I came to you as a scared, vulnerable teenager. I was in pain and tired all the damn time.
“You’re depressed”, you said.
I walked out with a script for antidepressants. I hoped this would fix everything.
No such luck. I am a zombie. I didn’t care about anything. My friends are scared for me.
Months later I return with the same complaint. My joints hurt. I’m still tired. A new symptom arose. Chest pain.
“You’re stressed”, you said.
“I don’t feel stressed”, I responded.
“Subconscious stress,” you said.
I walk out with another script for a different antidepressant and sleeping pills.
This goes on for years.
It’s all in my head, you said. That the “physical symptoms were a manifestation of something psychological”.
Those words made me genuinely depressed. I wasn’t being listened to. The weight piled on, intensifying my depression. I didn’t feel like this body was mine.
You didn’t listen.
I became pregnant and things escalated.
“It’s just the pregnancy”, you said.
I moved clinics to find a doctor who would really listen to me.
Once again, I explain the pain, the fatigue, the stomach issues, the dizziness, my heart racing and pounding in my chest.
I came to you as a scared, vulnerable mother. I was in pain and tired all the damn time.
“You’re depressed”, you said.
I walk out with yet another script for another antidepressant. The fifth medication of its type that I’ve tried.
I am in too much pain and too tired to function. I can’t muster the energy to get dressed. My friends and family don’t understand. Being judged for being in my pajamas all day. I am just lazy.
“If this is all in my head, and nothing is working, what is the point in living?”
There were days I looked at my pills and thought that if I took them all, that the pain would end, that I would be free and I would no longer be a burden on my family.
I fight the urge and win.
Three years later, while just about managing an internship, I interview a woman with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Her story sticks with me. The doctors didn’t believe her either. Nor were they willing to help.
A year later I speak to this woman again. We get to talking about my issues.
She asks one thing that changed my life forever.
“Are you hypermobile?”, she asks.
“No”, I say.
“I’m stiff as a board!”, I exclaim.
Turns out I am. Very hypermobile. I score 8/9 on the Beighton scale.
The woman gives me the same of a doctor to see. I decided to see what you, my doctors thought.
“Could it be Ehlers Danlos Syndrome?”, I ask.
“Oh God, no! That’s as rare as hen’s teeth,” you say.
I leave, defeated.
One November day, I faint at home. That’s it. I need answers.
I go to see the recommended doctor. My stomach is in knots. That’s normal before I go and see doctors of any type now. I prepare myself to be told the same old thing. That I was depressed, I was anxious, that it was all in my head.
I am examined, I am spoken to with respect, I do not feel like a neurotic child.
“No wonder you have been depressed. Nobody was listening to you”, he says.
For the first time in my life, a doctor really listened, like no other doctors had done before.
Tears stream down my freckled cheeks with relief.
I walk out, cigarette in my hand, shaking with relief and with disbelief.
Finally! I was listened to. Finally, I have my answers.
A letter is sent to you, confirming my suspicions.
Nothing changes though, I suspect you don’t believe the diagnosis.
I never took another antidepressant after that day.
It was all over, or so I thought.
Then I soon realised, the diagnosis meant nothing without someone to help.
And here I am, six years later. I am bouncing from consultant to consultant. Medicated up to my eyeballs. No real investigations are done and some tests are simply not available in my own country.
To England, I go with family in tow. My two children now facing the same life of disbelief and pain.
But things are different here.
I meet you, dear doctor, for the first time.
You are small and sweet. You’re gentle and kind.
I feel safe with you. You are thorough.
I had no choice but to travel and spend money we did not have, but I am glad I did.
You really listened and didn’t brush me or my feelings aside.
So many from my country have been here before. Desperate for help.
A world expert’s diagnosis, that will shut the rest of them up.
And it did. No more questioning on whether this was the real diagnosis.
I had wondered myself if the diagnosis was correct because all the others, these “experts” made me feel that way.
I return home. The rain pours as we land. It matches my mood.
I am coming back to a country that does not care about my well-being or my children’s.
I jump to another doctor after another again. And again, questions the diagnosis. I am so sick of doctors at this point. But, this next one is different.
You really seem to care.
There is no rush, you have taken the time to listen.
You follow my lead, you let me take the reins on my treatment.
I almost jumped for joy leaving the doctor’s office. I could not believe my luck.
You seemed determined to help.
My pain worsens. I am a ball of tears every time I see you now because I am at the end of my tether. Other doctors want to try these expensive treatments that may not work. They haven’t worked before. I just want relief from the pain.
I just wanted you to tell me you’ll help.
Yet I walk out with a script for antidepressants-again.
The memories flood back, of not being believed. I am now a nervous wreck going to any doctor again.
I take the first pill. It begins again.
I can’t get out of bed, I am more tired than ever.
