mentioned before, allergies vary widely from person to person, even within families. A specific allergy is not inherited. For example, a mother allergic to only milk may have a child allergic to only wheat. My family has always found it humorous that my dad is allergic to corn and not potatoes, and I'm allergic to potatoes and not corn, for example.
Miriam is concerned about potential nutritional deficiencies in a family following more than one medical diet. "If my child had different food allergies than me and they were dangerous enough that they couldn't be in the house, both our diets would then be unsafely restrictive. My current diet is moderately unsafe in its
As individuals with allergies know, each food allergy requires another education on label reading, baking, and lifestyle. Dealing with one restrictive diet impacts an entire family, and each additional restriction adds stress and further limits the choices for an entire family.
People who choose not to have biological children don't dislike children. A decision not to have them is nothing less than heartbreaking--from childhood, I personally always wanted to have a dozen biological children--something that probably left most women questioning my sanity.
This decision may have its roots in a deep love for children, a love that surpasses the human desire to want to have and raise a biological family. In a society that prides who someone looks like or takes after, it is extremely painful for adults who can't or won't bear biological children. People who do not have biological children should not be viewed as callous, uncaring individuals. In many cases, they are the exact opposite--choosing to deny their desire for a family.
All hope is not lost when a family chooses not to have biological children. Miriam and her husband are not opposed to adoption at a future time. "At least with an adopted child there is a higher chance s/he won't have food allergies. Although an adopted child might have other problems, there is a chance that we would probably be better able to deal with most issues easier than yet another food allergy."
I remember sharing on a group for a separate health condition that I had chosen not to bear biological children, but hoped to adopt one day. I was surprised at how many people attacked this concept with news that children in the foster care system are often sick and diseased. I replied that I knew that they might be, but it wouldn't be my diseases, and that I would be happy to take in hard-to-place children.
However, they do have a good point. Anyone adopting must remember that children in the foster care system may also have food allergies or other restrictive medical diets that could still cause conflict in a family already dealing with a medically restrictive diet. People who choose to adopt, however, generally realize that the children who are adopted won't be perfect (we're all human!). Rather, the thought of most adults is that children in foster care are children who already exist with special needs and are already in need of a family to love them.
Others may find significance in remaining single and advancing at a job, remaining as a childless couple, or adopting needy pets.
Despite the fact that some adults may choose not to pass along a genetic problem to a future generation, they are also generally the first to refuse to place blame on the previous generation. "Food allergies at the level my sister and I have them couldn't have been predicted," Miriam says. "Neither of my parents had food allergies. My dad has environment allergies and my mother has medicinal allergies, but these didn't become obvious until long after both my sister and I were born."
Like Miriam, I have also absolved my parents from the "blame game," because neither one knew about how health issues such as the ones they had could be passed from generation to generation--and my mom's health issues did not manifest until after she had children. In addition to that, however, I have also told them that I would not fault them had they chosen not to bear children due to the love and concern they might have had for children that did not yet exist . . . a decision my mom says she would have made, had she known.
Despite the fact that adults "forgive" the previous generation, they still find empowerment in what medical knowledge has allowed them the choice to make. "I know that I have these conditions," Miriam says. "So, for me, it is my choice not to share them."