How My Mom and I Have Bonded Over Our Medical Issues

My mother and I share many things. We both love old television shows, like “Murder She Wrote” and “Alice,” and not only do we watch them together all the time, but lines from these shows serve as our biggest inside jokes. Although I’m working my way through the list of approved novels for the AP exam while she absorbs the Robert B. Parker books she loves, we both enjoy reading and talk about our favorite authors constantly. But one of the things that unites me and my mom the most is our medical issues.

My mom is a diabetic hyperemesis gravidarum survivor who’s also been diagnosed with small intestine bacterial overgrowth, asthma, seasonal allergies and a laundry list of other conditions. For most of my childhood, my mom’s doctors couldn’t figure out what exactly went wrong in her body, so she spent many days struggling with problems we couldn’t fix or even name. Even now that we can put a label with the symptoms, that doesn’t always mean a definite solution, and my dad and I still find ourselves having to say goodbye to her as we head to college visits, concerts or favorite family traditions.

As sad and disappointing as moments like these have been, I’m completely happy with my relationship with my mom. As Mother’s Day approaches, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned from her about survival and realized what she’s taught me from her own experience ranges from the practical to the philosophical, and helps me every day as I fight medical problems of my own.

I’ve grown up with everything from asthma to a rare case of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and my mom’s always been my doctor’s visit companion. Not only does she crack jokes to alleviate the inevitable tension, but she also helps me handle the sometimes-overwhelming world of diagnoses and prescriptions. She’s taught me to carry an index card describing your medical situation, take notes whenever any medical professional talks to you and communicate thoroughly and clearly with them. From the beginning, she encouraged me to give as much detailed information as possible and voice any concerns or questions I had. I’d recommend these skills to anyone seeing a doctor, whether it’s at a regular checkup, special appointment, emergency room or hospital.

In addition to this advice, she demonstrates every day that happiness does not depend on health. She can’t always do everything she wants to do, but she still reads avidly, volunteers for several charities, serves as my Girl Scout leader, spends time with her family and works full-time at a job she loves. Not only does she amaze me and inspire me to pursue my dreams, but she’s also shown me that I can find happiness no matter what my medical setbacks are.

I know my experiences with my mom aren’t your traditional mother-daughter bonding days. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hate shopping, I don’t do spas and I’m not a fan of chick flicks – and neither is she. We have our other commonalities, shared interests and close moments, but in my eyes, there’s nothing wrong with the way we became so. Illnesses face such stigmatization that when I tell people about a funny comment my mom made when I was in the hospital, I get weird looks, but it shouldn’t be that way. It may be unconventional, but it works for us.

So, to any mom struggling with what to tell your kids about a medical problem you have, I encourage you to normalize it for your kids. Explain it, how it affects your life and always stay honest about both the facts and your feelings. It’ll bring you closer together, provide valuable teachable moments, and can even provide an opportunity for advocacy if your child decides they’d like to help others who share your condition. For any kid wondering how to interact with their medically challenged mother, make sure to let her know that you want to learn about her condition and that you love her even when she can’t do everything you see other kids’ moms doing. Even if you’re scared or uncomfortable at first, you’ll grow to appreciate her efforts and admire her even more for what she does. And above all, remember that it doesn’t have to be a painful or difficult topic – it can be the one that creates an indelible bond forever.

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Thinkstock photo via Martinan.

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