A lesson learned this week about being a mum

IMG_0349There’s nothing quite like watching your chid struggling to breathe to put a little perspective in your life. I thought I had this perspective – a big part of wrting If I Should Lose You was me as a mother trying to come to grips with the terrible idea that children can be lost, that catastrophic things can happen and that even though you try to manage everything so that your children are always happy and healthy, there are some things completely beyond your control.

I was lucky. My daughter had pneumonia, complicated by underlying asthma, but with antibiotics, increased asthma meds, rest and love she’s recovered. But there were many moments at the hospital when I found myself catastrophising. When the doctors said pneumonia, I immediately thought of the sheep manure we’d put on the garden the weekend before while the kids were playing outside and helping us plant flowers. Could it be Legionnaire’s? Could I have done something to contribute to my daughter’s illness? What if she got worse after they let us go home, and what if it was at midnight in her bed while she was asleep and I didn’t know she was struggling to breathe again?

Then I learned that, one hour before we arrived at the hospital, another child, a three year old, had died of a chest infection. This child had cancer and because of the cancer treatment, had no immune system left to fight a chest infection. Unlike my lucky, healthy child who could. My catastrophising seemed suddenly selfish, a waste of time and energy that could have been spent doing something lovely and productive, like having my mind one hundred percent with my child in the room, rather than partly absent and fretting over things that didn’t happen.

A couple of days later I ran into a friend whose three year old child had had a liver transplant when she was a baby. I asked how the little girl had been and her mum said, ‘Great. Except for one scare.’ The scare turned out to be a tumour in the girl’s leg. She has to take immune-suppressing drugs to ensure her body continues to accept the new liver. This puts her at increased risk of cancer. So her mother had to sit and watch as her child had an MRI and then a CT scan, worrying the whole time that the tumour would prove to be cancerous, and then having to endure treatment for that, on top of already having to go thorugh the long and extremely difficult path of finding a donor liver for her child. What a relief that the tumour was deemed to be benign. But the risks of operating outweigh the risks of leaving the tumour there. So now it’s a constant reminder to this family of all the potential catastrophes the child might face. Unlike my lucky child whose cough and wheeze have gone, leaving no real trace of her ever being sick. A one-off scare, as opposed to a lifetime of real fear.

Children are so robust yet life can suddenly, inexplicably be so fragile. There is so much to worry about. But hearing about these other families made me see that my worries are wasteful – I have nothing to worry about and everything to be thankful for.

Then I went to yoga and my yoga teacher talked about our potential to resolutely abide in the peaceful space. Maybe that sounds strange but I really connected to it. Because what she meant by resolutely abiding was to be consciously present, mindfully focussed on the actual moment I am living. Not thinking ahead to what might happen (but probably won’t) or thinking back to what has been. And finding a peaceful space in whatever I am doing. Treasuring the precious moments alone I had with my sick child – we so rarely spend time together, just the two of us, yet we had hours together in the hospital to read and chat and tell stories.

I get cross and cranky sometimes with my kids when they take half an hour to get dressed in the morning instead of ten minutes, when they don’t listen and I have to repeat myself five times, when they all decide they want to play with the same toy at the same time even though we have dozens of toys. But that’s all about worry again, worrying that we might be late for school so I get cross now, in the present moment. Yet does anyone ever look back on their life and regret that their kids took longer to get dressed than some hypothetical ideal? I doubt it. But I might regret not resolutely abiding in each and every moment with my children, not finding the joy and the peace in what they do. Not appreciating the fact that I am lucky enough not to have a child with a tumour in her leg which sits there like a real and physical manifestation of all the terrible things that can happen. Instead, our family is blessed with wonderful possibilities that I can try to make the most of.

So I learned a big and real lesson this week. I don’t expect that I’m going to be a pefectly changed mother as a result of seeing what other families endure. But I will hopefully spend less time checking my emails on my phone when one of the kids is asking me a question, less time trying to prevent fights about toys that haven’t yet occurred and more time enjoying every now that my children and I are able to spend together.

21 comments

  1. Glen Hunting

    Yes. Most of us are so good at living somewhere else other than where we are right now, aren’t we? Somewhere, somehow in our early adolescence, we cheat ourselves out of that capacity that children experience instinctively.
    I don’t have children, but I think I have at least an inkling of the utter panic that can set in when something threatens to go badly wrong. We need to remember that such things can happen, but not enslave ourselves to the possibility. And the tendency for parents to blame themselves unnecessarily – another local writer has been blogging recently about her son being bullied at school, and wondering aloud what she might have done more or better to stop it, or why she didn’t know about it earlier. It’s a natural reflex that has to be overcome, I’m afraid, because often the most horrific things simply happen. That poor boy who was run over on Monday morning on his way to school is a case in point. And I don’t know specifically if anyone was at fault, but it may simply have been a terrible, tragic accident.

    • Hi Glen, yes I often wonder what’s going on in my children’s minds, whether they do worry about what has happened or what might happen and if they don’t, at what age does that movement out of enjoying the present happen. Of course it’s only as we get older that we can imagine such a huge range of horrific scenarios, things that our children don’t even understand are possible because even if they know the word death, they don’t truly understand the meaning of death. Which is a good thing and a natural thing, I think.

  2. I’m so glad that your little one is better now, Natasha. When I became a mother, I felt suddenly more vulnerable than ever before. My second son had a few health complications and we spent quite a bit of time at PMH. The health issues are well and truly resolved now, but I’ll never forget some of the unearthly sounds of grief that I heard in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. We are, indeed, very blessed to have healthy children. From one ‘catastrophiser’ to another: thanks for a post that provides some timely perspective.

    • Hi Kristen, thanks for saying that. One of the things I sometimes worry about is if I am the only mum who catastrophises and shouldn’t I just toughen up and get on with it because of course no one else probably spends so much time worrying! So it’s good to know I’m not the only one who has a tendency to catastrophise and that it might even be normal!

  3. Dympna Rose

    Wow, Natasha! A very moving comment. Scary things do cause us to re-assess – hopefully more on the positive side than the negative. We always want life to be perfect for our offspring with no hardships! And it continues all your life!

    • Thanks Dympna, I agree – a good reason to have a good perspective on life is because we are bound to our children forever, and I don’t want to waste all of that forever time worrying about things that may never happen.

  4. Glen, I believe the correct term is ‘worrywart’. At least that’s what my long-suffering husband tells me… :p

  5. Hello, I just had a very similar experience this week with my daughter, suspected pneumonia and hospitalisation, and the learning for me was mindfulness as well! Being fully present in this moment and not worrying about the next one. Thanks for sharing x

  6. WOW … I love this … and “to be consciously present, mindfully focussed on the actual moment I am living” is going to be my new mantra :0)

  7. Campo @ Campo On The Run

    Thank you for this post – I loved it. Very well written and some great points which I will remind myself regularly as the mum of two small boys, with one suffering from asthma.

  8. Lovely post! Perspective is indeed everything. Thanks for Rewinding.

  9. I need to get better at this too. I am 35 weeks pregnant and I spent so much of the start of my pregnancy worrying about things that could go wrong, but never did. I have only just started enjoying my pregnancy now that I am on maternity leave. I feel a bit guilty that I didnt stop and take more time to appreciate every movement, but I am trying to make up for it now. It took me 4 years to get pregnant and I want to try and experience every single part of it as much as possible in case it doesnt happen again.

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