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How I Really Look as a Chronically Ill Mom Before You See 'Fake Me'

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Can we be real for about two minutes? That’s it. Just two. Then we can all go back to our perfect lives.

This is what I look like when I wake up.

woman with messy hair after just waking up
Jena just after she woke up.

See that hair? It deserves its own zip code! With the chest port, I haven’t mastered the art of keeping it dry while washing my hair, so my saintly husband gets stuck scrubbing that mane a couple times a week.

And I think men attack hair differently than women. Because that’s what they do, they literally attack it. Whereas we love it, wash it, condition it, comb it, put crap on top of crap on it to make it look civilized, men just attack the bejesus out of it. I think that’s their goal. To get the dirt out of the hair. Period.

So this is how I wake up after a good scrubbing. Gosh, I’m loved.

It takes me a while to talk myself into getting out of bed. Yes, it requires a mental pep talk. Jena, you have things to do. No, nothing matters. Get your butt up! But it will hurt if I move. You have to try. Why? Because you have kids who need a mom. Ugh! You’re right.

The struggle is real, folks. Every. Single. Day.

I get up. I pee. I weigh myself. I sigh. I lay out my IV antibiotic.

I make breakfast, which looks like this.

plate divided into three sections of fruit, eggs and toast
Jena’s breakfast of fruit, toast and eggs.

Please note this is not the breakfast of syrupy pancakes I’d prefer.

Now that I have enough in my body to prevent nausea, I take these.

clear box filed with pill bottles
Jena’s medicine.

Then I hook myself up to this, which lasts about 30 minutes.

woman with chest port holding bottle of medication
Jena and her medication.

At this point, it’s close to noon. My daughter Izzi has Kindergym at 1:30 p.m. today, and I need to move faster.

I throw on a bunch of this.

makeup supplies piled on flowered surface
Jena’s makeup.

I use my straightener.

Is there a more magical device?

I take pain medicine. I dress in layers.

And eventually, I leave my house looking like this.

woman wearing makeup after getting ready in the morning
Jena after getting ready to go out.

This is the fake me. The hair-colored, contact-wearing, chest port packing, breast reconstructed, dentally-modified me. Heck, even my smile is fake. I’m not happy. I’m just really, really tired, and I want to curl back up in my bed.

But I go. And guess what! All afternoon, this fake me is peppered with the loveliest compliments. You look great! Wow, are you feeling better? 

And from a momma of three energetic little boys, one under 1, “Jena, I just have to say you look beautiful.”

Whoa, pretty momma. Let’s be real for a minute. So I show her the picture from that morning with my real hair and my real wrinkles and my real dark circles.

Social media makes mothering look easy. We see photos of beautifully manicured moms going to yoga or fixing yet another organic meal off of Pinterest, and we doubt ourselves. We worry that we are not doing this whole parenting thing right. 

We aren’t strict enough, creative enough, happy enough, energetic enough, organized enough, pretty enough, good enough.

But here’s the truth, pretty momma. If we can get our kids to eat one vegetable a day, avoid the ER, and bathe with soap, we should mark the day as a success! Oh, and praise be to God if we actually get through the whole homework hour without losing our sh*t.

Seriously. Was math that hard when I was in fifth grade?

The point is it took me five hours to look presentable. Five hours! So, pretty momma who looks exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s OK. If we’re honest, most of the time, we are all exhausted and overwhelmed. We just want our kids to grow up to be good, happy people. And much of this whole parenting thing is a crapshoot, anyway.

So to make the load a little lighter, we would like a naptime for ourselves and snack time that includes alcohol and chocolate, without calories, of course.

And friends who are real with us, who tell us this is hard, but it’s also OK.

On this day I got my kid to Kindergym, and I ooohhed and aaahhed as she bounced and tumbled and danced. I felt like crap, but she didn’t know that.  And as we left, she automatically held my hand, jumping her way to the vehicle the way 5-year-olds do, and announced, “You’re the best momma!”

And that was all that mattered at that moment.

Be real. Be you. Be Mom.

And it will all be OK in the end.

Follow this journey on A Broken Crayon.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: April 11, 2016
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