Sleeping for three days after taking one of those tiny pills so I don’t take anymore.
I return to you, scared because the pain is as bad as it’s ever been.
Feeling like the tin man, I just need some oil to move with ease.
“Anti-inflammatories will help”, you say.
I take the script, skeptical.
It’s still early days but I just know this isn’t going to work.
Something is very wrong with me.
I can’t keep fighting for help, doctor. I am already too tired.
Is it so much to ask to just want to be normal? To be like my friends.
There is only so much I can do on my own.
I am trying, really, I am to be normal.
Distracting myself with things that I can do.
I just want help with the things I can’t manage alone.
Somebody once told me I could run the world with my laptop and an internet connection.
Most people use the internet for mundane things like social media, checking out movie times, bus times, reading “list” articles etc. People often think they couldn’t live without the internet or rather, social media. We have forgotten what we did before the world-wide-web became a staple in people’s lives.
People with chronic illnesses and disabilities see the internet as more than just a way to settle a debate between friends about which actress played a part in some film or to keep up with the Kardashians on their Instagram stories.
[pullquote]The internet has allowed those of us who have been trapped in our homes by physical illness and also for those of us with crippling social anxiety to remain a part of society. We can get involved, we can change the world with just a few clicks on the computer.[/pullquote]
This is where my path to activism started. The internet allowed me to learn from people across the world on how to change things for the better, it allowed me to get involved in social justice issues. I learned that I was far from alone in the way I lived. Trapped at home most of the time because of my illness. I am not reliable enough for a full-time job and set hours. If I could work from home, at my own pace without set hours, I’d be sorted. Those jobs are far and few between.
So, with no job, the inability to leave the house whenever I liked, the internet became my home and allowed me to fill my time and feel useful.
It’s been so long since I wrote my blog on why I am pro-choice. So there is a lot to fill you in on. I’ll try to be as brief as possible!
So with a date announced to hold a referendum on whether Ireland should repeal the Eighth Amendment, I set up Disabled People Together for Yes. We called to remove the archaic law that prevented abortion except in cases where the pregnant person’s life is under ‘a real and substantial risk.’ It meant that you couldn’t have an abortion unless you were on death’s door. Even if you were a victim of rape, incest or the foetus had a fatal abnormality.
I traveled all over Ireland attending public meetings spreading the message of how people with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the Eighth Amendment. I explained my own story of pregnancy with Ollie Pop and what would happen should my contraception fail.
I am very proud to say I was actively changing people’s minds. Total strangers approached me to tell me that they hadn’t considered how people with disabilities would be affected by the lack of abortion services. It made the complete exhaustion, excruciating pain and time away from my family totally worth it.
Right before referendum day, I flew to Manchester for REDS4VEDS day. That was the first time I had ever taken a plane alone in my 31 years and something I thought I’d never be able to do. Taking multiple buses and trains alone around Ireland prepared me for the journey.
The beauty of the internet was that in the eight months I was campaigning, I never took a day off and yet, I was making a difference. I scheduled my speeches carefully so that I wouldn’t spend any more than two days of the week traveling. When I got home, I crashed, in pain and emotionally drained. But, I still opened up the laptop to create content, share stories that were sent to me and arrange the next public outing.
My first speech was at the International Women’s Day March in Cork city.
I went on a few TV shows discussing the referendum, and um…let’s just say my face went a tad viral on Twitter:
I did so many things in between like writing and filming my poem “Bring Compassion Home”. Looking back on it now, I was actually so busy. I don’t know how I did it. Compassion and fighting for something you genuinely care about really can give you energy and drive that you never knew you had.
Voting Day was May 25 and that night the exit polls showed we won by a landslide. On May 26, it was confirmed. Ireland voted yes to the 36th Amendment to the constitution. The 8th was gone and nobody would have to travel for abortion anymore. In reality, that wasn’t the case, of course, there were those who were not happy with the result and went to the High Courts to contest the result. Purely a delay tactic, in my opinion. Until these court cases are put to bed, our President can not sign off on removing our 8th Amendment.
The Government has now told us it will be January before legislation will be enacted. [pullquote]That means over 2,000 women will still have to travel or order pills online and take their lives into their hands.[/pullquote]
We had hoped that we would never have to march for this cause again but unfortunately, we will be marching on September 29th. I am delighted to say that I have been invited on to the stage to speak. Last year there were 30,000 people marching so it is nerve-wracking but I am also super excited for it all!
So, what else have I been up to?
Well, I spoke at Galway University at their disability law summer school which I was really nervous doing (and it was super obvious) but after a few minutes, I managed OK.
Now? I am actually running in next year’s local election for a seat on the county council!
