Strength through Pain, Mom Style


Motherhood is challenging. From the minute a baby first issues a tiny, mewling cry–which seems to only sound like a foghorn to the frazzled mother–the enormity of every day change, and the challenges of parenthood, becomes apparent. Suddenly the mother holds a complete resume full of new tasks, all centered around this tiny, little creation. And, as mothers, we accept our newfound responsibilities–for life–because through all of the fears, struggles, and doubts, our child becomes our greatest joy.

But what happens when a few more descriptive adjectives are thrown into the mix? Ones that add to the stress to the mother, making her job that much more daunting?

Imagine what comes to mind when you think of a mother with the following descriptions: single, divorced, widowed, and spouse in a long distance job.

All of these elements mean that the mother now completes her difficult tasks alone. By herself. All of the time. That in itself can cause moments of unmitigated joy, and times of unbearable struggle. And still, the mother prevails. Our children come first.

But, what happens when yet another adjective is placed on the already burdened mother? Like, say, a chronic medical problem? Chronic pain? Chronic Sickness? Disease?

How, then, is the mother to remain strong, and push through?

Everyone who reads about my life with Tiny knows that I am a single, divorced, working mom. Yes, it’s hard. But, we manage. Routine keeps Tiny and I in a familiar pattern. It keeps the struggles, discipline, and changes to routine in check. Sure, things set us akimbo, but for the most part we meander about our days, happy as clams. We play, explore, experiment, laugh, … and laugh, and laugh.

Really, baby boy and I are giggle monsters. It comes with the territory.

However, there is one part of my life, which happened last year, that I have not mentioned much, if at all, to my blogging community. After a few weeks of struggling, and the inability to blog because of my constant battle, I feel the need to touch on it today.

Tiny Tot’s mommy–also known as me–has been living with chronic pain for about seven months, but I have had a Baker’s cyst in the back of my knee for about two years. Initially, I went in for the Baker’s cyst, which had gotten so large that I couldn’t properly bend the joint. It was then that I was diagnosed with cartilage damage in a load-bearing joint, and because of my age, and the position of the tear, my orthopedic surgeon said that he couldn’t help. Our initial conversation, when we first met, went something like this:

“The good news is, it’s not a tumor. It’s a cyst, caused by damaged cartilage.”

That sounds pretty optimistic, right? I mean, I liked hearing that I didn’t have a tumor in my leg. Wouldn’t you?

I responded with, “That’s good news! How do I get rid of the cyst?”

I should mention my doctor looks like Antonio Banderas, here. So stop imagining a kind, older gentleman, and start imagining Antonio Banderas giving medical advice. Sparkling eyes, debonair good looks, and a charming, crooked smile. This man could tell someone they are dying, add in a wink, and the person would immediately feel better about their situation. That being said, Doctor McSwarthy looked at me, and said, “I’m going to try a cortisone shot to reduce swelling. Then I want you to move your leg a lot. The cyst should go down. If not, we can have it removed.”

To which I said, “Sweet! So my knee is going to get better? It’s not that bad?”

Notice the doe-eyed belief that all would be right with the world, especially after receiving news that there was not a tumor in my knee. My joy was immediately shut down when Mr. Banderas shook his head, claiming, “You still have a cartilage tear. It’s pretty bad. After the swelling goes down, you will start to feel pain from the cartilage damage. If you can handle it, you don’t need to come back, but I will set an appointment for six weeks from now.”

Pffffft, whatever doc. You might be hot, but I know my pain tolerance. If I can handle the pain? Oh, I can handle pain; I’m a mom. I had a baby without a working epidural.

What’s a little bit of knee pain, compared to childbirth?

Enter the next visit.

“So, Doctor McSwarthy, I have a problem. I cannot chase my child. I can’t walk downstairs. Heck, I barely make it UP the stairs. I’m a mom. I need to be able to run around, and chase my son. When is the pain going to stop? When will my knee heal?”

Right then, I was living in a place if denial, still convinced that I would wake up one day, and my knee would feel amazing. At this point I was limping like a fool, a bit short-tempered with the world in general, and needing some bright-eyed optimism to get me through the day.

I needed good news.

Instead, Banderas looked at me cock-eyed. “Cartilage doesn’t heal. Your knee is not going to heal itself. All you can do is make sure it doesn’t get worse, and adjust your lifestyle to maintain the cartilage you still have.”

Wrong answer. Still, though, I bit back a snarky reply, and tried to find something hopeful in this visit.

“Uh huh, uh huh. But I have an active, bouncing, running toddler. He needs a mother than can run, play chase, and pretend to fly like Buzz Lightyear. Make my knee better. I’m limping, I don’t want to move off the couch, and I feel pretty useless right now.”

I swear what he did next should have infuriated me, because I have sat through the same courses in psychology. He gave me back my own words, and broke the bad news again.

“I hear what you’re saying, and understand where you are coming from. We can do a few things to manage your pain, like creams and injections. But those are only temporary fixes.”

“Okay, and what will fix my knee? A surgery? What can I do to keep up with my child?

At this point, I was ready to cry. Two days before, I had a horrifying moment when Tiny Tot zoomed ahead at the playground, tripped, and fell. He was bawling as I hobbled over, threw myself awkwardly on the ground, and cradled him in my arms. Then I damn near couldn’t get up afterward.

