Swimming through the gene pool ...

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Swimming through the gene pool ...
Sun, 04-13-2003 - 9:01pm
Do you think that it is at all irresponsible for a couple to reproduce knowing that one of the individuals has a family history that greatly increases their offsprings' likelihood of having some type of neurologic or behavioral disorder?

In addition to being the poster family of interpersonal dysfunction, my dh's family represents a potpourri of psychological/neuro disorders. Both of his brothers are bipolar; one has never been able to hold down a FT job and he is now in his late 40s and still lives at home. DH (41 YO) has suffered on and off from varying degrees of depression for most of his life. His mom passed away about a year ago after a *long* battle with Parkinson's Disease. His great aunt died of a brain tumor. His first cousin (41 YO) suffers from a condition whose symptoms resemble MS (she has lost the use of her right hand and arm, and she also suffers severe tremors in that hand when she is tired or stressed) but which, over the past seven or so years, doctors have been unable to diagnose with certainty. Another first cousin (late 30s) suffered from a "nervous breakdown" a couple of years ago when things went badly in a job situation. You get the idea.

So, anyhow, despite all of this, dh and I decided to reproduce nonetheless. Our son (6.5 YO) is the delight of my life. He is bright, funny, happy, and (IMHO) just plain magical. Okay, he can be a royally frustrating PIA, but he is generally an awesome kid who I love to pieces. He has been diagnosed with ADD and also has a "touch" of ADHD. I suspect he may have more than a touch of ODD and I am kind of afraid that he may emerge as being bipolar one of these days (among other things, his meltdowns are legendary). My parents warned me when dh and I married that -- given his family's background -- we might want to think twice about having kids. We have seemed to get off relatively "easily" (so far) given the genetic pool we had to work with. But, that was not a "given".

In so many ways I feel like I was such a "careful" mom-to-be with ds. I was never a drinker or a smoker, but I had NO alcohol at all when I was pregnant, and I stayed out of any place that was at all smokey. Took all of those prenatal vitamins; worked out in a prenatal exercise class. I imbibed nothing with NutraSweet, and almost no caffeine. We also had Tay Sachs testing (we are Jewish) to make sure that he would not be born with that disease. Because of my "advanced maternal age" when ds was born (I was 35 - yep, advanced in the medical world!) I had an amnio during my pregnancy -- so, as a result we knew with pretty good certainty of so much that WASN'T amiss with his health, but obviously not any of the behavioral stuff we're dealing with now. I took great care of myself when I was pregnant with him. But I still have this nagging feeling that, somehow, we did something "wrong", or selfish, by having ds because of the tough times he may face ahead. (I cannot imagine my life without my son, though.)

My mom made a comment tonight to me (again) about ds' "schtick" being a result of dh's genetic make-up. We had gotten together for a casual dinner out with my parents, and ds (who I HOPE will start to really feel that Strattera kick in SOON) was not ... wonderful. I guess that I always have *some* guilt in the back of my mind about what we have set ds (and *his* kids) up for in life, and now it has come to the forefront for me once again. I feel like maybe we were NOT very responsible to have kids when dh's genes are not exactly what Darwin would have predicted would survive in his whole "survival of the fittest" theory. Like maybe it was a selfish and stupid "call" on the part of myself and dh. Oh yeah, and the icing on the cake is that I realize now that, in all likelihood, *I*, myself, have ADD; that would explain a whole lot about my life too -- funny how finding out information can help you put a whole new spin on your *own* life, huh? So, I, too, am to "blame" for my son's difficulties, apparently.

I know that I am rambling, but I wanted to know if any of you have had this same dilemma with your kids: Have you experienced any guilt over the knowledge that you might knowingly be passing on some not-so-great genes to them? Did you think twice (at least) before conceiving because of the gene pool you were working with? And, if you had *no* prior indication that your kids might have any of the types problems they now face ... if you *had* known that you were likely to have kids who would have a tough time, would it have made you think twice about it? And, finally, would you feel any differently about knowingly passing on a genetic predisposition to other more "black and white" medical conditions (heart problems, diabetes, and birth marks come to mind).