There is nobody in our Government that truly represents people with disabilities.[pullquote] We don’t have many women in Government nevermind any women with disabilities![/pullquote]
I’ve also started taking driving lessons with a great instructor who specialises in helping people with disabilities. This is a huge deal for me because I had a real fear of getting back on the road. But, I’ve taken the same approach with everything else this year and just, well, did it. I was most nervous about city driving so I started my lessons in the city. Go big or go home and all that jazz.
So it’s been a really hectic year so far and it all started with a new year’s resolution to not say no to opportunities because it was scary. Scary or not, it has been one of the best years of my life. I got to visit new places and meet the most amazing people including one of my favourite authors, Louise O’Neill.
I was offered so many additional opportunities. I know if I had said no to that initial speech on International Women’s Day, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today. There have been so many things before that I had the opportunity to do but fear stood in the way.
In addition to my own political campaign, I am now getting involved in helping the people of Northern Ireland get the same reproductive rights as we achieved. There is so much more I want to achieve and get involved in!
So moral of the story is that we can change the world within the confines of our homes and that when you say yes to things (despite it being really scary), wonderful, wonderful things can happen. There is nothing worse than wishing you had taken the chance on yourself. You just never know where it can lead you and what doors can open as a result.
What is your passion? Is there a cause you feel very strongly about? Let me know in the comments below!
I came up with this medication cycle idea after I started some new meds recently. Annoyingly, the amount of meds I need to take to keep my body functioning is rising. You might hear from people who are not chronically ill that you’re taking too many medications. There might be something about big pharma in there too. Cue eye roll* What they fail to realise is that without these medications, you can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you can’t get out of bed etc. The list goes on. It is not unusual for a person with a chronic illness to have multiple illnesses or dysfunctions.
This week I decided to do a tongue-in-cheek blog post. I know some of the posts have been heavy of recently. However, these posts are so necessary. But, I promise I will continue to mix things up. I know that the experiences below may not apply to everyone. I have based this cycle on what I and a lot of my spoonie friends experience.
The New Medication
You go to see your GP with some weird symptom. You’ve probably been dealing with this issue for a while but it’s been put on the back burner while you deal with other debilitating symptoms.
You walk out of the doctor’s office with a prescription and you feel relieved that you’ve been taken seriously. It might be weird to healthy people but sometimes the idea of a new medication offering relief from symptoms can actually be exciting.
This is going to the medication that changes my life, you think. This is the one. You’ve probably said this 20 times before but this time, it’s going to work. Your life is going to change for the better. You’ll be able to work again. You’ll have a social life. Basically, you have unrealistic expectations about this medication. You are the kid skipping home from the toy shop, eager to tear open the packaging.
The Waiting Game
It’s not working. That’s it, your hopes and dreams are crushed. Your doctor did warn you that it might take a while for the meds to work but nope, they are just not working at all. You’re frustrated. You throw yourself on the bed in despair, like some Disney Princess who has been locked in a tower.
The Side Effects
You start to notice the original symptoms are not causing you much trouble now but God damn it, you’re starting to experience some new symptoms. Alternatively, your symptoms have become much worse. You take out the perfectly folded leaflet that seems to go on forever. You eventually find the section in your language and the list of side effects is as long as your arm. But, there it is in tiny black writing, the symptoms you’re trying to treat are also side effects of this new medication.
The medication is used to treat dizziness and yet the front warning says “Warning: may cause dizziness”. Like, WTF?
You develop a whole new host of symptoms. The medication that was prescribed to treat your overactive bladder is now causing insomnia and constipation. That’s right, first, you can’t stop running to the bathroom and now you’re lying awake thinking about all the times you could poop with ease.
The. Weight. Gain. Don’t even talk to me about the weight gain. As disabled people with chronic illnesses, it’s fair to say we don’t get out much so you won’t exactly find us hitting the gym five days a week. But also, we may not eat a whole pile of food thanks to some other medication you’re on or illness. Yet, you’re bigger than when you were in college eating 16-inch pizzas by yourself after a night of beer.
For once, I would like a medication that says “Warning: may cause extreme awesomeness”. You know, you wake up with the body of an Olympic swimmer, with a voice like Beyoncé and the baking skills of Mary Berry.
Back to the Doctor
That’s it, you got to go to your doctor and sort this all out but, you’re so tired from not being able to sleep and you’re in too much pain from not having pooped for a week that the very idea of getting up, washed and dressed is the equivalent of a “normal” person running a full marathon. “Be graaaaannnnnddd”, you say. I’ll survive another day.
Back to Square One
It has taken you three whole days to work up the strength to get to the doctor’s office. You sit there in the waiting room anxiously. The memories of not being believed or your symptoms dismissed rise to the surface as they do after years of mistreatment (or rather no treatment at all).
You are finally called in and you sit there, waiting for the doctor to bring your file up and notice the new meds started the two weeks before. You explain that you’re having pretty crappy side effects from the news medications. This is when one of two things will happen.
