Parenting doesn’t stop, even for a life-threatening sickness, says Jennifer Crocker.
When my daughter Hannah was 8 months old I woke up in the middle of the night in extreme pain. It was on my right side and in was the worst pain I had ever felt.
I stumbled to the bathroom and lay back in a hot tub of water, it was meant to help with contractions, so I thought it might ease this agony. It didn’t. I downed some painkillers, took a sleeping pill and lay very carefully trying not to breath. My husband snored beside me. My daughter awoke and I gingerly positioned myself to feed her.
The next morning I was in slightly less agony but I felt like I had gone several rounds with Mike Tyson except I still had two ears to disprove that notion. I told the husband person that I needed to see the doctor.
“Take the kids with you (a toddler and the said baby),” he begged, “I think I am getting a cold.”
So we went to the doctor who sent me to have an ultrasound and of course I had gallstones. So we trekked off to the surgeon who said he would operate on the Monday, this was a Friday. “Unless of course,” he said, “you start to go yellow or anything funny shows up in your blood tests.”
While hanging on to the baby and trying to stop the toddler from climbing up my left leg the surgeon said, “I don’t know how you are coping with a hot gallbladder.” Neither did I really, but I was.
The upshot of this incident was that the next morning I was bright yellow, a stone had fallen into a bile duct and I needed emergency surgery, my husband had gone to have the car wheels rotated or something really important. I told the surgeon I couldn’t possibly get to the hospital, could we rather do it another day? His reply: “not if you want to live”.
So I phoned a friend, she came and took the kids and I drove myself to hospital.
I tell this story because it is very hard to be a sick mother, because children are naturally sensitive to weakness and will be scared by it, if they don’t decide to just exploit it.
Now try being a sick single mother. It’s one of the scariest, most difficult things to do. Especially if in the interim your husband’s frequent bouts of snuffling and wheezing have turned out to be a symptom of congestive heart failure and he has died.
When I feel sick now I hide it from my kids as much as I can. I suffer from horrible headaches and sometimes the pins I have in my back hurt me. But I tend to make light of it in front of the kids because the inevitable question will be, “are you going to hospital? Please mom be okay.”
I understand why they need me to be okay, why they need to be reassured that I don’t think I am going to die, but it isn’t always easy and there are times when one has to take to bed.
In the end in comes down to not giving into fear, the dread that the pain in your chest is just the curry you had for dinner, and not a heart attack; the acceptance of the need to be graceful enough to offer others the chance to help if things get really tough.
And the hardest part: to accept that you can’t protect your children from all the fears they will face in the world, nor can you give them guarantees that you will never get sick, need to go to hospital or even die.
It’s not easy, and that applies to all parents, not just single ones. It’s just that when you are parenting solo you also have to accept that life will often feel very fragile. Sometimes you’ll find yourself telling the kids that the tablets you are taking are not antibiotics but vitamins. We all tell people what we think they can handle, often when what we really mean is that it is what we think we can really handle.
Does being a parent make it harder to face sickness?