How Chronic Illness Prepared Me For Motherhood

Math and I aren’t really best friends.  In fact, we’re barely on speaking terms.  There is one thing that Math and I have in common: a love of Venn Diagrams.  Get it?  “Have in common” haha, oh man, puns.  Point being, a light bulb went off for me recently when I was thinking about how my chronic illnesses interact with my new-found motherhood.  I started thinking about what the two things have in common and how having a chronic illness got me ready for the challenges of motherhood.

Thank you, MS Paint

Thank you, MS Paint

5. Just Dealing with It

Not all of us are lucky enough to live life without worrying about finances.  For me, I worked two jobs to put myself through college.  Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to do all of it.  Actually, I have no idea how I manage to accomplish a lot of things.  But, just like many people with a chronic illness, when I am told I can’t do something, I am just that much more determined to do it.  So you learn to deal with it.  Have to pull an all-nighter to cram for finals but you’re in the middle of a flare-up?  Tough cookies.  There are just some things in life that you really can’t bail out on no matter how much your chronic illness sucks.

If only I could fix my scoliosis like this

If only I could fix my scoliosis like this

And learning to just deal with the suckiness of it all turned out to build up this thing I call a “Stamina Callus.”  Just like you need calluses to be an awesome guitarist (I think?  I don’t know I’m not musical), you need to have a certain stamina level to survive motherhood.  So when the baby needs to be fed and I’ve only had 2.7 seconds of sleep, I can just do it.  Thanks Stamina Callus!

4. Compensating

Compensating, to the average person, means to counter-balance something.  To a person with a connective tissue disorder, it means constantly shifting your weight or changing your stance in order to prevent or manage a dislocated joint.  I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos when I was a teenager, but I had been living with it my whole life, obviously.  Even from a young age, I remember wondering how my T-Ball teammates could just jump off the bench and run on the field.  Whereas if I had done that, my hip probably would have given out and I’d just wipeout before even exiting the dugout.

So funny, but so true

So funny, but so painfully accurate

So bending over to pick up a fifteen pound infant a gazillion times a day really didn’t seem so bad after a lifetime of faceplants.  I already had experience balancing, being uncomfortable, and knowing when to ask for help to avoid a really bad spill.  And trust me, once you have such precious cargo in your arms, you become even more aware of the dangerous, slippery world around you.

3. Sleeeeeep

Clearly nothing compares to the lack of sleep you experience once you become a mother.  But I would bet good money (like four bucks, maybe?) that the fatigue associated with Lupus and other autoimmune disorders could be a close second.  Lupus fatigue also comes with a pesky side of anxiety.  It’s like you can feel it coming on, yet you know you have little to no control over it.  Imagine you are driving a semi-truck on an icy road on the side of a mountain and right as you are about to go around a scary curve, this blindfold begins to descend over your eyes and you are defenseless.

Supernatural GIFs are always appropriate

Supernatural GIFs are always appropriate

The fatigue/anxiety combo actually was a pretty accurate test run for being a new mom.  In those first weeks, you’re desperately exhausted, yet every time your head hits the pillow, you immediately panic thinking the baby needs you.  I’m not gonna lie.  That panic is still with me almost eight months later.  I still hear “phantom cries” and get up to check on the baby “just one more time.”

2. Must… Remember…To…?

Have you ever walked into a room and completely forgotten why?  Well, some people with chronic illness experience these “mental fog” states on a fairly regular basis.  With the amount of times I’ve searched for my keys whilst holding them in my hand, you would think I was driving to get the early bird special with my AARP discount.  Not only do we experience lapses in both short and long-term memory, but we can be absent-minded as well – and not in that adorably awkward, professor way.

Totally believable

Totally believable

Long before pregnancy or motherhood had me putting dishes in the fridge, I was bringing the remote into the bathroom.  That makes for a really weird sentence, but you get the point.  I guess I just wasn’t as rattled or shocked by memory lapses since that had become the norm long ago.

1. Time for an Epiphany

Once, when I was walking across the stage at my hard-earned college graduation, I suspected it.  Then, again, after fighting through red tape and regaining my license after seizures, I wondered about it again.  But it wasn’t until I held my child in my arms did I realize my suspicions were true: “I AM A FREAKING SUPERHERO!”  And guess what?  You are, too!  Women living with chronic illness and balancing motherhood are amazing.  We are warriors, we produce life, we rise from the ashes again and again.  Can you tell me how that’s not the making of a superhero?  Exactly.  So go find your cape because it’s about time you accepted the truth that you are an amazing forth with which to be reckoned!!!