You’ll either be given a script for a new medication or
2. You’ll be told that all this type of medication produce these side effects.
If it’s number one? Begin the cycle again. Two? You’re given new medications to treat the side effects and the cycle for those medications begin again. Sometimes, you might be lucky and the new medications might just work.
In Ireland, the debate around the Eighth Amendment is well underway. With a date for the Referendum to be confirmed, it is expected to take place May or June of 2018. This week we explore the issues around the Eighth Amendment and why people with a disability in Ireland need access to free, safe and legal abortion.
Tactics are getting dirty, with “pro-life” groups buying domains that appear to be websites about repealing the Eighth. In actual fact, the sites direct people to a pro-life site. News sources reveal that Ireland’s main anti-abortion group has hired a company that has worked with Donald Trump and the US pro-gun lobby to help implement its referendum strategy.
The Irish Times also revealed that an anti-abortion group has hired a political consultancy which has been linked to controversial aspects of the Brexit Leave campaign. The Pro-Life Campaign has, of course, refused to confirm if it has hired Kanto.
“Pro-Life has now hired uCampaign to set up its “Love Both” app. UCampaign was founded by Thomas Peters, a conservative Catholic US blogger. He has created apps to promote the president’s “America First” strategy as well as for the unsuccessful campaign against same-sex marriage in Australia, the UK Conservative Party, the Vote Leave Brexit campaign, the US National Rifle Association, for Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the Republican politicians, and for American anti-abortion groups.”-The Sunday Times
We all know how nasty things got during those events last year so it is making me anxious about what is to come over the next four-five months.
People with disabilities should not be used for emotional blackmail
One argument that is being constantly used is that disabled people will be wiped out from existence should the Eighth be repealed and legislation brought in to decriminalise abortion.
Recently, I had the displeasure of arguing with a man who had this notion. His proof of this happening? A video of an American man with Down Syndrome. In this video, the man says that he lives an amazing life, given amazing opportunities and that those with Down Syndrome shouldn’t be looked down upon. The ironic thing is that this video was used to prove people with Down Syndrome are being wiped out. Yet, in America where abortion is legal, 6,000 babies with Down Syndrome are born each year (CDC statistic). Two babies are born with the condition each day in the UK. It is downright patronising and condescending to assume a person would have aborted their disabled child if they had access to abortion. Even in countries where abortion is liberally legal, the rates of abortion as a whole are very low. Most disabilities are not diagnosed until about 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Should the legislation follow the Citizen’s Assembly recommendations, no foetus with a non-life-threatening (known) disability will be aborted legally. The foetus would have to be diagnosed with a fatal abnormality to allow for later term abortions (after 12 weeks).
People often refer to Iceland being Down Syndrome free. Here’s what Hulda Hjartardóttir, chief of obstetrics at Iceland’s National University Hospital had to say on the matter:
“The truth is that one-third of mothers-to-be choose not to have more [pre-natal] tests done after the first indication of Down Syndrome. These women want to continue their pregnancies even with the increased chance of Down [Syndrome]. [Also], 80 to 85 percent of [pregnant] women choose to have the screening, so there are 15 to 20 percent who don’t. Those women don’t want the information. Of the women who have the screening and get results that point to increased risk [of Down Syndrome] about 75 to 80 percent get further tests done but 20 to 25 percent choose not to.”
Dr. Hjartardóttir also said that in cases of prenatal Down Syndrome diagnosis women and parents are offered the opportunity to meet with doctors and nurses who work with people with Down Syndrome. Parents are also offered the opportunity to meet the parents of those who have Down Syndrome.
I have really no idea why the pro-life debaters insist on using people with Down Syndrome to further their agenda. I don’t know why anyone would use people with any disability for this debate in this manner. Perhaps it’s because we are seen as needing to be protected. But, we don’t. We want to be treated like everyone else and we want equal rights. We are not pawns in anyone’s game.
Earlier this week, CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland, Gary Owens responded to the use of Down Syndrome in the pro-life literature. He respectfully asked that people with Down Syndrome not be used as political footballs in the run-up to the Referendum. He stated that it was disrespectful to those living and caring for those with Down Syndrome, or any disability for that matter.
And yet, just yesterday, this was posted on Twitter:
Most people with disabilities are normal people who live fairly normal lives. They have children, jobs, they’re married and yes, they even have….*whispers* sex! I know, right?!
The point is that people with disabilities need reproductive rights too. We need to be allowed have a say over what happens to our bodies in pregnancy and during birth. We need access to free, safe and legal abortion.
As someone who regularly leaves their country for access to medical treatment, I can empathise with the nine women who leave Ireland daily to access abortion. I too have to scramble to find thousands to fund the trip. I too often feel isolated and let down by my Government who deny me and my children basic health care.
