• Sun, Jun 3 2012

Sarah Silverman Says She Would Adopt To Avoid Passing Depression On To Her Kids

Sarah SilvermanSarah Silverman is known for her blunt comedy, and apparently that straight-forwardness doesn’t end with her humor. On Amanda DeCadenet‘s amazing show The Conversation, Silverman spoke about her battles with depression. The discussion wasn’t new for Sarah, as she spoke candidly about her mental health issues in her book The Bedwetter, but it was the first time that I’ve known her to discuss the illnesses impact on her future path to motherhood.

Quite simply, Silverman would rather adopt than risk passing depression on to her future children.

“I don’t want kids. I’d love to adopt someday and I have a lot of adoption in my family… I know that I have this depression and that it’s in my family. Every family has their stuff but, for me, I just don’t feel strong enough to see that in a child.”

It’s such a strong statement, and obviously such a personal choice, that I don’t feel like I even have a place to comment on it. I respect her thoughts and think that any child would be blessed to have a mother who cares so deeply about giving their child the best advantages they can.

This idea, of choosing not to have children because of possible genetic issues, is one that I think a surprising number of people struggle with. Lots of us have illnesses that run in our family that make us uncomfortable. I was shocked a while ago to hear that my grandmother sometimes felt guilty for having children. She knew that alcoholism plagued her family for a very long time and felt that she shouldn’t have brought kids into the world only to struggle with an awful disease. For clarification’s sake I’ll say that no one is my immediate family has problems with alcohol, but that I do have extended family members who suffer with alcohol addiction.

When I heard my grandmother say that, I was taken aback. Obviously, that choice would’ve removed me from the earth’s equation. But it also demonstrated just how much burden mothers take on when it comes to their kids. Even things we can’t control, we feel guilty for. Even in giving our kids life, there are ways to feel guilty.

What do you think about this idea of adopting to avoid passing along faulty genetics? What are your personal experiences with genetic diseases and the fear of passing them on to children? I think Sarah’s opinions are her own and I commend her for sharing such a personal decision, but I’m interested in hearing how others relate to them.

(Photo: IMDB)

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  • Shelly G

    I have an amazing immediate family and a very troubled extended family. My parents both had parents who were alcoholics and also sexually abused their children. My father abused alcohol, but hasn’t touched it (not even cough syrup or mouthwash) for 31 years. When my parents decided to have children, my father put aside a bullet for himself if he ever felt the need to touch us. I still ended up getting molested by a grandmother when I was three and an uncle when I was ten (my parents still haven’t forgiven themselves for “letting it happen”, but it was a situation where they left me in the care of both my grandparents for approximately an hour when their work schedules overlapped and my grandfather ended up leaving, and leaving my brother and I in the care of someone who had never shown indications of that behavior before – those two people were only related by my parents marriage). My parents were very diligent in teaching us about alcohol, and to this point neither my brother or I have a problem with drinking. I have a PTSD diagnosis from the abuse and my brother has dealt with depression (which didn’t get diagnosed in my mother until her late 40′s).
    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you never know what you’re going to get when you have a child. I had a birth defect (not genetic) that almost killed me and means I need abdominal surgery every decade or so, but I did not get any of the genetic mental problems that plague my family. My brother has manic depression, which he’s been able to control with healthy eating and regular exercise. However, when I was younger, I placed a child with an adoptive couple. This was before my mother and brother getting diagnosed with manic depression, so I didn’t list that on the medical sheet. And the childs biological father didn’t mention heart problems in his family, though I know it was a congenital heart defect that eventually did his father in. Don’t get me wrong, adoption is a wonderful thing and my involvement with it has been an amazing experience. But it seems to me that if you choose to adopt because you couldn’t bear to see a child with depression, you really have to take into consideration that the child you adopt may have depression riding in his or her genes.

