You Gonna Be Okay, Mama?
Ask any mother and she’ll tell you there are so many things that you can’t prepare for. Whether it’s the pleasure of potty training a defiant three year old, or meticulously combing through long strands of thick hair several days in a row hoping the lice is finally gone. You soldier on, braving poopy underwear and olive oil until you eventually have a diaper-free child with clean, lice-free hair! But sometimes life throws you a ridiculous curveball and you get blindsided with a trial that you are ill-equipped to handle, as a woman and as a mother.
In 2013, recovery from a fairly routine surgery took a left turn leading to a cascade of complications. I spent a total of 70 days in the hospital that year spread out over 5 hospitalizations. CAT scans, drains and additional surgeries followed. Many of the in-between weeks when I was home, I was weak, in pain and in bed. At the time, my children were 11 (Micah), 8 (Asher), 6 (Ella) and 4 (Livvy). My older three kids were in school full time. My baby spent much of the year living with my parents. She would come with them when they visited me in the hospital. I remember the first time she walked up to my hospital bed, looked at me with her giant brown eyes and said, “You gonna be okay, mama?” Immediately it brought tears to my eyes. I answered like any mother would with “Of course I am, baby.” At the time, I didn’t realize how serious and drawn out things were going to get. There were many times over the course of that year when I wondered if I was really going to be okay.
Many days, my only interaction with my children was a brief phone call before Dad wrangled the 3 (sometimes 4) of them into bed. Sometimes the kids were in good spirits. They would tell me a highlight from their day and I was able to feel more connected even though I was tethered to an IV pole in my hospital room. Other nights they were too busy to check in with Mom. I was thankful they were happy playing with friends or watching their favorite shows, but my heart ached that I couldn’t see their joy. Then there were the tear-filled phone calls. The calls that came with questions I couldn’t answer like “When are you going to come home?” and “Why do you keep getting sick?” I spoke to them in as soothing a voice as I could muster while holding back my own tears. I told many white lies during those calls.
The times in between hospitalizations were also hard. I loved that I could see, kiss and hold my children, but I was confronted with the impact my health challenges had on them in real time. I couldn’t walk with them to the bus stop. After my second hospitalization, I used a wheelchair to get around and needed supplemental oxygen to breathe. I was in and out of the doctors' offices and Interventional Radiology and those appointments could last hours. I had bruises from the multiple IV’s, drain bags (filled with disgusting fluids) hanging off my body and bottles of prescriptions on the nightstand. The sadness, stress and disrupted routines piled on my young family and no one was immune to its effects.
When you have an up and down year like we did, you learn to celebrate the tiny victories. The kids cheered me on when I was finally able to climb the stairs and walk to the mailbox. They were excited when we sat in the front yard and rolled a ball back and forth. They weren’t even upset that I couldn’t stand and play catch with them. I was thrilled to be able to do the things that I used to complain about: fold laundry, make dinner, help with homework. It symbolized a normalcy that we were all craving. We also tried to laugh as much as we could. In my family, we laugh at anything and everything. Nothing is off limits. That year the kids got a crash course in joking as a coping mechanism. It was a way to minimize some of the fear and uncertainty we were all feeling.
In my family there is before 2013 and after. So many blessings appeared as I healed. I learned that I didn’t have control over nearly as much as I thought. That understanding brought me so much freedom as a mom. My grip on my children and their lives loosened. I’ve been able to let them spread their wings, confident that their resilient spirits would carry them. My children were forced to confront the fragility of life up close and as a consequence, they grew up far too fast. But they developed greater empathy and emotional maturity as a result. As much as we would love to learn these major life lessons without tragedy and pain, we rarely do. My family went through a refining fire that year and we walked out the other side with scars and tears, love and compassion. I wouldn’t change that for anything.
My Facebook statuses that year kept my friends and family informed and provided a little window into the roller coaster that was 2013 for my family.
