The Baggage & Motherhood Guest Writer’s Series gives a space for moms around the world to share their story of what life has thrown their way and how it has impacted them in their role as a Mom. This post, Amy Larson talks about living with chronic illness and how it has impacts her as a mom.
All of the posts in this series touch on the real life struggles of bringing your “stuff” with you to your most important job: Motherhood.
I always worried about what I would do if I couldn’t get pregnant. I should have been more concerned with what to do when I DID get pregnant.
This is the advice I wish I would have followed as a young adult.
With two eye surgeries and my first brain surgery before the age of 10, my mom and I always worried about if my body would be able to get pregnant.
Many years and a few more surgeries later, I had no trouble getting pregnant after my husband and I got married. In fact, after almost dying during my first pregnancy, I managed to get pregnant again.
While infertility is a very real and unfair issue with many women, my new problem in life was this: Parenting with a chronic illness is an often silent subject that a lot of moms deal with.
We chronic illness sufferers hear a lot of advice about how we should act as parents. We ask for grace and understanding when we have different parenting styles and boundaries because of our chronic illnesses.
But do we really understand ourselves? Do we give ourselves grace truly and completely as well?
I want to tell you how to do this.
So, what is considered a chronic illness?
Instead of listing a ton of verified chronic illnesses, I will define “chronic illness” and let you classify the illness in question.
A chronic illness is simply an illness that continues for a long time. A chronic illness is one lasting 3 months or more, by the definition of the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. Chronic illnesses generally cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, nor do they just disappear.
Let me give you a quick backstory about my chronic illness.
I was born with a brain tumor that was removed from my cerebellum when I was 6 years old.
That tumor was the size of a large plum when it was removed, and it did a tiny bit of damage to my poor little brain. My diagnosis has ranged from non-communicating hydrocephalus to anxiety to fibromyalgia, all with the same main idea: my brain and brain chemistry do not work like a normal brain.
Today I am 32 years old, married, with a 3 year old daughter and a 1 year old son. Today I manage my chronic illness AND my household. And that, my friends, is a constant adventure.
If you have a chronic illness or know someone with a chronic illness, you understand how hard it is to find two chronic illnesses that are identical to each other.
Despite each chronic illness being so different, there are a few tips I have found that can be used for most moms with a chronic illness. These tips are not medical advice and should be used alongside your professional medical care.
Try To Be Thankful
I’ve often been upset about why I have to manage a chronic illness and a household. It’s just not fair. Most people only have to deal with one responsibility or the other, right? Why am I expected to do both and do them well?
The answer is: it doesn’t matter if it’s fair, it’s that way it is!
You have a chronic illness, and you have kids.
Those two jobs wouldn’t be yours if you weren’t capable of handling them. You are the best mom your kids need, even with your chronic illness.
Your anxiety will keep them safe.
Your pain days will create relaxing memories for your family.
Your strength will inspire your kids for the rest of their lives.
Your ability to thrive despite chronic illness will pave the way for a bright and happy future for your kids.
You won’t often feel thankful for your chronic illness, but you are able to try to shift your thought process from “Why me?” To “Let’s do this!”.
Find Your Tribe
Technology has opened a whole new world for those of us with chronic illness.
We have the ability to find people we can relate to. We can find other moms with similar chronic illnesses. We can learn from the women who have been through this. We can share experiences and mistakes. We can virtually cry on each others shoulders and lend an electronic ear.
We all know the dangers of social media, so let me encourage you about some positive uses for the internet as a mom with chronic illness.
Find a Facebook group of supportive, encouraging moms. Perhaps a Facebook group of moms with anxiety or chronic pain, find something you can relate to.
Make sure this group is focused on moving forward together, not place to move backwards or stay stagnant.
Some technology-free ways to make connections include striking up conversations with moms at the park, at church, in the toy aisle at Target, in line at the coffee shop, anywhere you see other moms.
If you are uncomfortable making connections in public, that is totally ok. Keep your healthy boundaries up at all times, whether you make connections with other moms online or in real life.
You create your own safe space in your life.
The minute we stop learning about ourselves is the minute we stop moving forward in life.
It is absolutely ok, and even encouraged, to continue to spend time getting to know yourself.
Your life seasons are constantly changing!
Learn more about your chronic illness, teach your tribe about your chronic illness, explore new ways to manage your symptoms, and treat yourself when you reach goals.
Potty training as a mom without a chronic illness deserves a reward, so potty training WITH a chronic illness deserves a reward too, and it is ok to celebrate.
I understand that I need to go to the doctor often and I understand that I will always have anxiety about going to the doctor.
I know I need to reward myself with a “treat” anytime I expect myself to go to the doctor. And even at 32 years old, this works!
Always take time to understand yourself, even if you think you know it all.
Have A Plan
You have a chronic illness. I have a chronic illness. We have chronic illnesses. It’s something that happened to us, not because of anything we did wrong. That’s life….so now what?
Now we continue living our special but epic mom lives. Now we make a plan unique enough to fit our life.
Parenting with a chronic illness, especially an illness that causes pain and anxiety, is possible and can even be enjoyable if you have a plan. When you understand yourself, you can make a plan to “work what’s working”.
This will be different for every mom, but I have a few examples to share with you to help you have a plan.
If bad weather makes your symptoms worse, have a “movie day” plan for you and your kids when the weather forecast looks nasty.
If your social anxiety goes up during the holidays, make sure your diet and exercise plan around that time of year is followed.
If you have chronic pain and kids, you do not have to take them to the park this week.
You will all survive if you skip that birthday party to keep your sanity.
Set Realistic Goals
Understanding yourself and having a plan will help you set realistic goals.
As humans we are all encouraged by meeting goals and discouraged when we do not meet our goals.
It is absolutely vital for you to be setting realistic goals for yourself. The more unrealistic goals you set, the more drained you will be by not meeting those goals.
Your goals should be fairly flexible — with chronic illness parenting comes much chaos. Give yourself permission to set realistic goals for yourself.
Record your goals and celebrate when you reach them.
Some moms may be able to cook dinner every single night. I truly am happy for those moms, and I am not one of them. I have been harassing myself for months about not being able to cook dinner every night. I work from home, what is my problem? Then I discovered my problem was that I was setting unrealistic goals for myself. My new realistic goal is to cook dinner 4 times a week. I have hit my goal every week for 3 weeks and I feel like the queen of the dang world!
Congratulations, you are a mom with a chronic illness. You have the strength and ability to handle both incredible tasks.
Your life will never be easy, but it will also never be boring.
Always remember that you are important and your story is important.
You are doing a good job.
Amy Larson is the founder of Mom Fuel, a blog and movement for moms with diagnosed and undiagnosed anxiety symptoms. Amy works with moms through coaching, blog posts, e-courses, and more to overcome anxiety symptoms and take control of their lives. Visit her Mom Fuel website, her Mom Fuel Facebook Page, and her Mom Fuel Instagram!
Amy says to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments, or if you need to hear something good about yourself!
I want to thank Amy for sharing about her chronic illness and offering to us all tips and tricks for finding thankfulness no matter what life throws our way. Amy is one strong mama, and she uses the strength of her mindset to not let her illness and its impact on her get her down!