Sep 12, 2015

Take Care of Yourself

I’m so irritated. 

I just browsed yet another article about how Moms need to take better care of ourselves.  Now mind you, it was written by a young, rich celebrity, first time mom.  The baby is still an infant.  I might buy in better once that new baby smell has worn off.  Or if the nanny quits.  But for now, it’s just another reason to feel “Mommy guilt”. 

I’ve heard all the points before.  I actually agree with them.  Like, “If I don’t take care of me, who will take care of the kids?” Good question.

I’ll admit I’m pretty bad about remembering to take care of me.  I’ve actually gone to a restaurant and ordered for everyone else but forgot to order food for me.  (Sadly, this has happened more than once.)  Or I bought special lenses for my 5 year old’s glasses but ordered the cheapest I could find for me.  Last week, one of the kids helped cut some cinnamon bread and they forgot to include a piece for me and I feigned like I didn’t want any anyway (though truthfully I’d been drooling for some the whole time it was baking).  And there are days where it is too exhausting to shower, so I just crash instead. 

So why do these articles cause me to want to run into the closet and inhale a bag of potato chips feeling like I’m failing my kids by not taking care of me?  Because the truth is - sometimes it’s just not possible to take care of everyone on the list. I will be last. Sometimes there’s not enough of me to go around.  I’m OK with that.  Why aren’t others OK with that?

I have a son who is 6.  Manny is quite medically complex and requires someone to monitor him 24/7. He cannot sit, stand, crawl, walk or use his arms independently.  If his nose itches, he has to ask someone to scratch it for him.  If his arms fall from his tray, it’s stuck there until someone picks it back up.  If his neck falls forward, it’s stuck there until someone sets him up. 

He aspirates often. You know that feeling when a piece of food starts to go down the wrong way and you choke and sputter trying to keep it out of your lungs? Manny does not do that.  He is not able to protect that airway so the saliva slides straight down into his lungs. He does it with no signs that it’s happened until a few days later when he gets aspiration pneumonia. This is called Silent Aspiration.  The only way to avoid it is to be ready moment by moment to suction his mouth.  This means eyes have to be right on him at all times. 

Now let’s say I need a shower.  His needs are greater than mine.  He will win every time.  I’m OK with that. 

The “You’ve got to take care of yourself Nazis” as I like to call them say I need some “Me” time.  OK.  Sounds delightful.  Let’s say I want to sit by the pool, have a sip of wine and read a good book.  And say my son who can’t swim falls into the pool.  I’m supposed to just sit there, sip my wine, continue reading and say, “Sorry son. I can’t get you right now.  I’m having some ME time.” 

People would say, “Of course not! That’s an emergency.” 

And there’s the catch. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week.  I live in Emergency mode.  All. The. Time. 

People who don’t live in this world cannot possibly comprehend that. 

I have a friend whose child had a significant surgery.  For almost 3 weeks, they stood vigil over that child. They were exhausted from 24/7 care for 3 weeks.  For those weeks, the mom didn’t really eat much or sleep well and showered when she could.  Then the child recovered.   Life resumed. 

Another friend has a child who was diagnosed with pediatric cancer. Same basic scenario.  Testing, drugs, hospitalizations, terror round the clock for over a year.  Finally the child went into remission and the family started to regain some semblance of normalcy. 

We have been doing this for over 5 years.  With no end in sight.  This is my life.  There is no recovery from Manny’s diagnosis.  In fact, it’s a progressive disease … meaning this is as good as it gets.  We’ve already seen the decline. 

The trick is trying to find a way to LIVE in the middle of this.  Trying to find a way to include myself on the list.  Trying to see if I can eek out any part of energy or time for things that rebuild and rejuvenate me.  And truthfully, most times, if there does happen to be any time or energy in a day, I’ll use it to spend with my other 5 children who have various special needs as well or with my husband. 

And please hear me clearly.  I am NOT complaining.  I love my life.  I chose my life.  I would do this all over again in a heartbeat.  I am fine with not having a lot of “Me” time.  I’m fine that I put myself far down on the list.  If I wanted it another way, I’d do it another way. 

I’m happiest when I’m taking care of other people.  I’ve found a peace in my choices.

So maybe those articles fail to point out one thing … there are mothers like me who choose to put others first and ourselves last.  Maybe by taking care of others we are meeting a need in ourselves.  Maybe, just maybe, we need to realize that “Taking care of ourselves” is a good thing … but it will look very different on each mom.

Here’s a message for my fellow moms.  You’re doing a great job.  Hang in there.  Hold your head high knowing that you are daily making a difference in the life of another human being.  You are doing one of the most important jobs on the planet.  Take care of yourself.  In whatever way that works for you.