I’ve got all sorts of things wrong with me. I’ve got eczema and asthma, I’m allergic to any animal with hair, fur or feathers, pretty much all kinds of pollen, and dust too. I am in a permanent state of snotiness. I’m very short-sighted (-7.0 prescription at the last check, which means I can’t see past the end of my nose without glasses) and I’ve got a weird double crown so my hair sticks up like Billy Whizz (which I know is not really a medical complaint but it has blighted my life!). None of these things have been inherited from my parents and none of them affect my brother. Well actually, that’s not quite true – both he and my mum have the weird hair thing too. I guess I was just the unlucky one. Apparently breastfeeding can help to stop allergies developing but I was exclusively breastfed until I was about eight months, as was my brother, but I still developed allergies and he didn’t. I don’t officially have any food allergies but the one time I ate strawberries I came out in a rash and I’ve also fairly recently been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome which is often linked to food intolerance.
I suppose I am fortunate really that none of my conditions are especially serious or life-threatening. I only get eczema on three fingers of my right hand, although I also have dry, itchy skin all over my body. Co-incidentally my husband gets the same sort of eczema on his hands – it’s tiny, intensely itchy blisters, which is now known as ‘shitty finger’ in our house! My asthma only really bothers me if I’ve got a cold or I exert myself in cold weather – it must be a couple of months since I last used my inhaler. My animal allergies do cause quite severe symptoms but animals are something that are pretty easy to avoid if you need to. My hay fever is on the severe end of the scale. I usually take prescription anti-histamines from about March to October. Last year I was really worried that I was going to suffer horrendously because I couldn’t take my usual tablets while pregnant but somehow it seemed pregnancy miraculously cured my hay fever and without any medication at all I hardly had any symptoms! I almost can’t wait until the first pollen of spring to see if the magic has stayed with me! Having to wear glasses all the time is annoying (and expensive) but it’s not going to kill me, and one day I might have enough money to have corrective laser surgery. I would love to wake up in the night and be able to see. I actually tried those contact lenses that you can leave in for a month once (although I only managed three days before my eyes were so dry and irritated I had to take them out) and it totally freaked me out opening my eyes in the night and being able to see the alarm clock clearly instead of the vague red glow I’m used to.
Anyway, apologies, I digress. What I actually came here to talk about was not really how all these things have affected me. Yes, they are annoying but I’ve lived with most of them since I was little and I’m really quite used to them by now. But then when I found out I was pregnant I began to think about these problems a little more. I’m sure everyone wonders which bits of you and your partner that little pip growing inside you is going to inherit. Will he have my big eyes (or my big bum!)? Will he have the hubby’s massive nose? Will he have the metabolism of a whippet like my dad and my brother or will be like me and my mum and put on a pound just by looking at a cake? But for me there were a few other nagging thoughts in the back of my mind – will he have eczema and asthma? Will he have allergies? Will he need glasses? And if he does…..will it be my fault?
As if we as parents didn’t find enough things to feel guilty about. I know of course, with my rational mind, that Toby’s eczema (yes, the first of my conditions has shown itself on my little boy, along with a constant snotty nose since he was born) could just be your bog-standard infant eczema that he’ll grow out of. But my irrational mind, the one that whispers to me when I’m lying in bed in the dark, tells me he has that eczema because of me, and like me he will be stuck with it for the rest of his life. My husband is awesome and always reassures me that it’s not my fault (my mum, not so much… ‘oh no, he’s got your eczema’) but I always wonder somewhere in the back of my mind. Maybe if I had managed to breastfeed for longer then he wouldn’t have it. But then again, maybe he would. I know there’s no point beating myself up about it. There’s nothing we can do except to live with it, treat it, and try to make sure that Toby is as comfortable as he can be. As far as all the other things go, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
I know in the grand scheme of things, even if Toby ends up with all the same problems as me, he’ll still be fine. I am after all. But thinking about this has made me wonder how parents cope when they do pass something on to their kids – perhaps the chance combination of a faulty gene from each parent leads to something much more serious than a mild case of eczema or asthma. My sympathy goes out to those parents. We just have to remember that what is going to be, will be and we wouldn’t change our children for the world.