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What It Was Like Raising 2 Kids as a Single Mom With Crohn's Disease

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My babies were born beautiful, pink and wiggly. My daughter was the first and she was exactly what we prayed for, but more importantly we wanted whatever it was to be healthy. Elizabeth, my first born, came out eager for the world and she let us know. We both were ready for a boy and we got it in Nicholas. Nicholas, my second child, was born with a tiny wise smirk on his little face. Kinda like he knew some secret we would never know. One of each. I was content.

However, on both occasions my Crohn’s disease went berserk. And I mean flat out, pedal to the metal, raging Crohn’s on metabolic steroids trying to kill me in the worst way possible. With my first child I was allowed to breastfeed until three months. The doctor told me to stop as I was too sick, I did but with a heavy sadness in my heart. I came home and held my little tiny girl and told her I was sorry but that your mom was sick. With my second child, I had to stop after a month. I was so sick and I needed the nutrients to stay alive. The day my doctor told me to stop breastfeeding was so emotionally devastating. I felt like some part of me was ripped carelessly away, a bond we held was broken and I felt it in every part of me. Again, as I had done with my daughter, I held my son and told him I was so sorry but he had a sick mom. I was a young mom, and thank goodness because if I was any older I might have just simply run out of gas, living life on empty.

As life goes, we did the normal family stuff. But there always came that day that I could not go to the park, a picnic or a school outing. I was a single mom by the time my daughter was 7 and my son was 2. That was hard, let me tell you. I also had to go back to work full time to support us. My children are troopers. They really never knew why I was napping all day Sundays and went to bed early. I cooked meals but I never ate with them because my Crohn’s wouldn’t let me. I think they thought it was just normal that Mom cooked for them but never ate. I always sat with them and at times I would snag a bite from one of their plates. Today, if I even look at whatever my son is eating, he’ll start growling at me to make it clear, no more bites, Mom.

My Crohn’s was so bad most of the time. My son finally asked me one day why I was angry all the time. I just went all mushy inside, thinking I had emotionally destroyed my kids. I tried to explain that I was in pain a lot but how do you explain that
to a sweet little boy who wanted to do nothing but make me happy? I told him it
was not his fault and nothing he could do could change it, ever. I made a pact
with myself that day that no matter how I felt, I would smile around my kids.

I missed so much of their growing up. When I think of it today, I inwardly cringe. When my daughter made the cheer-leading squad, I was so incredibly proud of her. We had just moved to a different state and she was the new kid on the block. She went out for the team and made it! I wish I could have literally opened my heart to show her how proud I was of her. Crohn’s had me tethered, bound and gagged at home. I was only able to make maybe one of her games. This missing out kind of sadness is still with me today. My son made the golf team, both at his school and the Country Club where his dad belonged. I wasn’t able to go to even one of his games. I heard he was a great golfer. The shame I felt was like there was an indelible black mark stain on my title of motherhood that read, “failure.”

My kids did not ask to born to a sick mom. I recall one day, I asked my daughter to go to the doctor with me. I thought it might help her understand. She was furious as a wet cat and felt it was too much for her. She wanted me to be healthy and I got it. She did not really want to know, she was only 11 or 12 and I realized maybe it was too much for her. So another pact with myself, don’t talk about Crohn’s in front of my kids. Working full time at a career I loved that was extremely demanding and being a single mom, I tried my best to keep things normal. I had also started running as a way to relieve some of the stress that was always in the background threatening to strangle me.

I was literally running away from my biggest most overwhelming fear: Failure as a mom. I love being a mom. When I was young I wanted a houseful of kids but that was not to be. I was so happy with my two kiddos. I could not have been happier to have the coveted title of mom. I cherished the times one of them needed me, had a cold that I could soothe or a cut I could kiss. I wanted to be that perfect mom but as this story goes that is something not attainable for me. My chronic illness took away so much from me, from them, things that they did not deserve to have taken away. I could never be the homeroom mom but I did make all the cookies and brownies I could. I recall my daughter had a class about parenting and they were given a small sack of flour to be their babies. They were to tend to the “baby” overnight and bring it back the next day. She brought it home from school and put it on the counter just a little too hard. It had a leak and we laughed about it all night. All I could think of was, “Are they serious… A sack of flour as a baby?” Maybe we could use the flour and return it as a cake! At least we had our hysterical and very funny moments.

Whenever I was hospitalized they were parceled out to their dad, so the reality of mom being operated on never really hit them too hard. I do think I did them a great disservice by not telling them more about my disease. All they saw was a type “A” mom who always made a lovely home, worked like a demon and ran for fun. What they did not see was the times I laid in bed crying over missed school functions, feeling as though I had let them down. I wanted to be a “homeroom mom,” I wanted to be front row at every game, tournament or basketball game, but I couldn’t. I just did not have the bandwidth or strength plus my fear of  “what if I get sick and embarrass my child in front of everyone” was always hovering. So I put my head down and did the best I could. I went to work and stayed close to my kids.

The day came when I was just too sick to work anymore. I needed to move back to my hometown to be closer to my family. My daughter had already left for college and my son was starting college in the fall. He would be back east where I was going, so I’d be close to him. My daughter flew out for the holidays. It was a brutal change for me. I was a type “A” person and when my son asked me, “How can you give up what you worked so hard to get?” I said, “Well, sometimes the best choice is the hardest one to make, plus I wanted to live.” Today, my children are adults. My daughter has been my stalwart companion at the hospital. She knows the routine and what I need. My son is coming up from New York City to be with me for my upcoming big surgery.

How are they today? Happy, successful, funny and loving adults. They will always be my babies but looking at them now… I didn’t do too bad. They both turned out great. In spite of still having Crohn’s, that vicious life-sucking disease, I am still their mom and very proud of them both. So for all those times I couldn’t be there, I am sorry. Sometimes I feel like my kids kind of got a raw deal… but I will l love them forever and for always and I know they love me just the way I am, broken, grouchy and full of love for them.

Originally published: June 10, 2018
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