IN THE HOSPITAL
“It’s hard being a Mom from a hospital bed.” (March 10)
“Steve called. Poor Ella is home sick with a fever and vomiting.” (March 15)
“Comforting a child over the phone just isn't the same.” (July 11)
“Steve and the kids just left. The crying just breaks my heart.” (August 15)
“Happy 12th Birthday to my beautiful son Micah. I'm very upset that we can't spend the day together.” (August 16)
STRUGGLES AT HOME
“Realizing how difficult the last 3 months have been for my oldest. He's been struggling in school and we didn't even know. I feel so bad for him.” (April 28)
“Today is one of those days that I do not feel equipped to be a mother.” (July 21)
“Please pray for my children. All of my health issues have been very hard on them. Whenever I leave the house they are worried that I'm going to the hospital. Tonight Asher told me he was scared that I had cancer. They are just so emotionally fragile and it's breaking my heart.” (August 2)
“I had a tear-filled day today. I am overwhelmed and exhausted. The kids are adjusting, yet again, to being home with Mom. I know I have asked for tons of prayers already, but we are in need of more.” (August 26)
“Emotionally, we are all going through the roller coaster of sadness and all the bottled up feelings from the year are catching up with us (me especially). We don't feel very secure in life right now and still in need of prayers, especially in how to best support and nurture our kids through all these rough feelings.” (October 28)
WONDERFUL ORDINARY LIFE
“I just opened a banana for Ella and nearly cried. I'm home and my kids are home and I can open up a banana for my daughter. It's a good day.” (March 30)
“Home with Livvy today. First time in weeks. Wish me luck!” (April 8)
“I'm outside just soaking up my Livvy time. Man, she is something!” (May 6)
“So thankful for my funny, crazy kids who shower me with love and amuse me all day long. I am also blessed with a husband who shows me compassion when I feel like crap. Without them, these last few months would've eaten me alive. #lookingonthebrightside” (July 7)
“Sister picked me up and we surprised the kids. They couldn’t believe I was actually staying home. Talked to, hugged and kissed each child. I got to brush Ella's hair before bed and ended up passing out on the couch for 3 hours.” (September 19)
“Tonight I drove for the first time in almost 2 months. Tomorrow will be the first day I'll be looking after Livvy by myself in almost 2 months.” (October 6)
“Today has been filled with lots of ‘Mom’ stuff. Made dinner, folded laundry, ran some errands. Wonderful!” (October 7)
LAUGH SO YOU DON’T CRY
“I have turned 'Sweating in a hospital bed' into an art form. There's got to be an Art Prize in this for me.” (March 24)
“Steve has been smiling a lot these last few days. I just asked him why he was smiling and he said, ‘Probably because you're not dead.’ (July 21)
“I beat Ella in an arm wrestling match. Afterward, she told me that she was going easy on me because I just got out of the hospital.” (July 25)
“Hanging with the kids trying to figure out rules to their new game: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Penis. Life with these kids is never dull.” (July 27)
“I am so thankful for my sense of humor. It has carried me through so much. I am also grateful that my husband understands my morbid sarcastic jokes. It's such a great release. #laughsoyoudon'tcry” (July 30)
“I'm at Holland Hospital for their buy 15 cat scans, get the 16th scan free special.” (July 30)
“Ella made the mistake of saying ‘That's not fair!’ last night. I said, ‘You want to play the “It's not fair” game with me? I win!’ ” (September 28)
“I made it through the worst year of my life, to date. Hey 2013, you can suck it! #2014hastobebetter” (December 31)
Joni Gibson is a Licensed Esthetician/Small Business Owner. She is a newly single mom with four fierce children: Micah, Asher, Elizabeth and Olivia. She is a biracial Black woman, transracial adoptee and chronic illness warrior. Enneagram 8w7, INFP and Empath. You can follow her on Instagram @jonibgibson and www.radiantskinandbody.com