By Liza Zoellick.
Motherhood is an especially challenging time in any woman’s life. It is filled with 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 us. From conception straight until birth and beyond, we have this unrealistic vision of ourselves being glowing maidens, round with belly and that every moment from birth and beyond, will be like a storybook fairytale. Motherhood for each of us is, in its own way, a beautiful and memorable experience, but for most it stops short of all the fairytale fanfare that has filled out head since we were children. Now, add to all these normal, unrealistic expectations, chronic illness/chronic pain, and what should be a time effusing happiness, can become a frightening struggle.
My pregnancy experiences were not fraught the difficulties of chronic illness or pain, but I can only imagine how exhausting and frustrating it would make a situation already exhausting and frustrating. Add to this what our mind’s eye has envisioned for us during such a special time in our life, that I know the let down has to be tremendous. A woman going through pregnancy while struggling with chronic pain/illness should take even more time to prepare for this epic journey, both mentally and emotionally. There will be a need for self forgiveness; to forgive your body for its failings and even a perceived betrayal against your womanhood. An effort must be made to try and not compare yourself to other mothers-to-be that may be your friends and refrain from using them to set the standard of your pregnancy or you will set yourself up for disappointment. 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 nine months. You are a mother forever.
Three things that make it difficult to be chronically ill and a mom:
1.) No sick days from motherhood. You are always a mom, 24/7, and holidays.
2.) No grumpy bad days. You can’t be snappy at your 2yo because you don’t feel well or didn’t sleep well.
3.) It’s not all about you. If mommy does not care for herself, then who will care for the baby? 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 fix anything to eat and just want to disappear. That is simply not an option when you are a mother. But taking care of yourself is as important as taking care of baby.
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. However, while they may not have the needs that a 4yo has, they still have needs that are very demanding. 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 learn the importance of communication and you will be surprised how naturally empathetic and eager to help they can be. Don’t make the mistake of assuming, however, 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 along with your expectations of them and they need to be re-evaluated as they get older.
Take it slow: It is not something we are always successful at but attempting to give ourselves enough time for chores or making dinner is important. Doing something too fast or doing too many chores in one day can leave us 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 allows you to 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.
I believe you can be chronically ill and also be a good mom. 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!
Liza Zoellick lives in Houston. She is a delegate of the International Pain Foundation. You can follow her writing lovekarmafood.com and follow her on Twitter @fibrohippiechic