Friday, February 28, 2014

Should I Have a Baby (or get a puppy) When Chronically Ill?

Let me preface this post by saying, I in no way think puppies and babies are equal. Let's just get that out there. Babies have a soul and were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). While they are soft, cute, and cuddly, puppies do not have a soul and are not created in God's image. Puppies are not children and, of course if you've been around children much you know that they are not puppies. You can't put your child in a crate for hours at a time and leave the house, and you can't give a child away to an animal shelter when you get tired of them or realize you are in way over your head :)

I've long since wanted to blog about the difficult and emotional decision of whether or not to have children when chronically ill.  We are blessed to have a healthy and beautiful daughter and while I am thankful for her and never want to take her for granted (though of course, I do at times) I also never hoped to have only one child. But our life is very different from our dreams and so my husband and I have had to realize that due to the nature of my chronic pain and the degree of  my disability, it would not be wise to have another baby or welcome a child into our family through the beauty of adoption. Some days I accept this better than others, but the longer my pain goes on and the challenges I've seen with having a puppy in our house over the past couple of months (more on that to come) the more I know my body could not likely endure mothering another child (let alone the pains of pregnancy/childbirth).  Of course, God is the one who ultimately decides these things and so like all areas of our life, we desire to surrender this to Him and trust Him, but adding another child to our family is not something we are actively pursuing at this point.

But there are some of you that may be trying to decide whether to have a child when chronically ill, and what a hard decision it is! Last year, Lisa Copen, at Rest Ministries, a wonderful support ministry for those with chronic illness, gave me a copy of her e-book "Should I Have a Baby if I am Chronically Ill? The Ultimate Guide of Questions to Ask Yourself, Your Spouse, and Your Medical Team"

Picture Source
Although I am not currently pursuing having another child, since my pain began right before I found out I was pregnant I can attest that the questions in this e-book are great questions to consider before having a child when chronically ill.  I really liked that Lisa begins with questioning our motive for wanting to have a baby. This is so critical, I think, because often we desire a baby for how it makes us feel or because we want to be like our friends who have children instead of thinking through the commitment and purpose of having a child and being a parent. Which I believe is primarily to bring glory to God and to train the child in the ways of the Lord so that he/she can then glorify God and share the gospel with others.

The book is just as the title suggests, a book of questions (over 400 in fact!) and while it is geared more toward the first-time parent, it would also be beneficial for those considering a second or even third child (especially if the illness came after the first child). Lisa has a section devoted to adoption and provides some resources for that, which I really appreciated as I think too often we don't consider adoption when thinking of having children. Lisa, of course is a great resource on this subject as she adopted her son while chronically ill. 

So what does this have to do with getting a puppy?

It's funny. I remember having newly married friends who would get a puppy before having children. I've even seen friends who struggle with infertility get small house dogs. Not being an animal lover (at least not during my adult years) and having never struggled with infertility I never really understood why. That is until I became chronically ill and now have a puppy myself.

In my last post I mentioned that we got a puppy kind of unexpectedly at Christmas this past year. I remember one of my best childhood friends had a small house-dog (a terrier of some type named, Destiny) that I thought was so cute and I thought it would be fun to have a small inside dog. But growing up we always had bigger outside dogs because we live in a more rural area.  A couple of years ago a friend of ours had a Yorkshire terrier that would just come lay in my lap when we visited their house. I thought it sure would be nice to have a dog to keep our daughter company, and I would enjoy having a companion on my bad days when I'm resting and when my husband works evenings. Then out of the blue we heard about someone selling Yorkie-poo pups. I saw a picture and told my husband, expecting him to say "not right now", but he didn't. The catch? I was to be the "primary care-giver" (of course my hubby is great and does help a lot, but I've tried to keep my end of the deal when I can). So, I researched and read and thought about it a lot and a few days later we brought home this little guy. (I was really interested to read that Yorkie-poos are good dogs for elderly people and make good therapy dogs!)

The first couple of days it was fun and he was so cute, mostly sleeping in our laps. Then as we started working on house-training, biting, chewing, jumping, obeying, walking on a leash, crating, getting him on a schedule, etc. I realized, this is no joke, it's hard work! I felt like I had a newborn again getting up with a puppy during the night to take him outside. Actually it was worse because this newborn could walk around and didn't wear a diaper!

Then it hit me...this is why young couples often get puppies before having kids! If you can survive house-breaking and training a dog then you can easily survive having a child. Well, maybe not easily, but it's definitely good practice.

Having a puppy has not been easy and several times I've wondered if I shouldn't have gotten a puppy since I have chronic pain. It hasn't helped that we have had one of the coldest and longest winters that I can remember and the extra work has been hard on my pain, but things are starting to get easier. The hope of course is that the short term struggle will produce long term gain and we will end up with a good family dog that we all enjoy. We still have several more of the "puppy" months to get through though!

It has been interesting caring for a small animal that weighs less than my daughter did when she was born. There's something relaxing (maybe even healing?) about holding a dog in your lap or having them snuggle up against you. And I guess I can understand a little why maybe having a dog is helpful for those who struggle with infertility (whether that be primary or secondary) or loneliness in general. But, again, my puppy is not a child and could never take the place of my daughter or fill the void of childlessness. Only Jesus can do that for any of our deepest longings.

So, am I saying you should just get a puppy instead of having a child when you are chronically ill? By no means! If you think having a child with your condition is wise and what God wants you to do then have a child (a puppy is no real comparison!) Should you get a puppy before having a child when you are chronically ill? I don't know, maybe. It might be helpful (in a very small way) allowing you to see how labor intensive it is to care for a baby. So, if you can't have children (or don't feel it's wise due to your condition), should you just find "healing" in getting a puppy and get over it? No. It's never that easy.

While a puppy might bring some happiness to your life, it can never heal you of the pain of not being able to have children (or more children, in my case). Only Jesus can heal the wounds of this pain-stricken, disease-infested, sin-filled world. Only He can give us true joy and peace and purpose for living when the world around us makes us feel like we're not "good enough" because we don't have children or a healthy body.  Again, we have to ask, what is our motive for wanting to have children when chronically-ill, and then after researching, thinking, praying, and seeking counsel trust that God knows best. He knows best whether we have only one child or several children. He knows best if we have a puppy and no children or a puppy and a child. And He knows best if the only companion we have in this life is Jesus. He knows best and He is enough, He is always enough. I am trying to trust that today.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own. They are not a direct reflection of Rest Ministries or Lisa Copen. I was given this e-book free of charge and I was not compensated for my review or publicity of this book. 


  1. Hello, I just found your blog and I must say I am very impressed by your attitude throughout this entire process. I have many of the same issues as you- hip pain, SIJ dysfunction, sacral pain and I have been dealing with Pudendal neuralgia for 2 1/2 years and I am young as well (not yet 30). I wanted to commend you for writing this blog, it is apparent that your faith has given you the strength to get through the difficulties you have faced. I wonder, how are you doing now? How do you manage the remaining pain and has anything helped? I saw on your older blog that you met with a PN specialist, was that helpful and would you be willing to share with us who the specialists are in this area? It seems as though not many people know about pudendal pain. Thanks so much and God Bless.

  2. If you aren't allergic or phobic, a cat might be better than a dog. They're better at entertaining themselves, don't need to be walked and often curl up with people who feel awful. Once I went for 3 weeks with only a few hours of sleep. Our cat, Little Wolf, seemed concerned and lay at my feet every night as I lay awake in pain the whole time.