Being a mum with hepatitis c: my tips for talking to your children
Finding out you have contracted hepatitis c can be a daunting experience. Your head is full of unanswered questions: how can I tell my family? What will they think of me? Am I going to die? And if you are a mum, this can be even worse.
It was only 15 years after my recovery that I found out I had hepatitis C. I was married and had an eleven-year old boy and a nine-year old girl at the time, and my thoughts ran immediately to them as hep c can be transmitted from mother to child. We made up some excuses to take them for blood tests and luckily the kids were negative, as was my husband – this was such a relief! I had no hepatitis C symptoms at the time, so we could carry on our family life as usual, going on holidays, and we managed to put hep c to the back of our minds. But it was a big secret between my husband and I, and I knew I would have to face the conversation with my children at some point.
One day, at a family gathering, my daughter saw some pictures of me as a teenager, and asked why I was so thin. That’s when I realised it was time to talk to them, before they heard things from other people. They were teenagers then, 16 and 18 years old – a very tricky age for a conversation like this.
Having been so ashamed about my past drug use for such a long time, I didn’t feel ready for the conversation or their questions either. It was a part of my life that had gone wrong, and that my own parents could never accept. That feeling that I was the shame of the family has lived with me for years. But younger generations are much more accepting now, and I must admit I found a lot of understanding and support when I finally decided to open up with my own family, particularly from my daughter.
So if you are worried about discussing your hep C diagnosis with your children or other family members, take a look at my six tips below – they come from my own personal experience, and helped me plan for this difficult conversation.
- Decide when it is the right time to talk to them. I knew my children would start asking questions at some point, if anything came up on TV or during family conversations. So I decided it was better to tell the truth before they heard it from someone else. Children mature at different ages, so make sure you pick the right moment for them, and ensure this happens before you start any treatment if you are afraid this might cause questions.
- Think of how best to approach them. Every child has a different personality. While my daughter is very open and we are more like sisters, my son is more difficult to talk to about embarrassing or upsetting topics; he just puts his back up and doesn’t want to talk about feelings. So be prepared to face different reactions, and consider whether it would be better to approach them separately.
- Involve your partner. Make sure you have someone to support you in managing your kids’ questions and reactions. If it wasn’t for my husband, I would have never made it out of the drug scene, and he has been brilliant, a real support to me throughout all this experience. He comforted the kids, and addressed their worries and queries, especially with my daughter as they are very close. It was also great to have someone my children could talk to if they had worries or questions they didn’t want to ask me directly.
- Try to understand how much they already know, and be prepared to answer their questions. In my experience talking about drug use to younger generations, I realised how some teenagers can be very well informed, while others know very little about it. It can also be surprising how inaccurate some of their ‘information’ is! Think about what they might have heard at school or on TV, to anticipate their questions and any possible misinformation. They may want to know what hepatitis C is, its causes or about hepatitis C treatment. Make sure you also find out as much as you can before starting the conversation, to be make sure you can provide the answers they need from you.
- Talk to them as adults. Be honest and talk them through your experience and feelings. If you don’t know the answer to a specific question, be honest that you don’t know and say you’ll come back to them later once you’ve found out. The more transparent you are, the more you can establish a positive relationship with them. In turn, this will also help them to be open about their own feelings, and come to you with any questions and problems they might need help with later down in life, knowing that you will not judge them.
- Take the opportunity to talk about other risky behaviours. This is not just about drugs and hep C. It is a good chance to make them aware of other health risks like piercings, tattoos and unprotected sex. Young people always feel indestructible, and parents never explain why they shouldn’t do these things. So just be completely open and honest with them, they will appreciate this as adults.
However difficult I might have initially found it, openly sharing my personal story helped make my children more aware and responsible in their adult lives. What better outcome for a mum?
But this is not enough: I am now joining a project promoted by my local health authority to talk to young generations in my community. Hepatitis C is still a hidden disease, it needs to be much more in the public domain. And there is nothing like the story of someone who has been through it to raise awareness and promote healthy behaviours!
So if you are preparing to discuss hep c with your family and children, check out this page for some tips on how to stay positive while living with hepatitis C and talking to family and friends, and speak with your support team if you fell you need additional advice and support.