Travelling abroad for an abortion
Travelling for tests is exhausting, causes a flare up of all my symptoms and leaves me in bed for days and days. Sometimes my condition progresses after travel and stress. I couldn’t imagine how bad off I’d be if I’d have to travel for a procedure, have to travel back the same day and recover from something like an abortion. I wouldn’t be out of bed for weeks. My children wouldn’t have their mother to play with, to feed from. With the risk of complications and even death in any surgery, I may have, having to leave before I had time to recover some bit for the flight home could leave my kids motherless. Like all the rest of my medical care, abortion needs to be accessible in my own country.
If a person with a disability has mobility issues they may need to put things in place to help them get to and from the airport, to the hotel and clinic. This takes away their privacy in order to access an abortion abroad (which is a constitutional right).
Financing an abortion
I haven’t been able to work outside of the home in six years. My income is no more than a couple of hundred Euro a week on Disability Allowance. My husband is on Carer’s Allowance. Between the two of us, gathering enough money to travel to the UK, book a hotel and the abortion would be impossible. Sure, we have friends and family who could help us out but, not everybody does. Not everyone has a partner to help through the process of abortion. Not everybody has a support system going through an abortion.
Pregnancy is a risk to health
I take precautions in preventing pregnancy but, nothing is 100% safe. Sometimes one of those suckers gets through and throws a spanner into the works. If I found out I was pregnant tomorrow, I would have to access abortion, no question.
During my second pregnancy back in 2014, I was wheelchair bound thanks to severe Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction caused by my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I was in constant pain with my dislocated pelvis. You’d think I’d have been used to the pain since my joints dislocate on a regular basis but ask any woman who has suffered from the condition and they’d tell you it’s like being kicked in the vagina with every step you take. By five weeks I was in the wheelchair and often forced myself to use my special crutches so my muscles wouldn’t waste away.
Then there was the horrific ordeal of hemorrhaging. I lost just under half of my blood volume., in and out of consciousness and when I was awake, I was vomiting. My baby could not be in my arms for the first couple of hours of her life as I was so out of it. People with EDS are at risk of this, I knew that at the time but my first pregnancy was so uneventful, I (naively) figured I’d be alright.
They were calling for blood but luckily, they stopped the bleeding just in time. We can not risk that happening again. I can not risk my life and leave the two children I have without a mother.
I worked very hard to get out of my wheelchair. Even though my determination was strong, I still have to use it if I will be out of the house for an extended period of time. If I were to get pregnant again (never mind the birth bit) I won’t get out of the chair again.
A pro-lifer once told me if I were to get pregnant that I could simply “get induced early”. The problem with that scenario is that pregnancy is what disables me. Remember; five weeks into my pregnancy I was in a wheelchair. I wouldn’t make it to 24 weeks.
It is down to each person to assess the risk of being pregnant. I knew the risks of pregnancy with EDS and decided to go ahead in my second pregnancy. But, if I knew then, what I know now, I don’t know if I would have gone ahead with either of my pregnancies. I love my children to death and they make life with disability worth living but I have been left more disabled and mentally scarred from my experiences during pregnancy and birth.
Continuity of care
There is none, simply. There is no contact between a patient’s medical team in Ireland and the team carrying out the abortion in the UK. Which means the gynaecologist/OBGYN may not have all the information they need to properly care for their patient. Since there are thousands of disabilities and even more symptoms and complications that can arise, it would be hard to know of what to be cautious of. Medical history is very important, especially when it comes to surgery. For example, people with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome metabolise drugs differently to the average person.
The issues go on and complications are not exclusive to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. So, by the time a person has gathered the funds and have organised a trip out of the country to procure an abortion, they may have passed the point where they can have an abortion through the use of the pill, mifepristone. They will then instead have to undergo a surgical abortion.
Without a knowledge and background from a patient’s multidisciplinary team, things can get dangerous. However, should abortion be allowed in Ireland, teams could communicate (not that Irish doctors know a great deal about my condition) and put safeguards into place to prevent any risks to my health and life.
Sadly, there is also no continuity of care when a person travels for an abortion due to a Fatal Foetal Abnormality.
Sterilisation and celibacy
In the comment sections of online media outlets, you can be guaranteed to find at least one comment telling women to “just keep their legs closed” or to “get their tubes tied”. If it were only that easy! Women and trans men frequently ask to have their tubes tied or to have the whole lot removed. But, again, we can’t be trusted with our own bodies. It is incredibly difficult to get a tubal ligation in this country under a certain age or before you have a certain amount of children. Women with no children and who have no desire to be parents are often told “You just haven’t met the right man, yet” or “what if it doesn’t work out with your husband and you want to have children with someone else?” Do people honestly think we haven’t thought of all these scenarios before making such a big decision?
