A tree with a nest in it surrounded by two birds

You Have MS. Should You Have a Child?

It is one of life’s biggest decisions: to start a family or to remain a couple and do your own thing. Couples and individuals weigh many factors in choosing to have children or keep the family at two. Throw MS into the equation, and it’s more complicated.

Should you have a child when you have MS?

Three decades ago, my wife Cathy and I faced this question. We decided to start a family. We considered many factors, including Cathy’s relapsing-remitting MS. This was before there were any approved MS medications.

But I also weighed some issues that were unique to me as a care partner.

What I considered as a care partner

Child rearing is a rewarding task, but there is tremendous work and responsibility. Having a partner with MS makes it more challenging, and care partners must ask themselves “Am I up for this?”

Having children is not the end-all and be-all of life. I know several couples and individuals who chose not to have children. They live rich and happy lives.

I considered their decision and their freedom from the responsibility of raising a child. Yet my situation was different because MS is unpredictable, and I could have found myself caring for two people while working full-time.

How we decided to have children

I ultimately agreed that we should start a family because we both wanted to be loving, sharing parents to a child that would enrich our lives. That would be fine if that meant less time playing tennis or seeing fewer movies. Our son Jordan proves every day that we made a brilliant decision.

Two MS-specific factors required a lot of thought. The first was, we had heard that pregnancy can suppress MS symptoms, with an exacerbation after giving birth. Cathy’s MS subsided nicely during her pregnancy, though she did experience a mild flare-up afterward. Fortunately, her condition improved so she could ditch the special controls she used for driving, and she functioned better than before.

A second consideration was whether a predisposition to MS would be passed down. The best evidence at the time was that it was unlikely (less than 1 percent). We took a chance, hopeful that effective treatments if needed, were not far off. One recent source states, the chances of a child of someone who has MS, also having MS, is between 2 and 3 percent.1

Yes, it was exhausting

We bottle-fed our son; I took the late-night feeding and Cathy handled the early-morning round. The sleep disruption did not help us as the day progressed. If Cathy had been unable to take the second feeding, it would have been even more exhausting.

After our son began to walk, I gave Cathy Saturdays off to rest and recover. We called it “Buddy’s Day.” Chasing your child around a playground with all sorts of “forts” and slides is the best kind of tired.

We make decisions based on what we know and how we feel at the time. If we’re lucky, it works out splendidly.

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