Dating with a Disease – Part Five: Children
Last updated: February 2023
Babies? Wait, what? OK, this has clearly become a series about not just dating, but relationships, matters of the heart, and even families. Discussions about children often happen way before marriage (ideally anyway - you both want to be on the same page). Not everyone wants children, some people want a lot of children; regardless, it’s a topic that comes up. When talking about procreating or adopting children with multiple sclerosis, there are some pretty common questions that pop up.
Will they get MS?
I think one of the most common questions people think about when it comes to having children while suffering from MS, is “Will they get it? Will I pass this disease on to them?” The answer is a bit complicated and still not completely understood. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that “The average person in the United States has about a one in 750 (.1%) chance of developing MS. For first-degree relatives of a person with MS, such as children, siblings or non-identical twins, the risk rises to approximately 2.5-5%, with the risk being potentially higher in families that have several family members with the disease.” So the risk is small, additionally, genetics really seem to be one part of the equation that determines who gets MS. Other factors like ethnicity and geography are at play as well, so it’s not as simple as saying, I have MS so my child will have MS.
The genetic component in my experience
With my own experience, my father did not have MS, however, his father and his father’s father both had MS. We have a very well researched family history, and while looking through it, we can see that some of our ancestors suffered from issues that most certainly could have been MS, had such a diagnosis been a possibility at the time. So, anecdotally, looking at my own family’s history, there certainly seems to be a fairly important genetic component (or we are just super unlucky). That’s just my family though; there are many people who acquire MS and seemingly have never had another family member with it. Even with my family’s history, this would not stop me from having children, especially with the way new treatments have been coming out.
Can I care for them?
As my disease progresses, can I care for children? This has always been my biggest concern. OK, not always, but when I was put on disability, it became a concern. Financial concerns are at the top of the list (I’ve personally always believed that you shouldn’t have children if you can’t afford to provide for them yourself). Having children is expensive, and I simply could not support a child alone. If I were married to someone with a decent job that could provide for us, I would then have a different concern. Namely, can I physically care for them? For me, that wouldn’t be easy, particularly for a young child. I personally would have to think very hard about that with my current level of disability.
Having kids while battling multiple sclerosis isn’t an easy choice. A few concerns are common; I do believe there is something worthwhile to offer, though. If you can deal with the logistics, I think there is a certain amount of pride children can take from knowing that their parent is battling a disease. Yes, there is a lot of heartache that will come with it, too. For all the negatives though, I think it can certainly have its benefits, too. I say this as someone who grew up living with a grandfather that was disabled by MS. While not my direct parent, he required 24 hour care from my family and that had a massive impact on our family.
Great source of pride
I can say now, years later, despite any inconveniences and pain that happened along the way, I am better off for having lived in that situation. It helped me have an appreciation for life and for caring for others well before I had MS myself. To this day, it is a source of pride for me that my family stood by him, took him in, and cared for him. Just as it’s a source of pride that he battled the disease for so long. Those things most certainly impacted me in a positive way. So for those of you who have children or want children and worry about your disease, remember that while there are some logistical nightmares, there can be some great benefits, too.
What does advocacy mean to you as someone living with multiple sclerosis? Please select all that apply: