In continuing with the theme of women and chronic illness I decided to do a post on being a mother with chronic illness. However, I know many dads also struggle with being a parent while battling chronic illness and so I will tackle that, in specific, at a later date. Also, and I have to laugh at this because it really seems like I am avoiding it but I am not; the series I was supposed to tackle over diet and my IBS/inflammatory issues has not been forgotten. I do actually make notes about posts I cannot get to or that might take me longer to develop and so they are never forgotten. I really had all intentions of getting to that but life and health got in the way. I know y’all are familiar with this, and so I am hoping you remain understanding and that the series will have been worth the rate. Now, let’s tackle being a mom while struggling with chronic pain/illness.
Motherhood is an especially challenging time in any woman’s life. It is filled with these self imposed expectations that we wouldn’t ever dream of imposing on someone else, but we don’t even think about it when it comes to our own selves. From conception straight until birth and beyond, we have this unrealistic vision of ourselves being glowing maidens, round with belly and that every moment will be like a storybook fairy-tale. While motherhood for each of us is, in its own way, a beautiful and memorable experience, for most it stops short of all the fairy-tale fanfare that has filled our head since we were but children ourselves. Now, add to all these normal, unrealistic expectations, chronic illness and/or chronic pain, and what should be a time of effusing happiness can become a frightening struggle.
I did not deal with chronic illness through my pregnancies but can only imagine how exhausting and frustrating it would make a situation where you are already exhausted and frustrated. Add to that what our mind’s eye has envisioned for us during such a special time in our life and I know the let down has to be tremendous. I think that a woman going through pregnancy while struggling with chronic pain/illness should take even more time to herself to prepare for this epic journey, both mentally and emotionally. There will be a need for self forgiveness, where you forgive your body for its failings and even a perceived betrayal against your womanhood. You will have to accept the situation and not compare yourself to other mothers-to-be that are your friends and not set the standard by what they do because you will set yourself up to fail. I think because there is not only one, but two to look out for, you have to be extra kind to yourself and rest well and eat well when you can. Remember, you are only pregnant for 9 months. You are a mother forever.
I think there are three things that make it the most difficult to be chronically ill and a mom. 1.) You don’t get sick days from motherhood. You are always a mom. Around the clock, seven days a week and holidays.
2.) You don’t get to have grumpy bad days. You can’t be snappy at your 2yo because you didn’t sleep well and woke up hurting all over.
3.) It’s not all about you. This doesn’t mean all your focus is on the children, in fact, it means the opposite. You need to focus on yourself as much as your child. Your child is not only dependent upon your ability to deliver immediate care like feeding but their emotional well being and their happiness. If mommy does not care for herself, then who will care for the child. I think many of us have had those days where we don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to shower, don’t want to even fix anything to eat and just want to disappear. That is simply not an option when you are a mother and you have to figure out ways to keep yourself motivated every day.
As a mom with older kids, my youngest two in their last two years of High School, there is some relief in the fact that they can do a lot for themselves that they could not do before. Not only for themselves but for me too. It is an expectation that we have of them here that as long as they live at home beyond High School and through college, that they help with chores and making dinner when they are not working or doing school related things. However, while they may not have the needs that a 4yo has, there are a lot of activities that they are involved in and right now Driver’s Ed and volunteering that still keeps me busy and being mom. They are good kids though, and the older two who are driving do help with shuttling their siblings around when I cannot. I think if there are any tips I could offer to help make being chronically ill and mom easier, it would be as follows.
Communicate: Start young. As soon as they are in kindergarten they begin to learn the importance of communication and you will be surprised how naturally empathetic and wanting to help you they can be. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because you’ve made them aware of your health since they were little that they will remember later on as teens. I think it is a subject that has to be revisited and what your expectations of them also need to be re-evaluated as they get older.
Take it slow: It is a running theme in all my posts about the necessity to take things slow. It is not something we are always successful at but attempting to give ourselves enough time for chores or dinner is important. Doing something to fast or doing too many chores in one day can leave is needing another three days to recover which, as a mom, may be time you wanted to spend in activities with your child. So think about that when you try to push yourself too hard.
Ask for help: This is not some show of weakness. We all need help from time to time and it’s okay to ask. If your children are small, sometimes you can look through the neighborhood newspaper and find a young teen or pre-teen that can help watch the little ones while you tackle some chores or, you can pay them to help with the light housework. Whatever makes sense for you and your family and you get some help when you need it.
To-Do List: This has up sides and down sides. The up side being that you have a list of things that need to get done between Monday and Friday so you can pick and choose what you can and can’t do. The down side is the ever-present scratching at the back of your head that tries to persuade you into getting it all done at once. Great in theory. Get it all done, and you have the rest of the week to spend with the kids. What your theory makes attempt at hiding from you is how broken you will be after you get everything done and how you will need the rest of the week to recover and not spend with the kids. You have to weigh the pros and cons and be completely transparent with yourself. Only you know how much you will try to get away with.
You can be chronically ill and be a mom and a good mom at that. Just remember to be realistic and to be kind to yourself and respect your limitations. I think if you do that you will be able to enjoy your time with your children through their every age and every stage. Make connections with other mothers going through the same thing, The more support you have the better and discussions about how you each deal with hurdles might prove to yield some valuable insights. Good luck!