According to ongoing research conducted by Deirdre Duffy (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Mairéad Enright (Birmingham Law School), the main reason women are denied tubal ligation in Ireland is because of doctor’s own moral or religious beliefs.
Again, using myself as an example, my medical team will not allow me to have any unnecessary surgeries, only if it’s an emergency. This is because of my fragile connective tissue, one nick with a 10 blade (scalpel), in the wrong place and I could bleed out. The risk just isn’t worth it.
As for the whole “keep your legs closed” spiel, it’s such an unrealistic and ridiculous argument. You are against the idea of abortion and yet, your solution is to just have no pregnancies at all? No children to ever be born? Let’s face it, humans need sex. We are social creatures that need affection. We have needs and there is no shame in admitting we are sexual beings-even people with a disability!
I think the Catholic idea of people (and I mean women) who have sex just for fun is sinful is still very much apparent in Irish society. A woman could have a one night stand, take all the precautions in the world and end up pregnant. That’s not allowed though. She would be accused of using abortion as a form of contraception by those who are ignorant of how contraception actually works. Let’s face it, she would be branded a slut by many in society. Yet, over half of the people who travel for abortion are already parents. No name calling for them (well, except murderer by pro-lifers). From what I gather, the pro-life side doesn’t have an issue with exporting abortion to the UK. Otherwise, they’d be asking to repeal the 13th amendment that gives us the right to travel. Many don’t even have an issue with abortion in cases of rape incest or FFA. So, it seems people have an issue with how the foetus was conceived.
It’s not a very common story, but one that isn’t unheard of where two people meet, they fall in love and get pregnant. Ten or so months later, they welcome their very wanted child to the world only to discover the baby has Cystic Fibrosis. Yes, the disease is incredibly rare but Ireland has the highest rate of it in the world. Newborn bloodspot screening for Cystic Fibrosis commenced in Ireland on 1st July 2011. All newborn children in Ireland are now tested for CF as part of the existing newborn bloodspot programme. Newborn blood spot screening is usually known as the ‘heel-prick test’. The test only covers the most common forms of CF.
Which means anybody over the age of seven (who don’t know of a family history of CF) won’t know if they carry the CF gene. Before 2011 any couple who didn’t know they had the gene for CF found out tragically when their child was diagnosed with the condition. Many couples were petrified of getting pregnant again and the 25% chance subsequent children would inherit the condition.
Many people who have genetic conditions choose not to have children or go ahead with a pregnancy and some do. Whether someone takes the gamble like we did or decides to not go ahead with a pregnancy, they should be supported in whatever decision they do make. You don’t have to agree with someone to support them. You accept their choices as they do not affect your life. That is the true meaning of “love both”.
I have an almost three-year-old daughter. She inherited EDS from me. By age two she has suffered four dislocations. When puberty begins, her condition will worsen. Like me, she’ll be high risk if she was to ever get pregnant. At such a young age she is already showing signs that her condition will be worse than what I have experienced. I worry what a pregnancy would do to her. Whatever she decides, I will support but I want her to at least have a choice. I want her to be able to make a decision, I want her to be able to talk about her decision should she choose abortion. I don’t want her to feel ashamed and to feel as though she is doing something wrong. Nobody has an abortion on a whim or without thought. Nobody puts themselves through something like that for a laugh.
“You wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the Eighth Amendment”
I am adopted. Thanks to good old Catholic Ireland, I was removed from my birth mother who was young and vulnerable. Yes, I was placed with a good family and had a pretty good childhood but, the adoption scarred me. I honestly don’t think I would have been aborted if my parents had been given the option. I was wanted but society wouldn’t allow it. If my parents had taken the boat to England? I wouldn’t be here and I would be none the wiser. Why? Because I would have been a foetus.
Are you a new mama with under-eye bags that could rival a Louis Vuitton? There are so many hats we wear as humans in this rollercoaster society. As adults, we have endless streams of responsibilities and stress. No doubt these factors can have an effect on your mental health at some point in your life.
As a mother, external stress factors affect you. In addition, you are also responsible for keeping a whole separate human.
It is not surprising that stress and anxiety levels become elevated after the birth of a child. What steps can we take to reassert authority over our overworked stress responders?
Check out these seven ideas for managing stress and cultivating stability. These tips can be useful for in your role as caregiver and primary support system. These tips apply to any parent who may be struggling with their mental health.
Don’t Go It Alone
Talk about what you are feeling. One study conducted by Dr. Michael O’Hara, Ph.D. investigated external influence and postpartum depression. It’s reported that women are more likely to suffer from Postpartum depression as a result of not feeling supported by their partner after delivery.
