Editor’s Note: Darisse Smith is a columnist for the National Pain Report who writes on her experiences as a chronic pain sufferer.
I used to be apathetic about children. I adored the children in my life whether they were family or close friends. Other children annoyed me, especially the obnoxious ones who needed a nap and a Kleenex. I turned 30, though, and suddenly even the screaming, slimy kids made me goop inside, with a sympathetic smile to his/her mother.
At 30 I was also waging war against a new enemy: chronic pain. I was discharged from the Army in 2007 due to a back injury I suffered as a helicopter pilot. I had already tried a myriad of treatments: Physical Therapy, Chiropractor, Pain Management Injections, Orthotics, Acupuncture, Meditation, even a Christian healing ceremony. As a last resort, I endured 3 different back surgeries over the course of 3 years and nothing worked. Jeff and I had been married for 9 years. We had many adventures together and we were ready to have children. We wanted at least 2 children, though I really wanted 3. We were right at the age when all our friends were having babies. I was the exact age I had planned on having children (I know I’m not the only one who planned her life with a timeline). But my energy was enveloped in this unexpected war. I had to take powerful opiates to give me any relief from the burning pain down my left leg and stabbing pain in my lower back. As I tried each new treatment that failed, I could hear the years just ticking away against me.
I finally received more permanent relief after a Spinal Cord Stimulator was implanted to control the neuropathic pain surging down my leg. After years of failed treatments and disappointment, I saw a candle flickering ahead. I wanted to start my life right where I left off before the injury; I didn’t realize how much I’d changed. Now I had less pain to deal with but overblown expectations. I made plans to start competing in triathlons again. I started to talk to my husband about having babies. I searched for my next career.
I failed at everything. In training for triathlons, I broke my SCS paddle lead, becoming the first and only patient to rip a piece of medical rubber through a high volume of activity. I tried jobs in Sales, Customer Service and Recruiting, each ending either in my termination. I was disappointed that I still needed opiates to control my back pain, right in the middle of my baby-making years. How was I ever going to have a baby when I couldn’t wean off this medicine? As my head remained dreaming in the stratosphere of wishful thinking, my brain was still in the trauma ward needing resuscitation.
It took several more years for me to realize that the only thing I failed at was setting appropriate expectations. Even as I write that sentence, I struggle with it because it feels like a cop out. I know from my evolving pain journey, though, that sometimes we need to mix our idealism with a pinch of realism. If I continued to deny that my body couldn’t go full bore all the time, I’d stay disappointed and miserable. If I learned how to pace myself, though, I could have a very full, happy life.
Thank goodness that I learned about pacing myself before I had a child. On April 24th, 2012, Devin Gregory Smith entered the world at 9 lbs., 9 oz. and 22.” Yes, I like to do everything, even pregnancy—big. The first lesson I learned about motherhood is that everyone else thinks their way is the best. As soon as the pregnancy was announced, everyone had an opinion about how I should raise my son. Some people even told me that I shouldn’t have children because of my pain condition. Despite the thousands of different methods of motherhood, most children turn out okay. There is special pressure in the 21st Century that mothers have to have it all: a great career, wonderful children and a perfect marital relationship all while sewing home made clothes for our children, pumping breast milk and cooking only organic meals. The fact is that no one can attain these insane standards, and our children need an example of what a balanced life is.
Currently I am in the throes of toddlerhood with my son. He turns that scary age of 3 in just a few months. I wear an activity tracker and regularly walk/trot/run screaming over 3 miles a day just watching my son. Sometimes Mommy needs to go to bed early. No matter how tired I am, though, I always have the energy to read my son a story, watch Mater tell jokes on “Cars,” give him a snuggle and tell him, “I love you.” One day Devin will learn that his Mom does things differently than his other friends’ mothers. When his bubble is burst, though, he will still know that his mother and father love him more than anything in the world. We will always have time for him. We will always encourage him and provide for him. As a mother, I really don’t think I could do any better for him than that.