How Living with a Chronic Illness Has Made Me a Stronger Mother

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

My name is Rachel, and I’m a type 1 diabetic. My disease is considered chronic, autoimmune, and invisible. Currently, there is no cure for my useless beta cells, so I have to administer insulin through a pump that’s connected to my body at all times.

When I was diagnosed 10 years ago, I was at my rock bottom. I had been ill for a year-and-a-half with unquenchable thirst, constant hunger, extreme fatigue, sudden weight loss, and general weakness. In the later stages, I had numbness in my feet, depression, brain fog, memory loss, and even bed wetting. I visited five medical professionals, and received inaccurate diagnoses ranging from anorexia to hypochondria.

I was sinking.

And then one day, exhausted and breathless, I laid down for a three-hour morning nap. When I wouldn’t pick up my ringing cell phone, my husband rushed home from work, scooped me up in his arms, and rushed me to the ER. It was there that I finally had my answer: I had type 1 diabetes. With numbers so high they were not on medical charts, I was carted to the ICU and spent the next five days in the hospital. I soon learned how to dose and inject insulin, test my blood sugar, and calculate the grams of carbohydrates in the foods I consumed.

Two years later, we brought home our first child: a little girl we adopted at birth. Then two years after that, we adopted another infant girl. Like clockwork, we brought home our son after waiting another two years. And just last month, we adopted another little girl (though this time, we waited four years). The thought of parenting four young children and living with a chronic disease may have once seemed daunting, but I swear it has made me a better mom in the end — and here’s why.

1. I say “no” more often.

Too many mothers confess that they’re exhausted and stressed — and if they’re being honest, it’s often because of their own choosing. They simply cannot bring themselves to say no, either because of pride or guilt. However, since my diagnosis, I say “no” to opportunities without apology. If it’s not something I’m passionate about and fully committed to, or if it’s going to make my family or my disease suffer in some way, the answer is no.

No, I can’t make eight dozen cookies for the bake sale. No, I can’t be the chaperone for the holiday party. No, my children cannot be in three extracurricular activities each.

Saying “no” isn’t just empowering, it’s stress-reducing. My children hear me saying “no,” and they learn that Mommy knows how to prioritize.

2. I’m committed to self-care.

We’ve all probably heard that same analogy about self-care — it’s just like when the flight attendant reminds us to put the oxygen masks on ourselves before helping the child seated next to us. We can’t take care of others unless we take care of ourselves.

I know, I know; it’s way easier said than done. But for me, self-care is essential to regulating my blood sugars and making sure that not only can I live a less-stressful life, but that I can get out of bed, get dressed, and get my kids where they need to be. Self-care involves eating healthy meals and snacks, exercising, and having time to do what I love: write. Self-care is part of my disease management plan. And by committing to self-care, I’m teaching my kids to do the same: to listen to their bodies, feelings, and hearts and to respond in a healthy way.

3. I’m honest.

My disease is not easy. I experience high blood sugar levels (which make me feel like I have the flu) and low blood sugar levels (rendering me weak and shaky), I attend constant medical appointments (which are expensive and time consuming), and I am always “on” as a diabetic, meaning there is no vacation from my disease. I definitely don’t use my disease as a tool to gain sympathy, but I don’t shy away from letting people know how demanding diabetes can be, either. I’m going to stand up for myself and my needs because if I don’t, who will? Likewise, my children are learning that it’s ok to have bad days and be clear about what they need.

4. I cut myself way more slack.

There are days I simply cannot do the most basic of tasks; days where my disease is winning. Because of this, I have had to learn to give myself a lot of grace. I can eat all the right things, get enough sleep, exercise, and carefully monitor my blood sugars, and sometimes diabetes doesn’t cooperate. I could beat myself up over every decision and every high or low blood sugar, or I can take the higher row, forgiving myself for any mistakes and committing to doing better. I can also see my disease for what it is: a beast that needs to be tamed, but is sometimes beyond my control. Because my children witness my steadfast commitment to my heath which involves grace, they learn that the goal in life isn’t perfectionism, but instead, determination.

5. I appreciate what I have.

My disease is relentless: demanding, cumbersome, angering, confusing. However, I’ve learned to appreciate what my body HAS done for me and how hard it works every day to not only stay alive, but thrive. I’m blessed with the resources to buy healthy foods and attend medical appointments. I have a supportive husband. For everything my disease has taken, and tries to take, from me, there is so much more to be thankful for. My children are witnessing a mom who says, “Diabetes sucks, but it’s not winning.”

Certainly, I hope that one day my disease is cured. I will happily chuck the syringes and vials over the nearest cliff. But until that day comes, I will relish in the lessons my disease teaches me, and subsequently, teaches my children, and I will continue to fight with everything I have.

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