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!

The Dirty Truth About Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding – whether you’re a fan or not, one thing is for sure: everyone seems to be talking about it. For many mothers around the globe, this is a wonderful celebration of the emotional and physical bond shared with their child. Breastfeeding pride is everywhere you look these days. From Instagram protests to celebrity magazine spreads, this topic has caught some media attention, as well. Olivia Wilde’s photo shoot in a diner seems appropriate since that’s the purpose of breastfeeding: nourishment.

via Glamour

via Glamour

But here’s the dirty truth about breastfeeding: not all women are able to do it. I’m sure breastfeeding is an amazing experience between a mother and her baby. And I think I may have even had a small glimpse of it. But that’s all it was for me, a brief glimpse. I cradled my son, tears streaming down my face, asking the heavens for a miracle while he cried, hungry and unable to receive any life-sustaining milk from the very body that unceasingly nourished him for nine months.

But the milk never came.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in total support of breastfeeding and completely aware of all the benefits. I could even cite you ten statistics off the top of my head about how awesome breastfeeding is. I am full of this knowledge for two very important reasons: first from the overwhelming amount of pressure and opinions from doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, other moms, friends, family, strangers, etc., and then from the debilitating guilt that followed and had me desperately searching the internet for answers.

Bottom line, I cannot breastfeed. My heart breaks a little more every time I admit it out loud. But my shame diminishes just a little, too. You are not a whole woman; you’re not even a real mother.” Those thoughts still poke their way into my mind every so often and it’s difficult to ignore when tags like #FreeTheNipple started trending on Twitter and famous celebs started posting breastfeeding pictures on social media. All this pride, all this “I am woman, hear me roar” type empowerment can be both intoxicating and poisonous at the same time. I could scroll through beautiful photos of women breastfeeding their children for hours, envying them and hating myself at the same time.

The dried up desert aka my mammary glands

Dried up desert lake beds aka my mammary glands

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: you are not in control of your body when you have a chronic illness. I know this, but I am stubborn. And bitter. And I think all of us with a chronic illness are better off for being so insanely optimistic even if we never get the results we want. I wanted so badly to breastfeed. I wanted it so much it made my insides hurt (or maybe that was just the c-section). Three intimidating lactation consultants, some very caring friends, a connective tissue disorder, multiple breakdowns, a gazillion hippy-dippy remedies, and one empathetic mother later, I came to the conclusion it just wasn’t in the cards.

Shut up, tarot card!

Shut up, tarot card

The moment I finally resigned myself to my milk-less fate, I felt like an udder failure. Get the pun?  Eh, this blog post needed a lame joke, but I digress. It took my very kind OB-GYN and my own mother to pull me out of my pit of despair. My doctor told me that many women are unable to breastfeed and that it’s common for women with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to have issues with breastfeeding. The connective tissue disorder can make it difficult, if not impossible, for the mammary glands (which are made up of connective tissue) to produce and maintain a milk supply. So that helped on the factual, medical side, but my hormonal, emotional side still needed consoling.* Thankfully my mother was there for that. Though her story is not mine to tell, I can say that I trust her completely when she said there was nothing more I could have done and it makes me no less of a “real” mother for it. So let me tell you, if you haven’t been told already, you are a real woman, a true mother. Being able or unable to breastfeed does not make you any more or any less of a mother. Shame on anyone who would try to tell you otherwise. While I still openly support breastfeeding, I wish there was someone like me on the cover of a magazine. I wish I could see a woman – flawed, chronically ill, unable to breastfeed, tired, and with loose skin where a tight stomach once was – in the spotlight, praised by the media and told how beautiful she is. Until that happens, you have me, telling you the dirty truth and reminding you that you are beautiful. 

 

*If you feel you are unable to cope or are having serious concerns after having your baby, you may have postpartum depression. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Click this link for resources and support.