Whether it be a spouse, friend, or support group, reaching out and sharing your emotional journey will not only ease your mind and soul, it will also allow those closest to you to better understand your emotional situation. Many people find talking about mental issues uncomfortable, but remember; that mental health issues are not uncommon in mothers. You are not alone.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
There are great Facebook groups for mothers with Chronic Illnesses. Contact The Zebra Mom Facebook page for a list of helpful groups. Having an online ‘village’ can do wonders for a mom who can’t get to support group meetings. It is also comforting to know there are others out there who know exactly how you feel. It is far from unusual for mothers with physical illnesses to struggle with their mental health.
Yoga has earned a powerful reputation in the healthy living sphere, as a cure-all for both physical and mental health. There is a multitude of ways this practice could benefit you. While yoga alone will not serve as a blanket treatment, there is research that shows the benefits of a regular practice to be tangible. Preethi Kandhalu’s article on the physical and psychological effects of cortisol suggests that the levels of cortisol in people with Major Depressive Disorder declined after three months of practicing yoga, pointing to the conclusion that yoga can indeed encourage good mental health.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
Hypermobile Mama, please talk to your physiotherapist when considering Yoga and Pilates. These practices may cause hyperextension of the joints which can increase laxity and/or cause dislocations/subluxations.
Finally shedding a reputation of hippy-dippy voodoo, the neurological data behind meditation and positive physical changes to the brain speak for itself. The brain is a muscle, and like other muscles in the body can strengthen with tools and exercises. While many areas of the brain are active during meditation, data shows the significant difference in the hippocampus between meditators and non-meditators. The hippocampus affects stress and emotional responses. These sorts of physical changes can have a positive effect on stress levels. There are many ways to begin a meditation practice. Explore guided online tracks or meditation apps like Headspace. You could even practice an individual exploration of a particular mantra or affirmation.
Tip from The Zebra Mom:
Meditation is also useful as a way of pain management. This study shows there is some evidence for the existence of a non-opioid process in the brain to reduce pain through mindfulness meditation.
The vision of becoming a pincushion may be off-putting. Yet, the ancient practice of acupuncture has stood the test of time as a method of physical and mental release. A new study explores the science behind what exactly is happening in the body to relieve anxiety.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
Some study shows that acupuncture may be effective in relieving chronic pain. A trained, certified professional should always be sought but only after you’ve spoken to your doctor.
Get your Groove on
Music makes us feel. Whether it’s a favorite song in the car or soft background music, the link between the sound of music and the effect on our cognitive abilities and functions is a massive field of research. Instead of scrolling through your Instagram feed before you fall asleep, play some soothing tunes and let yourself drift.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
Play music that inspires or motivates you. My own personal mood-boosting songs are Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart’ and Rudimental’s ‘Not giving in’. Blast them and sing them loud! Further research should arise, but there is some correlation between music and pain relief.
Make Sleep a Priority
Without an adequate amount of shut-eye, many other efforts at wellness are going to seem unmanageable. Implementing a regular yoga and meditation practice often leads to an improvement in the quality of sleep. There are further steps to ensure our bodies are getting enough rest. Explore alternative remedies such as aromatherapy. Using lavender or peppermint essential oil before bed can relax the central nervous system. This results in ease of physical aches, anxieties, and tension.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
If you’re a new mom, you should consider co-sleeping with your baby. When practiced safe way, this practice allows mom to get more sleep. Studies show breastfeeding moms who also co-sleep get more sleep than those who don’t. I know, that in the early days of being a new mom, co-sleeping allowed me to get a full night sleep. Studies also show that children who sleep close to their parents tend to be more content and sleep better. See Infant Sleep Information Source for information about how to practice safe sleeping. Furthermore, you will also find information on normal infant sleep patterns. See Infant Sleep Information Source
Spend Time with Yourself
A little pampering goes a long way when it comes to affecting mood and sense of purpose. One study investigated the influence of self-esteem and optimism as measured factors before, during, and after pregnancy, with optimism associated with fewer symptoms of depression during pregnancy and up to six weeks postpartum, with self-esteem correlating with lower depression along with all points of the pregnancy. Cultivating self-love and existing as your best self can make it easier to radiate the same level of love outward. This love can be for your children and also complete strangers.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
A pamper session doesn’t have to involve leaving the house. As moms with Chronic Illness, we know it can take a lot of energy going anywhere. Run a bath, light some candles or paint your nails. Even some online shopping can give you the pick-me-up you needed. Whatever makes you feel good; go for it.
About the Author
Guest post by Marcus Clarke BSc, MSc. from psysci.co. His blog focusses on psychology and science.
Marcus has Bachelors (Hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Health Psychology. Marcus has experience working in a Psychology department within the NHS. He is currently working in the health and social care sector. Marcus supports adults and children with learning disabilities.
You can contact Marcus via email firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter: @psysci_co_uk
If you would like to guest post on The Zebra Mom, email email@example.com
The Eighth Amendment affects people who have the ability to become pregnant In Ireland.