Whoooo! Go girl!

Whoooo! Go girl!

Why I’m Not A Mom (and neither are you)

No, no, no.  Calm down.  No one needs to call Social Services or anything, my son is very well fed (as is evidenced by his Michelin man legs).  I’m just on my  soapbox  again.  I don’t like the label “mom,” never have.  Mom is a palindrome; it’s written the same forwards and backwards.  I also have an irrational fear of palindromes, in case you didn’t know.  The “M”s on either side of the “O” are like little bookends.  They’re little, mean bookends confining the “O” in the middle.  The word is stuck as it is and can be nothing else.  Yes, I’m writing this on very little sleep.  So allow me to explain, since my previous sentences sound like the ravings of a madwoman.

Ooooh watch out!

Ooooh watch out!

Seemingly, when you become a mother and other people begin to refer to you as a “mom,” the world around you gets a little smaller.  You’re now “just a mom.”  The media isn’t interested in you as a “woman” anymore.  Magazine articles either cater to alluring, interesting young women or to “moms” and their quilting and hors d’oeuvre making.  You find yourself wondering if you should just resign to wearing sweats and always smelling just a bit like baby spit up.  The suggested ads in your Facebook are suddenly about minivans, artichoke dip recipes, and losing weight.

Yes, FB, this is totally accurate

Yes, FB, this is totally accurate

What happened to everything else I am?  I love to travel, discuss religion and politics, sketch, and watch an ungodly amount of BBC America.  I’m still an activist for animal rights, environmental issues, gay rights, and raise awareness for invisible illnesses.  I still shop at H&M, Urban Decay, and (embarrassing as it may be) Forever 21.  Why does becoming a “mom” mean to many that I am no longer that person to so many people I’ve encountered?

I FINALLY GET TO USE THIS GIF!

I FINALLY GET TO USE THIS GIF!

I am so proud to be a mother and so humbly grateful to have received a gift that many women desperately want.  Through all the ups and downs, I would still do it again for my sweet son.  I am responsible for him and to him now.  But I’m also obligated to show him what a strong woman looks like.  What disservice would I be doing to him if I sent the message that once a woman has a child she ceases to have any other identity except that of a mother?  Or what would it imply about women who are unable or choose not to have children?  Are they less of a woman or somehow less caring?   How would he then treat women?  I hope to show him that women can be nurturing yet independent, kind yet bold, and yes girls can like mud and science and Tonka trucks, too.  I hope he will in turn exhibit respect and empathy towards others and strive to be aware of his impact as well.

because babies holding hands is adorable

because babies holding hands is adorable

So that’s why I’m not a mom and neither are you.  We’re mothers, partners, artists, goofballs, chefs, secret-keepers, dancers, nerds, and everything in between.  We owe it to ourselves and our children to be a full person, flaws and all.  Children learn so much about the world by watching what we do, how we act, what we say.  Show them, tell them that you are, not were, an artist or a nerd or a thrill-seeker or a musician.  Let them see all that you are so that they might know who they can be.

They'll grow into those shoes quickly, trust me

They’ll grow into those shoes quickly, trust me

4 Things Not to Feel Guilty About

*First off, sorry for the delay in posts.  Between the baby shower and “fun” times of the third trimester, it’s been a little difficult to get around to doing everything that needs to be done.  Anyways, thanks for your patience and here’s something to brighten up your Monday!

As the Holiday season gets into full swing and I enter the homestretch of the third trimester, my anxieties are at an all time high.  If you’re like me, you don’t ever want to disappoint the people in your life.  But sometimes that seems nearly impossible to avoid with the items on your To-Do-List snowballing out of control.  So trying to keep up with everyone and everything that deserves your attention can be tricky to say the least.

It's usually not so adorable

It’s usually not so adorable

Sure it’s difficult to live a guilt-free life – despite the lies Dove Chocolate keeps feeding me – but here are some things that I’ve been able to come to terms with on my pregnancy journey.

1. Being a Bad Friend

With everything on your plate, sometimes it’s hard to make not just time, but meaningful time, for all the important people in your life.  You can feel especially guilty if those people have always been able to make time for you.  I’ve really beaten myself up in the past for all the times I’ve had to say “no” to invites or visits from friends.  I even got nervous that people would start to think my reasons for not going were bogus.  “Oh right, you’re ‘sick’ I’m sure.”  But when you live with an invisible illness, the people in your life will have to understand that you may not always “look sick” or even “act sick.”  Especially now that you’re pregnant, it’s not just your health that you have to think about, you have to think about how things will effect your baby.  Sure, if I wasn’t pregnant and was having a flare-up, I might push myself and go out with friends and just pay for it (physically) later.  But now that I’ve got a little life completely dependent on me and my actions, I think twice about everything I agree to do.