    • mari

      She isn’t condeming depression she said very clearly she isn’t strong enough to feel that the depression was Her fault that She passed it on, andShe did this to her own child. She doesn’t want that guilt. It has very little to do with having a perfectly healthy all around kid.

  • Lastango

    Mental illness, especially schizophrenia and bipolar, is a never-ending tornado in a family’s life:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33021811/ns/health-childrens_health/t/family-mental-history-shadows-future-children/

    I know someone in a related situation. His father has borderline personality disorder (narcissism, with grandiosity and other forms of distorted perception and thinking). His sister was always developmentally delayed. She graduated from high school at 20, only because the school was no longer willing to keep failing her. She is not able to function in the workplace, and lives in a withdrawn fantasy. She lives at home now, because her last attempt to be out in the world ended in a complete emotional collapse and admission to an in-patient psychiatric unit. He has aspergers, with borderline traits from the each of the A, B, and C catagories:

    http://www.rethink.org/about_mental_illness/mental_illnesses_and_disorders/personality_disorders/types_of_personality.html

    He is intelligent, but his career and social interactions have always been a chain of occasional successes punctuated by anxiety, challenges, and traumatic experiences.

    He has no family, and doubts he ever will.

    He just wants the madness to end.

  • Shelly G

    Her quote was stating she “wasn’t strong enough to see that in a child.” Which may mean herself passing the depression on and it may mean depression in general. All I’m saying is that you don’t know if your biological child will end up with a disorder that you’ve struggled with, and whether you choose having biological or adoptive children, you don’t know what you’ll get.

  • Andrea

    There is no guarantee that an adopted child wouldn’t have any issues; in fact is even more likely. Specially depression, alcoholism or drug abuse issues.

    • Melissa

      Andrea,

      I don’t think I see the link between adoption and substance abuse or mental health issues. And I have to say, as a birth mother of a child placed for adoption and a relative by adoption of some fantastic people, I’m a little hurt that you would make that assumption.

  • Eileen

    Is depression a genetic thing, or is it related more to upbringing? I would definitely think twice about having a biological child if my husband and I were both carriers for the same disorder, or if I were over 35. But I don’t know how we can control all the things we inherit from our parents, biologically or not.

    • Roberta

      I believe research shows it is a combination of both a chemical imbalance in the brain (which is often related to genetics) and environmental factors such as abuse, the presence or lack thereof of a strong support system, poverty, or other illnesses. It is a bit like addiciton; you may be genetically more likely to be addicted to something, but environmtal factors make it more likely that you will have access to substances or a support system. The best anecdote I have is my close friend who has just come forward to me as suicidal. Her grandmother died, her boyfriend dumped her and her sister became pregnant at 20, which meant her family barely pay attention to my friend. Many would say these are not reasons for depression, but combined with a pre-existing genetic set, it all combined together. Fortunately she is now getting help.

      Deciding whether or not you want to pass your genes on is an incredibly difficult decision, and I respect Ms. Silverman for even considering what she could be passing down-both good and bad traits. I have congential heart disease, thyroid issues and a potential brain syst, along with most of my family that has various degrees of addiction and mental health issues. While I am years away from children, it is a big worry of mine, and something that everyone should consider.

      That isn’t to say that you should not have kids because one distant relative was an alcoholic, but rather you should know the odds and decide if you are able to provide a support system for whatever happens, if it happens.

    • fig

      Forms of mental illness are most definitely linked to genetics. Schizophrenia has been clearly shown to be linked to genes, though the genes are sometimes spontaneous mutations and sometimes inherited. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090203145504.htm)

      There are also some links between other mental illnesses and genetics (http://www.healthyplace.com/depression/articles/suicide-risk-runs-in-families/), though I think because there is still so much to learn about brain science, and the real way depression works, that I really think that science’s understanding of genetic aspect will not be well understood until the disease itself is better understood.

