“I don’t know how you do it,” a friend said to me recently. “You never ask for help, you hardly ever get a sitter, and you don’t even complain.”
She was referring to my life as a single mom, as an aside to her complaint that her husband wasn’t exactly taking his fair share of parenting duties lately.
I didn’t know how to respond. I’ll be honest — in some ways, I think being a single parent is easier. I like that I don’t have to run my parenting decisions by anyone else. I like being the only one putting my girl to bed (the only one getting those snuggles) and figuring out mealtimes and how to spend our weekends. And I truly, genuinely love spending time with my little girl.
So it’s rare that I lament the struggles of being a single mom … mostly because I don’t often see it as a struggle.
But there are fears and questions that linger in the back of my mind. When my daughter is sick, I find myself wishing there was someone else around to assess her symptoms with me. During a recent fit-throwing period, I longed for a partner I could rely on.
And when I think about what would happen to her if something happened to me … well, that’s my greatest single parenting fear of all.
When my daughter was born, I asked one of my closest friends and her husband if they would raise her should anything ever happen to me. It was a huge decision to make, and one based on so many factors — the most important of which being that I knew these two would love and care for my little girl like one of their own if the need ever arose.
But just contemplating that potential need caused a lump to swell in the back of my throat.
Of all the horrible, life-altering, devastating scenarios that played out in my mind before I became a mother (let’s just call it that hyperactive protective instinct kicking in early), I never stopped to think that there could be anything worse than death. But there is — because a prolonged illness or a bad accident could both equally render me incapable of properly caring for my daughter, and then what?
Most people have an extra set of hands around to help, were something to incapacitate one parent for a period of time. But what happens when you’re a single mom, with a two-year-old that needs and relies on your singular love and attention?
Unfortunately, I found out recently. Sometime in January, I started feeling sick on a near daily basis. Nothing really concrete, or even bad enough to see a doctor about, just this pervasive nausea and heartburn that kept me from eating and drinking in the way I normally would.
When it went on for weeks, I probably should have made an appointment. I kept telling my friends I couldn’t have a drink with them, or that I wasn’t up for our usual indulgence of cheese platters and roasted garlic, but I also kept brushing it off as being something minor. I vaguely thought I might have an ulcer, but figured that even with that — I could treat it myself by eating right and staying away from wine and coffee for a while.
The truth is, I have a toddler. So focusing on my own health and listening to my own body tends to be fairly low on the priority list. I mean, who has the time?
It was about six weeks into this constant discomfort when I went out with a good friend and convinced myself I could have a single cocktail. We ordered an amazing meal, splitting apps and an entrée, and I was enjoying every second of it … until about 30 minutes after, when I realized I felt awful.
I was up most of the night in pain, my stomach cramping up and heartburn searing my throat. The next morning, that escalated into not being able to keep anything down. My little girl sat in the bathroom with me as I got sick again and again, until I eventually called my dad in tears. I had no idea what to do.
He was the one who convinced me to go the hospital, sure that what I was describing was a gallbladder attack. I called a friend to come get my little girl, and me, and we spent a few minutes packing a bag for her (we were pretty positive that I wouldn’t be coming home that night). When we couldn’t find her lovies anywhere, I finally thought to look in the bathroom — she had placed them right by the toilet, her attempt to comfort me when I was too out of it to even notice she was there.
My heart broke into about a thousand pieces.
After a few tests at the hospital, it was determined that my gallbladder seemed mostly fine. They diagnosed me with the stomach flu and, after finally putting an end to my dry heaving almost 10 hours, sent me home.
But that wasn’t the last time I would get sick like that. In fact, I’ve had three similar “attacks” in the six weeks since. One was on Easter, ruining what had been meant to be a special day for me and my little girl. And in the days in between, even when I’m not throwing up, eating has been hard. I’m exhausted, sore, and just not feeling at all right.
I still have no idea what is going on. I’m seeing a gastroenterologist, and have a series of procedures coming up in the next few weeks that should give us answers. Apparently there are a lot of possibilities that go hand in hand with my symptoms, ranging from fairly simple fixes (infections that can be treated with antibiotics) to scarier prognoses.
But in the back of my head through all of this, all I have been able to think about is, “I’m a single mom. I can’t be sick like this.”
I have needed to rely on friends more than ever before, asking for help, even when it feels like a defeat to admit I need it. My girl has spent nights with her aunties, and I have needed rides to and from intensive doctor’s appointments involving sedation and tubes.
And having even just a glimpse at what it might mean to not be able to parent at my best has given me an even greater fear of one day being rendered unable to care for my girl.
It is a scary thing to be the sole provider, and to at the same time feel unable to get out of bed.
I’ve had a lot of fights with my body over the years. Diagnosed with Stage IV endometriosis at 25, I went through 5 major abdominal surgeries and lost my ability to conceive by the time I was 28. But I found an amazing specialist and fought my way to health — a health I have now enjoyed for over three years. A health that has allowed me to run and hike, to travel and adopt my little girl, and to live the life I always imagined I would be living, without pain or illness bringing me down.
And now, it just sort of feels like I’m back there again — sick and debilitated, scared and unsure of what is happening with my body.
Only this time, I have a little girl to worry about as well.
Along with the knowledge that I am the person she counts on the most. Which kind of makes being sick … not an option.
Now I just need to convince my body of that.More On