Doctor McSwarthy repeated himself, speaking to me as if I were a simpleton. Heck, at that point in my denial, I was mentally impaired, and unwilling to see a new life with constant knee pain.

“I see what you’re saying,” he reiterated. “There isn’t a surgery that will ‘fix’ the area of cartilage on your knee. But every three to six months, we can do injections to help lubricate the area.”

Frustration was my first reaction. How the heck could Doctor McSwarthy not heal my knee? I’m young, stuff heals.

Doesn’t it?

I got my injection, tried not to curse the world down, and walked out of his office. After I got home, and thought about what he said, I decided to try vitamin therapy with Osteo-Biflex. For a few weeks I popped those nasty horse pills twice a day, and my knee started feeling stronger. I still couldn’t run, or walk downstairs without taking steps one at a time, toddler-style, but I could speed walk again, for at least most of the day, only icing my knee toward the end of the week. The pain worsened when I wore heels, vigorously cleaned the house, bent down to be a pony for the tiny one, or did anything else I “knew I shouldn’t do.”

Still, I honestly believed my knee was getting better. So, when I received the bill for the injections, and choked on the cost, I decided the injections weren’t worth it–especially since the Osteo-Biflex was working wonders on my knee. My pain level had gone from the frowning, crying level ten face, down to a slightly awkward level four.

Level four constant pain was manageable. I could get around the day without cringing much, or griping. Tiny Tot and I went back to a pretty normal, active lifestyle.

Things were looking up.

Until last week, when the injection decided to wear off completely. It was a gradual process, and I knew what was happening, but it still wore off. The aches, the pains, and the sharp, sudden feeling of a spike being driven through my knee all came back.

Probably because I refuse to admit that I have a problem, and keep saying my knee feels fine. Until I gripe about it. But even then, it’s not a big deal.

The main problem I have, is that fact that my knee affects my tiny human. His mother doesn’t want to crawl on the floor, doesn’t want to play baseball, and is constantly begging him to stay away from “Mommy’s bad knee.” Tiny Tot is back to having a mother who wants to remain on the couch, otherwise griping about knee pain, old man style.

And, more than likely, she is also eating her way into a fat coma.

Which got me thinking: where are the children when mothers are in chronic pain? How does the pain affect the kiddos, and what do the mothers do to keep their affliction from their kids?

I know a few mommies who live with chronic pain, and other ailments. And I know what I do. On really bad days, I spend the day keeping my temper in check. Constant, throbbing, aching pain can make an otherwise unimportant situation–like a toddler tripping with a glass of milk, and spraying it across the floor–immediately seem like too much of a burden to bear. But, as a mother I know that anger will not help the situation–especially when the toddler is crying.

Pain goes on the back burner, and the child comes first. There is always a steady mantra running through the back of my head, “It was an accident, keep calm, don’t yell, and don’t cry.”

Days when my child is tests discipline becomes extremely difficult when there is high levels of pain. When you live with chronic pain, there are good days, and bad days. As a mom, when the pain level spikes, I want to throw in the towel, let the toddler go berserk, and deal with the fallout the next day. Or possibly the day after that. But as much as I want to escape from the unending, throbbing pain, I cannot let discipline get out of hand.

I still have to be a mom.

So when my tiny human demands, “Go get my Iron Man toy! Go get it NOW!” I have to respond in a reasonable tone, remembering to enforce structure in a calm manner. Even when I’m feeling the Level ten frowny face pain. It took effort, but I have taught myself to take a deep breath and say, “You need to try that sentence again.”

Should the demanding voice continue, I then state, “Either ask politely, or go to your room.”

He either tempers his mood, laughs in my face, or talks back. The last two are never acceptable. Since I know he will do or say one of the three, I patiently wait. Because I know if he crosses that line, I have to keep myself in line. Pain and all.

So when my toddler responds with, “I’m not going to my room. You can’t put me in trouble,” and I am already in a rotten mood, man, oh man, do I want to pop him on the rump. But, I know better than to touch my child when I am in pain. Discipline should be given with a level head, otherwise everyone involved becomes upset, and remorseful.

Pain is difficult; it’s never ending. And it makes an otherwise happy person feel like every day tasks are akin to climbing a mountain. The people I know, and love, may not understand why I’m not more strict on really bad pain days. I have also learned to react with patience with them, too. I’m still learning to manage my pain, but most of all, I’m learning to live around it.

I still have to be a single mom; we still have to maintain our daily routines. I have to get the toddler up, get him dressed, drive him to school, drive to work, and walk around all day on a knee that sounds–quite literally–like breaking glass. Then I have to pick up the toddler from school, make dinner, bathe him, get him dressed, play with him, brush teeth, say prayers, and get him to sleep.

Living with a medical problem, as a mother, is just as hard as being single, divorced, widowed, or having a spouse whose work places them on the road for months at a time. It makes life a constant struggle, but it teaches me to work around my existing problem, and carry on with life.

As a mom, my problems must take a back burner to my child. Mothers always put their children first, focusing on meeting their child’s needs. And, when the struggles get too bad, sometimes we acquiesce, just a bit, by loosening the strict guidelines of parental discipline. For the love of our children, and their ultimate happiness. Living with pain as a parent, we do what we have to do, to get by.

But when that doesn’t work, there are videos, and lollipops.

No comments posted on February 27, 2013 in Life, Winging It, Mom Style

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