The Fear of "Passing on" My Crohn's Disease
Five percent. That's the statistical prediction of passing on my Crohn's disease to my son, according to Crohn's and Colitis UK.1
It doesn't sound like a huge number. For example, if you offered me a drug that was 95% effective for curing my Crohn's disease, I'd take it! Or if you could promise I'd only have symptoms 5% of the time, I'd be pretty happy with that too! Whilst it doesn't sound like a huge figure, whether it was 1%, 10% or 100%, the worry of passing our condition on to the people we love most in the world – our children – is still incredibly scary.
How Crohn's affects pregnancy and birth plans
It starts in pregnancy. Many talk about planning for a baby around vacations or home renovation projects, but those of us with IBD plan it around medication and disease activity. Already, the guilt can kick in as we weigh taking medication to stay well for ourselves and our baby versus statistical probabilities of potential risks to pregnancy. With research on pregnant women understandably limited, much of it hypothetical, and whilst most IBD drugs are safe throughout pregnancy, it doesn't stop the guilt all the same.
Then comes along breastfeeding and giving birth. Having had a C-section (like many women with perianal disease), I'm aware of studies suggesting a "natural" labour is better, but the risk of tearing my fistula wound by it was too great. I know breastfeeding has a protective factor for many conditions but a post-birth flare-up made it difficult for me to do so. It can feel as if what is right for us and our disease isn't always what is advised as best for most women and their babies.
Worries that Crohn's is hereditary
You're not a mum with IBD if you haven't panicked over your baby's nappy at least once. Since we are probably far more accustomed to poop than most, it's hard not to look for signs of a child developing IBD. My two-year-old seems to have developed a sensitive belly from me and has toddler diarrhea. Whilst he's thriving in every way, it's hard not to worry already if it's coincidental or if I've passed something on we'll discover when he's older. He already has an egg allergy, which although is common in young children, I do wonder if it's because I too have intolerances to various foods.
On the one hand, it is the best feeling in the world seeing a small human resembling you in so many ways but I was quite relieved when my son seemed to be identical to my husband (who doesn't have any health conditions) when born. As he's got older, he now looks identical to me and has taken on so many characteristics of me. I just hope those are limited to my positive attributes and not my health conditions!
But much can be hereditary – good and bad
Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about this worry. Whilst some may say (and, in fact, have said to me) to not have children if you're worried about passing IBD on, I am aware that someone who doesn't have Crohn's disease still has a chance of giving birth to a child who does. We know enough about the disease to know the causes of Crohn's are not purely genetic. After all, with no family history myself, IBD is something that neither of my parents was aware of but their daughter (me!) still has Crohn's disease.
There are also many other conditions and traits that a child could develop or you could pass on without realising yourself. Unfortunately, becoming a parent is understanding a lot of things are outside of your control, and for me, the fear of passing on Crohn's to my son is something I need to live with and accept.
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