Having to stay home from dinner last night was very hard on me. I felt like my biggest fear was coming true. (I woke up to pump breast milk and had to get this out.)
My biggest fear of parenthood was planted in my brain almost 20 years ago: Not being able to be the kind of mom I want to be because of chronic pain.
When I was in sixth grade, not long after I wrote something for school about how she was the greatest role model any girl could ask for, my mom “got sick.” It took years for doctors – lots of doctors – to figure out what was wrong with her. It started as a pain in her right shoulder and arm. Her arm would have these weird fits of being freezing and blue or really hot and red. In April of my sixth-grade year the prevailing theory was a pinched nerve. Solution: Remove her top rib on that side so the “pinch” would stop.
It didn’t do much good. It didn’t do much of anything except make her miss the Sixth Grade Honor Chorus concert (April, 1993) and go through the pain of recovery from the surgery. Next came theories of MS, or that it was all in her head. While doctors talked through their theories my mom was getting worse. The pain spread to other parts of her body and grew in intensity. She describes it a having a charlie horse in many different places at once, all the time. She grew more tired and got weary. She stopped doing physical therapy at the heated pool, stopped planning adventures to the movie theatre or a performance. (One of my favorite memories with my mom was getting dressed up to see Into the Woods at our local auditorium.) She even stopped wanting to go out to eat.
She made trips to Mayo Clinic. She had gobs of testing and met with all kinds of different doctors. Eventually she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. By then she was on profusion of medication, had an at-home TENS unit and didn’t have the stamina for things we used to enjoy. She would stay home in bed while my dad, sister and I went to visit friends for potlucks or spent afternoons at the park. It took a lot of her adventurous spirit (She has managed in recent years to take her dream trip to Australia, and makes regular road trips to see family and her three grandbabies). It took the career she fought so hard for. It took her marriage.
Today, years later, her life is not what she could have imagined after working through college while raising two kids, earning two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in Health Care Administration. She went suddenly from feeling like she had made it – running the clinic at the State School for the Blind – to spending her days stuck in bed watching movies. (If that sounds good to you, try it for a week and see how good you’re feeling about yourself.)
Because people say girls turn into their mothers, the same outcome for me has always been a real and serious fear. People also say fear is a powerful motivator.
So, if I seem too stubborn about pain medication, too hard-headed about taking it easy or down-right stupid for not taking care of myself the way you think I should be, it’s OK to tell me so, but know what I’m fighting against. Winning this mental war and getting better means more to me than being able to take care of my son and enjoy my family life the way I want to. It means conquering my deepest, most intense fear. And it means I’ll have a chance to turn into who my mom would have been if she hadn’t “gotten sick.”
I love you, Momma.