Deciding Whether to Have Kids Can Be Complicated With IPF

Having a chronic illness can change a person's perspective on parenting

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by Charlene Marshall |

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Being diagnosed with a chronic illness changes everything. In addition to the physical changes, patients endure emotional, mental, and social ones as well. This is especially true for those of us thrown into the chronic illness world as a young adult, when our brains have just finished developing but our life trajectory is still unknown.

Long before I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a life-threatening and progressive lung disease, I was certain that I wanted kids. My mom used to joke that I was the most sought-after babysitter in town. I spent so much time babysitting that I would be away from home on weekends and had little time to get into trouble like some of my peers did.

While babysitting, I encountered many challenges, which I believe shaped my career path as a therapist. I supported kids through parent separations, when they were bullied at school, when they failed a test, or didn’t make a sports team. I also cared for them while they were ill. (Respiratory viruses didn’t bother me back then.) Not only did babysitting shape my career path, I was convinced that it also prepared me for having my own kids one day.

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Life changes

In my mid-20s, I fell in love with traveling. I learned a lot about myself while exploring foreign countries, meeting new people, and being away from home. I knew that traveling wouldn’t be as easy with kids, so I started to lose interest in having them.

In my late 20s, I adopted a beautiful golden retriever, and today, I’d be lost without her, especially since my diagnosis. Rescuing my dog filled a void I didn’t know I had. The caretaker instinct that I had thought needed to be met with kids was fulfilled by my fur baby. I enjoy ensuring that all her needs are met and that she’s happy, with lots of opportunities for playtime and exercise. The latter is good for me as well because exercise is instrumental to living well with IPF.

When I was diagnosed with IPF in 2016, I knew that my future would change. While the prognosis for IPF is outdated online, the idea of having limited years ahead of me was overwhelming. I didn’t know if I wanted those years to be filled with kids. Aside from whether or not it was physically possible for me, I had no interest in raising a child that would be left without a parent. I saw what losing a parent could do to a child’s emotional and physical development, and I didn’t want that.

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to have kids as a woman with a chronic illness. Aside from the obvious factor, which is whether or not my body could physically carry a growing baby, many medication changes would be required to do so safely. I am taking Ofev (nintedanib), an antifibrotic medication used to slow IPF progression, and it’s not safe to use during pregnancy. I’d have to stop taking it for at least a year, which could lead to a rapid progression of my disease.

In addition to these physical considerations, there are many other things to think about when having kids as a person with a chronic illness, including the financial implications, as IPF has already required that I change my financial priorities over the years.

In Ontario, Canada, where I live, there is a shortage of children’s Tylenol and pediatric hospital beds. The number of children who are sick has reached peak levels this season, which is something I’d also have to consider if I had my own kids.

Some of the medication I am on to manage IPF has weakened my immune system, which means I am at a greater risk of getting really sick from a virus that others might be able to fight off. The idea that kids could bring home a virus, such as the respiratory syncytial virus, scares me. Sadly, it’s just not something I can afford to risk right now.

While IPF has forced my decision about whether or not to have kids, I am OK with it. With the state of the world and things rapidly changing for me medically, I am actually grateful I don’t have kids right now.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


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