Most couples of any persuasion want to have children at some point, and that isn’t a problem for the majority of the population, in fact some manage to procreate more prolifically than they would like. That said, there are special concerns for consanguinamorous couples, namely the increased risks of congenital disorders. Other factors also come into play such as the age and general health of the woman, any disorders which run in the family, the lifestyle of the parents (for example, do they drink and smoke or not, do they eat a healthy diet…etc), all of which may impact on the health of any child produced.
My aim here is not write this article through rose tinted glasses, if I did, I would be doing my readers a disservice. It is also not intended as advice, you’re an adult and perfectly capable of making up your own mind about these issues. All I am going to give you are the facts, and of course, some food for thought.
The Statistics on the risks of birth defects
Unrelated couple – 2%
Third degree relatives (first cousins) – 3-4%
Second Degree relatives (uncle/neice and aunt/nephew) – about 6% risk, about the same as for a woman in her forties.
First Degree relatives (bro/sis, dad/daughter, mum/son) – about 9% risk – This is in dispute as no solid data has been found to corroborate this. However, this is the most likely statistic because it is the same for DOUBLE FIRST COUSINS (where the parents of one cousin are brother and sister of the parents of the other cousin) who share the same proportion of common genes as brother and sister.
These risks are for ANY KIND of defect, they do not say what sort of defect or how severe they may be. The defect could be a severe and lifelong disability, or it could be something so minor as to not be unusual in the general population, perhaps being more prone to allergies like hayfever or having a food intolerance.
What the statistics also do not tell you is that the chances of passing along homozygous beneficial genes must necessarily also enhanced by those same percentages. For instance if the normal copy of a gene gives somebody average running speed, but the ‘mutant’ one makes somebody able to run faster, two copies of that same gene could make an Olympic athlete in the making!
Other genetic factors
Of course, the above is based on the average HEALTHY incestuous couple whose ‘mutant genes’ both beneficial and destructive are recessive and hidden. However, for some couples, they may already present with homozygous copies of a genetic nasty, and if their partner is also a carrier (more likely if they are closely related), then the chances of any offspring having homozygous copies is greatly increased to around 50%.
This can and does happen with unrelated couples too, for instance if one has Huntington’s disease, and the partner has it in their family too, then the children will have a 50% chance of having the disease. So the problem is not unique to incest couples. It is also worth noting that if the partners are unrelated, even with these massive risks, their reproduction is still legal.
Moral and ethical considerations
If you and your partner are both healthy, then while increased risks exist for you, it is overwhelmingly probable that you can have a healthy baby. It depends on whether the risks are too large for you or not. For many consanguinamorous couples related to first or second degree, they are, but certainly not for everyone. I’ve spoken online to people who have had healthy normal children by their immediate family members. For first cousins, the increased risk is only slightly above that of the general population, and the world over there are many many cousin couples who have healthy and normal babies.
It is also worth thinking about the societal context into which the child is born and the attitudes people hold towards such children. If you live in a country where first and second degree incest is illegal, and you have a child together, then the child becomes living biological proof of your relationship. Of course, you can always declare ‘unknown father’ on the birth certificate, and claim you had a drunken one night stand… some couples have to do this to hide their relationship from the state. This gets you off the hook for the time being, but what will you tell the child when he or she is older? Is it morally okay to keep their true parentage from them? If you tell them the truth, is it okay to ask them to bear your secret? I know it shouldn’t be like this, but these are the sorts of things you really need to think about long and hard before deciding to bring a child born of incest into a world that doesn’t even think he or she should exist. It’s a tough one, but it does need to be thought about. I cannot advise you or tell you what to do, but I can give you these things to think about.
If you really want your own biological baby, it is worth traveling to a country where incest is legal to get genetic counseling before considering to have a baby, that way you will better know what your risks are of something going wrong, and you will be able to assess more accurately for your particular genetics whether this is the right choice for you or not.
For those who choose to have children but not with a biological relative
There are a few good options available here, so let’s explore them:
Sperm Banks – Of course, this is simple enough. Any woman can use a sperm bank, and she can choose from a wide range of sperm donors. This method is perhaps the simplest because it doesn’t involve anyone else except peripherally. Usually the donor doesn’t know who gets his sperm donations or even necessarily how many biological children he fathers in this way. The child however may want to track down his or her biological father, and it is worth asking the sperm bank if this will be possible for the child at a later time. Not all sperm donor fathers would want their numerous biological children knocking his door, but some may not be against it. It’s something to think about.
Surrogacy – For this method you would require an unrelated woman to agree to carry a baby for you which would be genetically half hers, and half the mans. This is normally accomplished by IVF. She would need to be provided for financially for the course of her pregnancy and after the birth while she is recovering. Of course, after the birth, she will hand the child over to you. This is a real gift for somebody to give and such women deserve the highest of respect. It is worth noting that sometimes a surrogate mother develops a real attachment to the child, which is normal and natural, and she may find it difficult to part with that child. You would both need to discuss with her whether or not you would want her to be a part of the childs life or not and what the three of you are comfortable with.
Adoption – There are plenty of children who for whatever reason find themselves without parents or other adults to look after them. Some of them are abandoned babies, others are children which social services have had to remove from dangerous and dysfunctional homes, others were born to unfit parents who perhaps had drug addictions or something like that. If the child is a baby, then there is perhaps less problems with the adoption than if the child is older and has come from an abusive home. If the latter is case the reasons that the child went into care in the first place needs to be addressed along with the emotional and behavioral consequences of any abuse or neglect that child has suffered in their former home. This is a great way to give a needy child a home, and fulfill your own needs to have a child.
The above methods of becoming parents obviously negate any possible negative biological consequences, however there are still some considerations. How do you feel about each of the above options? Which, if any feels right for you? Will you tell your child how he or she was conceived or came into your care? If so, will you tell him or her about your incestuous relationship? As with biological children, there are ethical considerations either way of both hiding or revealing the whole truth, especially in countries where incest is against the law. It is something to think about at least.
For those who decide not to have children
Some people feel that all of the above is just too much, and they decide not to have either biological kids or go through surrogacy or adoption routes. For those people they simply choose not to have any. That’s okay too. For those couples it is worth thinking about permanent methods of contraception such as vasectomy or getting tubes tied. That is the most effective long term method of contraception. It is worth noting though that these operations can self-reverse after many years, so it is worth periodically getting checked out to ensure continued infertility. Of course, if you later change your mind, a second operation can of course reverse it.
If you’re unsure about whether or not you will want biological children, it might be worth using long term contraceptives such as the pill which is easy to stop taking if you change your mind.
Whichever course of action you choose, there are going to be pros and cons. Only you can know for sure what is right for you as a couple and your life in general. Don’t let other peoples bigotry and ignorance become the deciding factor for you, go with the facts that apply to you and make up your own mind either way. Nobody should have the right to tell you what to do, and it is outrageous that so many countries have laws that do just that. You have a right to a family life if you choose that, and like I said, it is probably best if you want to start a family to move to a country where that isn’t illegal.