  • copperked

    I have to respect Sarah Silverman’s personal decision on this because it is a concept that I also struggle with. At one time, I was married and raising my (then) husband’s teenage son and I felt that I would be okay to have children and raise them. We were never able to conceive, however, and sometimes I wonder if that wasn’t for the best, especially since my personal struggle with depression led to my marriage failing. The issue came up again a year ago, when an old schoolmate of mine committed suicide. He was a very nice guy with simple dreams: he wanted to run the family farm and have a family of his own. A few years after graduation, however, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and on his good days, he felt that his disease made it impossible to eventually become a good father and husband. Losing him was tragic, but I can’t imagine what he had to go through every day, feeling that even such simple dreams were impossible in his situation.

  • Blabby

    It’s an interesting issue and one that I struggled with before having my daughter. I have had to deal with anxiety and depression on and off throughout my life and I too wondered about whether it was a good idea to have children and run the risk of passing on the anxiety or depression. But at the end of the day, I asked myself the question: “Do my struggles with depression and anxiety make life not worth living?” And the answer was emphatically no– life IS worth living, even with anxiety and depression to contend with. I now have a beautiful, healthy daughter and I couldn’t imagine life without her. Obviously I hope she never has to confront either anxiety or depression in her life, but I hope to equip her with all the emotional tools she needs to face ALL of life’s challenges.

  • Not A Mom

    I carry cystic fibrosis. I am now divorced, but before I married my ex-husband, I offered him an out. I told him that there was no way I would have a biological child with him if we both carried CF, so adoption would be the only option. I have family members with the disease and it’s just awful and there is no way I’d risk knowingly bringing a child into this world who had a 25% chance of having the disease.

    He ended up not being a carrier, but he did have some depression and anxiety issues, and he had a lot of other health concerns, and honestly, the thought of having a child with him weighed on my heavily because of those medical and mental health issues.

  • Ellen

    I definitely feel her pain. I’m struggling with this very issue right now. I don’t plan on having children for at least another 7 years, but as I start to slip back into the throes of depression, I don’t know if I want to risk passing this awful thing on to my children. At the same time, I really want to have kids. It’s not really something I can explain- more of a biological urge. Luckily, I still do have years to figure this out.

  • T.

    A brave choice.

  • Jim

    Sarah: Don’t adopt!!! Any child you have will be depressed just knowing that have to be with you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lindsaychartman Lindsay Cross

      First of all, your comment is inappropriate when we’re obviously talking about a serious issue that is difficult for many families.

      Second of all, not that I can speak for Sarah Silverman, but at least when she makes jokes about serious issues like mental illness, her jokes are funny.

    • JimLover

      Hilarious! Well played. I’m sure Sarah would approve.

  • Fashion

    Sarah silverman, I dream of her. She is too much cute

  • Herryponting

    Wondering this nice information.

  • Kinsa

    I never want bio kids for the same reason, but I plan to adopt in the next 5 – 10 years. I know that adoption (especially older-child adoption, like I’m planning to do) can be a grab-bag of emotional, physical and mental disorders but I’m more okay with that than with knowingly giving bio kids a huge chance of depression.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RetiredSceneQueen Emmali Lucia

    I have severe depression with a possible hint of bi-polar disorder, my mother is a manic depressive, her grandmother killed herself, along with one of my mother’s cousins.

    Yep. I’m never having biological children.

    Not only do I not want to pass on the generations upon generations of mental illness, but sometimes I can’t even get myself out of bed, how am I supposed to raise a child like that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/lindsee.peterson Lindsee Peterson

    I’m actually in the same situation except in my case I have had Anorexia/Binge fro 15 years. There’s a 50% or 10 times higher chance of the biological child inheriting the eating disorder genetic gene and as a result end up developing one themselves. I would love children yes, but I wouldn’t want my child to go through this same hell or at age 14 finds out in inpatient treatment in a therapy session that it’s likely my fault they are there and resent me or plan how to kill me the moment they get out. I at least am giving the options of adoption or being a foster parent it doesn’t matter if the child is biological or not.