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To the Sick Moms Worried for Their Children's Future

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Sometimes, for my writing gigs about parenting, I feel like there are two categories of mothers in this world. It’s probably because I write for both groups. (I’d like to write for dads too, but I don’t relate as naturally to “dad stuff.”) When I see a mothering issue, my writerly mind starts to turn it over from the points of view of two types of mum: the healthy mums and the sick mums.

Of course, it’s much more complex than that because all mothers face diverse challenges every single day. Many mums we see as being in the “healthy” camp are, in fact, carrying interior burdens they would cringe to let out into the daylight of public opinion – I get that. There’s a huge crossover between these camps. Life is an imperfect art, and really crap things happen all the time. You might be in the midst of creating the most intricately perfect artwork on the canvas of life when it chucks a whole can of turd-brown paint all over your work. It happens regardless of who you are, the category you identify with and whether or not the universe recognizes you should have exemption. Your beautiful work of art might not get up on the gallery wall – at least, not until it’s finished. We all carry scars and feel the pain of fresh wounds. We all have reparation work to do. The bad stuff happens to everyone everywhere, even if it doesn’t look like it.

The other day, I picked up one of my kids. I recognized the car in front of me as being that of my friend. I didn’t get out of my car to say hi (although I wanted to, I am learning to look after my limitations better so I can manage to stay upright longer). She knows me and she knows about my illness, so I sent her a message on my phone, from one driver’s seat to another. Hello, beautiful! I tapped. And she really is bona-fide beautiful. This mum is the sort of mum other mums look at and their insides sink. She looks perfect. A tiny little frame, perfectly groomed hair and face, clothes you wish you had hanging in your own wardrobe… if only they made them 10 sizes bigger! She’s got a few degrees, a chic home, bright and beautifully-mannered children – oh, and that car rear I am staring at? Really nice, thank you very much. The lady’s got class – and the means to show it.

And in truth, I really like her in spite of all that, you know? (Wink, wink.) She’s personable, approachable, interesting and funny. She’s a genuinely lovely person. She slid elegantly out of her driver’s seat and came to chat with me at my window. I was struck by her beauty. Sigh. Suck in your tummy, Rach. Put on your smile. I wonder how she really is?

How she is, really, came up about two minutes into the conversation when she revealed she is facing not one, but two major health crises. I stared at her flawless complexion and thought about the torment that must be happening behind that beautiful face. Her vulnerable eyes are shielded by reflective sunglasses. I feel so lost as to how to comfort her. Even though I know it. I know that torment. The ache of the sick mother. The loneliness of facing your own mortality in the mirror. The frustrations when the sick stuff leeches into the mothering stuff. It’s horrible. Unfair. It’s life.

My heart is tuned toward the mums who are mothering while sick. It’s like I can hear them, sobbing in their wardrobes, hiding from their children. I see the images that haunt their nighttime dreaming, their fears unleashed in a scape not limited by reality. I feel their thumping hearts as they consider the most awful possibilities. A final severing of the metaphorical umbilical. The thought of life without them in it. Carrying on. Of some other person potentially filling the dent in their bed, their place in the world. The sick mothers thinking about their babies, as much a part of them as their own pulse and breath. How can you even begin to prepare your babies for a world you may not be in? And how can you do that without suffocating them in your arms and trapping them in your presence? How can you step away from the feelings to balance your mothering when you live in fear?

There is so much to be afraid of. But nothing we can do will change our truth. Big life stuff is an irrefutable fact. It’s just part of the shape and texture of the life we happen to be living. It’s real. It’s here. There is freedom in speaking it out. In owning it. And there is relief in surrendering expectation to a new paradigm. Because being sick gives its own gift of perspective and gravity, there is something quite extraordinary we get to tap into. We get to mentally jump off the expectations of perfection. We get to let the pressure drop. We get to focus on the things that matter most of all – if we are prepared to leap into a new way of viewing our crappy situation.

My mother heart projects forward into the future. I look at my babies – so precious. I think of the time I have with them. The length of which no person knows. As unpalatable as it is, the amount of time any of us have is limited. I think of the quality of that time and I know my purpose. I want to help my children become excellent adults – beautiful world citizens who are kind, open-minded, thoughtful and flexible. I want them to make the best out of the crap life hands them. I want them to make our world better because they are in it. And there is no more artful way to do that then to teach them how to respond to adversity with grace. How to take even small opportunities and run with them. I’m a sick mum. And it is precisely because I am sick that I have a meaningful context and opportunity to help my children be exceptional people.

I resolve to answer my fears with determination. My situation is a chance not every mumma gets. I know the value of my time and the importance of my role. I will teach. I will nurture. I will do these things imperfectly and sometimes flat on my back. I will do them with love and an eye on the people my children are becoming. In every adversity there is a teachable moment. We can do something beautiful in every ugly, uncomfortable moment. We can guide our babies into fulfilling lives.  Show them how to shore-up, talk about it, get through. How to keep their eye on the value of every given moment.

Don’t waste it, sick mummas. My sisters-in-arms. Embrace it.

One moment and one day at a time.

Leadphoto source: Thinkstock

Originally published: August 5, 2016
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