I hope that these questions are not hurtful or insulting to *anyone*. They are just weighing on my mind tonight (it has been a particularly tough weekend) and I wanted to know if I am alone in how I feel or if I have any "company" in Guilt-Land. Thanks everyone! ~ ruth

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-25-2003
Sun, 04-13-2003 - 9:47pm
I so know how you feel. I was dx when I was pregnant. Since then I've discovered my Paternal Grandmother and her 4 siblings all had mood disorders. My Father has a mood disorder, I am bipolar, my sister unipolar depression (although sometimes I wonder), my brother is ok for now. I have a son 4.5 that is being evaluated for BP now, but his current dx is ADHD and ODD. My brother has a son with tourettes.

Did I consider not having him (I was 35 too) yup, for a nanosecond. Would I do it again, yup. He is so smart and funny, and you know what, so am I. Does he have challanges ahead of him, of course he does. The way I see it is that you have children from all walks of life, learning disabilities, ADHD, BP, Sensory integration, conduct disorder,....I could go on for hours. We always did have these kind of children, but they just had to learn how to live with it.

It is said that people with ADHD make the best CEO's. There are hundreds of people with BP who are incredibly successful...Robin Williams, Jim Carey, and literally thousands of Scientists/Theologens/Painters/Writers/World Leaders in history with BP.

I guess I just got what I got and love what I have.



Avatar for kathy_in_ga
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Mon, 04-14-2003 - 9:42am
Here is how I see it. Even though my son has bipolar disorder, I wouldn't change who he is for anything. I wouldn't have changed me having him at all. Both DH & myself have BP in our families. What I like to do is look at the long lists of the BPers who have been very successful in their lives. Imagine if Francis Ford Coppola's mom didn't have him or Halle Berry's mom decided not to have a child because of the possibility of mental illness. There are tons of actors, writers, poets & composers who have or had BP. Take a look!


Yes it can cause some problems, and you have to learn a whole new "language", but these days there is so much more known, much more resources and a larger choice of medications that help correct the chemical imbalance in the brain. Early intervention & treatment is the key.

Any you did everything you could have done. I too did all those things, I stopped using any caffeine, no sweetener substitutes, no meds for myself (but asperin & my asthma med), I was soo very careful. No one is to "blame", would you be blamed if your child had childhood leukemia? Or has some kind of deformity? Or had Downs? Prolly not. Why should anyone be blamed for ADHD, BP or any other mental illness. If you want to stop the comments, I would (and this is just me) tell my mother that this subject is not open for discussion and that I no longer want to here the comments. I would also tell her how hurtful you feel when she says such things. I am sure your DH is hurt when she says them, and your son will one day know what she is talking about. Sometimes we have to stop the hurtful comments, and it is not an easy decision, but the best one to make for all involved. I have even made the choice with friends, I decided they weren't friends if they couldn't accept my son for who he is. OK Off my soap box, can you tell I have been in the same shoes???

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Mon, 04-14-2003 - 9:50pm
Actually my son's diagnose's was a sort of relief. My husband has terrible mood swings and I thought he was bipolar, sphyco, or something. After my son's diagnoses I educated myself like crazy on ADHD and found my husband is textbook ADHD adult. Unfortunately he was labled problem child by his family and never got the help available to our kids now. Although he agrees he is ADHD he won't help himself. But I know now what I need to do so my son doesn't growup to have all the problems his Dad had and has. My son is in special classes in school, he takes Strattera, I took parenting classes on ADHD and I will be there to make sure he grows up to be his full potential. I've stopped trying to fix my husbands mood swings which took a great burden off my shoulders and put my efforts where they belong, on my son. So for me it was sort of a blessing in disguise!