It was supposed to be the happiest time of my life. I was cradling my firstborn child—my rainbow baby—tenderly in my arms as she contentedly nursed. I looked down at this beautiful miracle, unable to mirror her blissful content. Six weeks after the birth, I was still feeling like garbage.
Being a first-time mom, I figured the fatigue was par for the course. My other symptoms, however, were suspect. Will I see my daughter grow up? were my thoughts as the streams of grief flowed, pooling on her swaddle. At my medical check-up, I brought my concerns to my doctor who immediately sprung into action. “I almost sent you to the emergency room,” she later told me. I ended up in the ER that night anyway, and in a few days, I had my answers: a diagnosis of an incurable chronic disease. With intervention it would not be fatal; however, it was also not going to be fun.
The second act of my life had begun.
I was in my 20s and otherwise healthy. Autoimmune diseases are often triggered in pregnancy, so I was told. While I navigated new motherhood, I also needed to educate myself on my new world, new life, new body. Unknown to me at the time, having a chronic condition requires a reevaluation of limitations and capacity. Fatigue and flare-up could appear completely out of the blue. With a flare comes weeks of upset as well as physical challenges all enveloped by huge question marks: When will this be over? Will the medication work? Am I doing something wrong?
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Flash forward six years and two more kids later, and I was faced with the exact same questions and scenario. In a flare and on the cusp of starting a new medication, life was about to change again. I found myself thinking, I want my body back.
I’m not talking about my waistline—this is not about body image. I wanted that baseline of health I felt and had before I had my kids. The energy and focus, the freedom to eat and drink without consequences, to jump out of bed knowing I would have enough energy to finish the day.
There were no limitations.
My answer could always be yes. But my post-pregnancy life holds a lot of no. And not because I’m a downer or I don’t love community and adventure but because my body simply cannot take it. If I spend my energy outside the home, I may not have the energy to do the simple mom things I have to do every day like keep my family fed and help with school homework.
That vibrant carefree body has gone with the wind. I traded it for a body that was home to three growing babies and is now doing its best to keep me functioning so I can enjoy them. Sometimes I wonder if I had known this was around the bend, if I wouldn’t have had children or maybe stopped after having my first. But even as the curiosity in my mind rises, it is immediately quenched by my heart with a resounding Heck, no!
I would do it all again in a heartbeat for those three little loves who seek out my hand on the way to school, who turn their faces in disgust at my cooking and then moments later ask for a snack, who kiss my cheek and tell me they love me, with whom I spend every night softly singing songs of comfort as they drift to sleep.
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No. I’ll keep this path.
I’ll trade a healthy life for a full one.
I’ll choose the medication that keeps me around for them because they are what fills me. I count my blessings for a hands-on husband who fulfills his fatherhood role with gusto and keeps the bank account full for medical expenses and therapies. I call on my wide support of family and friends for help when it’s necessary, accepting that it’s necessary more often than my pride is willing to admit. I must take on less and do less so that I can be more. More present with my children. More whole for the journey. This is my version of motherhood, and it is a gift . . . as motherhood is always.