The ‘why I am like this’ category

Trigger Warning: Black Death

November 23rd, 2022

“The idea would have been laughed at 20 years ago. But today the hypothesis that an individual’s experience might alter the cells and behavior of their children and grandchildren has become widely accepted.” — Science

Do you believe in inherited trauma?

I’m not sure I do. But it’s a fascinating theory.

I go through periodic bouts of enthusiasm over genealogy, and so I was fascinated to find out that I am a direct descendent of the enigmatic historical figure Eleanor of Aquitaine. As my 22nd great grandmother, she passed down some of the French genes that show up in my DNA analysis. As a ruler during the Middle Ages, she was kind of a badass who led an incredibly colorful life and was known as the Mother of Europe.  

Interestingly, she is also one of the main characters in a novel I just read and loved: Matrix by Lauren Groff. While I was reading Matrix, Eleanor of Aquitaine came up in a crossword puzzle and an article i happened to read. (Fun fact: Eleanor had a half-brother named Joscelin!)  

Anyway, I began to be curious about Eleanor of Aquitaine, which is why my mother dug out an analog genealogy she happens to have. This is what got me back into the late-night genealogy rabbit hole, during which I realized that, thanks to good old Eleanor, I am also a direct descendent of King Edward III, who happened to be King of England during the ravages of the Black Plague.  

Bear with me, because I know this is a stretch: What if my own terror of sickness is partially in my DNA? I mean, my 17th great grandfather ruled England while 30-40% of its population (and his own son) died of a plague — long before anyone knew what bacteria was or why people get sick. 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . 

Cue the present.

I wish my kids would issue a trigger warning before they start playing “stuffies have a stomach bug.” I am emetophobic — a word you would only know if you’re an emetophobe. I can’t deal with anything to do with throwup. I can barely stand to write the word throwup.

“What an interesting choice that you made to have kids, then,” as one of my good friends said to me. 

Indeed. And the truth is, it was one of the biggest reasons I was afraid to have children. I wish I could go back in time and tell my old self…

“You know what? It’s actually going to be way worse than you think. Not only will they throw up constantly for no reason, and acquire every virus possible under the sun, but also, you will endure a pandemic in your daughters’ childhoods.”

If you’re an emetophobe or a person who can’t really deal with being sick on any level, having children is insane. Doing it during and just after a pandemic? Absolutely bonkers. 

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

We’re in that phase of the school year where parent friends are all asking each other “So, are you psyched your little so-and-so is back to a normal routine with school?” while we are all fully fucking aware that there is no such thing. Someone is always sick; something goes wrong; there’s a holiday or a teacher in-service day; there’s a school event we want to be at; there’s always something. There’s an entire week off for Thanksgiving! 

My kids are coughing. But I can relax; it’s not Covid. I know this because Eliza just had Covid, and Phoebe lived with her for a week and didn’t get it.

Of course, when Covid finally hit my house, I had a bit of an epiphany: while the pandemic has been scary, the danger was there all along. Kids can get sick in so many ways; so can adults. We’re never safe.

This has been a liberating concept for me. And while all this exposure therapy has not been great — and honestly, not helpful to fixing my actual phobia — I have come to a sort of complacent peace with the fact that in order to have strong, healthy immune systems, kids have to get sick.

This is not something I understood before I had kids, and honestly, I didn’t deeply get until the pandemic. Yet, the Black Plague has always freaked me out and fascinated me. Another of my all-time favorite novels is Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Apparently, female authors writing about historical fiction about catastrophic plagues is my thing.

Hmm, maybe this is my destiny as well? [Gets out pen.]

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