He's just so sassy!

He’s just so sassy!

What it boils down to is this: the people who truly know and care about you will understand that pregnancy and chronic illnesses will sometimes limit what you are able to do.  The people who don’t get it or try to make you feel like you’re being a “bad friend” by putting your and your baby’s health first, are people that clearly do not deserve your time in the first place.

2. Being a Bad Partner

Whether you have a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife, it takes work to keep a relationship balanced and healthy.  Ignore the people that have a picture-perfect relationship.  They’re either lying or (gasp!) actually happy.  Either way, it’s not worth worrying about, because the Lord knows your energy is already on a limited supply as it is!  One of the few people you’re going to actually want to spend your energy on is your partner.  Not only are they there for you through all your health issues, but they are by your side as you both embark on this crazy journey of parenthood.  Sometimes, though, I can get all insecure in my head telling myself that my husband is going to get so fed up with me and my issues, that he’ll just be like, “Deuces!!!”

Come baaack!

Come baaack!

Thankfully my partner not only puts up with the tribulations of this pregnancy, but he also reassures me when I get all insecure.  Hopefully you have someone in your life that can be of some support to you while you are going through this high-risk pregnancy.  And remember, support doesn’t just have to come from a husband or partner, it can be your best friend or mom or sister.  So whoever you have in your life that is there to hold you up when you think you just can’t stand anymore, show your appreciation as often as you can but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always have the energy to do as much as you want to do. (Sorry for the run-on sentence haha)

3. Being a Bad Mom

Once, a customer asked me how I felt about the fact that I’m about to become a mom.  I said that it was a combination of excitement and nervousness.  When she patted me on the arm, I thought she was about to say something like, “Oh don’t be nervous,” or that “It’s perfectly natural to feel that way,” or something like that.  But what did she say instead?  “You know, good moms never have doubts.  So you might want to rethink things, honey.”  And her equally sensitive friend added, “You’ve made your bed, now you’ve got to lie in it!”

For reals

For reals

So after I picked up my jaw off the floor, I had a minor panic attack.  Was this lady right?  Does being nervous mean that you lack the necessary confidence to be a good mother?  After talking to my mom friends, I found that it’s actually just the opposite!  I’ve chosen to change my definitions.  It’s not “second-guessing” it’s “double-checking.”  Me being nervous just shows that I care so much about doing things right.  And a wise friend once said, “A good mom is simply someone who cares.”  Your age, socioeconomic status, orientation, etc., does not have any bearing on whether or not you are going to be a good mom or not.  Your dedication to giving your child the best life possible is what matters.  So I may not be rich or the picture of perfect health, but I’m not going to let my personal hangups distract me from focusing on my little one.

4. Being a Bad YOU

Last but certainly not least, this is something that effects so many women.  Even in my first trimester, I already felt like my body wasn’t my own.  You know what else does that to you?  Health conditions.  So I was already familiar with feeling like I have no control over my body.  Hip dislocations, inflammation, hair loss, memory loss, and knowing that your own immune system is actively attacking you is not exactly super awesome.  The minute another human being was added to the equation, the lack of ownership over my body seemed to grow exponentially.  Also can we acknowledge that a baby moving in your stomach is kind of creepy sometimes?

I can't be the only one who thought this

I can’t be the only one who thought this

Besides the physical aspect of your pregnancy, there’s a very real emotional side.  People have this insatiable need to put labels on each other.  Granted, some could argue that labels make things easier to understand.  But for many, confining a person to a box restricts their identity.  Needing to define someone as “black” or “gay” or “Muslim” can even carry negative connotations with it.  While a gay man is certainly not ashamed of his orientation, he probably doesn’t appreciate being known by some solely as “the gay one” in his social circle.  Similarly, I am not ashamed to add “mother” to my repertoire, yet I don’t want to be limited by this new chapter.  When I’ve shared this opinion, some people have implied that I should feel guilty if I’m not making motherhood and my baby the center of my world.  But I would feel guilty if I raised my son thinking that a woman can only  be a mother.

girls

Yup

At the end of the day, I can only be me.  And the only people that can make me feel guilty are the people I let  make me feel that way.  So I choose to spend my time letting the loving and supportive people in my life know how much I value and care for them.  I truly feel that is the best any person can do in this life.  Be genuine, be objective, be kind.  If my child learns only those things, then there’s really nothing for me to feel guilty about then, is there?