The Eighth Amendment states that the foetus has the same rights as the person who is pregnant. Ireland and Malta are the last two European countries where abortion hasn’t been made legal. The Eighth Amendment was added to the Irish Constitution in 1983. It means that abortion services are unavailable in Ireland. Even in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities or when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Approximately 12 Irish people per day are forced to travel to the UK to have an abortion.
Last week we discussed how the Eighth Amendment affected women during pregnancy and birth. This week we are going to explore how the Eighth affects people who are sick and have the ability to become pregnant.
Fellow blogger, Cripple, Baby! has kindly allowed me to share her story. Catherine like me, has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
How the Eighth Amendment could have affected Catherine with Cancer:
For me, the Eighth Amendment brings to mind of when I was diagnosed with cancer, back in 2013.
No I was not pregnant, no I was not planning to become pregnant, and no I was not planning on having an abortion. Yet the tone was set for many a discussion around such subjects, the very minute I was diagnosed.
One might assume this conversation would take the form of discussing options for egg preservation, in case of future fertility problems. Although this was never mentioned really, only glossed over. A simple “I’m sure you’ll be ok” was all that was given in this respect.
My period was a good sign
Something I realised was vastly different from the experiences of UK cancer patients, through discussions on support forums. I can only assume such options aren’t granted free by the HSE, and perhaps some doctors just see it all as a bit “icky”? I really have no idea. In fairness, I never pushed the issue. The only guidance I was given with that side of things was the nurse whispering to me during chemotherapy inquiring about my periods, stating that a regular flow was a good sign at least.
No, this was not the route of the pregnancy conversation. The one and only topic was around what would happen if I became pregnant during my treatment. [pullquote]Of course I was advised to use all the contraception possible, to not purposely become pregnant during this time obviously, that would be insane. But as we all know, even with all the contraption in the world shit happens.[/pullquote]
In this scenario the woman has two choices (in other countries) continue the pregnancy, reduce your treatment (or not, but it would be advised) or plan a termination, in order to give yourself the best chance of survival. Neither option is easy. Yet women make these choices for themselves, all around the world, every single day. And we trust they know what is best for them. Neither case in this regard deserves judgement, they are and should be, case-by-case decisions made by the women themselves and fully supported by both medical staff and loved ones.
The hypothetical foetus
So when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2013, I was quickly informed of what would happen if I became pregnant. They would reduce the treatment in order to give the foetus the best chance of survival. At first this seems like just good advice, a reassurance that if needs be they will do what they can to help me. I am a young woman of child-bearing age, so it’s all relevant. But this mantra was repeated again and again during my treatment, by various medical care professionals. Many a conversation about saving the life of my hypothetical foetus. To get the point across that in this scenario, in this country, I would have no choice.
It’s something I’ve looked back on often. Sometimes with amusement, but mostly with dismay. It just makes me feel very uneasy. My life is more important than a hypothetical, or real, foetus. The life of a fully grown adult is not equal to that of a zygote. Before we even bring choice into it, that’s simply the case.
As heartbreaking as that can seem in situations where a pregnancy is not viable, or comes with a hefty price. This statement excludes cases of late-term “abortions” due to fatal fetal abnormalities, as we all know that late-term “abortions” are simply not done for the craic (in any country) and any further explanation on that would frankly be stupid and I hope unnecessary. When a matured, wanted foetus is dying in its mother’s womb, it’s horrendous for the parents. It’s not something to be mocked, or mislabeled. And it certainly isn’t something Irish parents should have to deal with, alone, in a different country. A financial burden on top of saying goodbye to their child in peace.
Luckily I finished my treatments without any accidents. But shit does happen. It happens to Irish women each and every day. So I have to put myself in their shoes. What would I have done? Could I have been able to access medical support after coming home from England? Would I financially be able to even afford a termination? Is it possible that I would I be held by the state if I informed my doctors of my wishes? Would I even feel comfortable telling loved ones? Looking at such a broad issue, simply in my own terms, my own real experiences, just does not cut it. And it shouldn’t cut it for anyone.
To truly look at this Eighth amendment and the restrictions it poses on Irish women rationally, we must not only look at it from how our own lives have gone to date. We must ask ourselves, “what if…?”. This is only one, small scenario that I can place myself in, even though it did not happen to me. Even though (under normal circumstances) I really don’t think I would ever choose an abortion in my life time. There are so many scenarios; so many stories that are not our own.
Abortion isn’t always an easy option but many have no regrets and know it’s the right choice for them; for all sorts of reasons that are none of our business. Many also have no choice.
No one can 100%, truly say “I will never terminate a pregnancy”, even when it seems completely unthinkable in our current lives shit happens.
How the Eighth Amendment could affect Laura with Psoriasis:
I have psoriasis. I’ve had it since I was nine, I’m 30 now. It had peaks and troughs but since being an adult it has more or less stayed the same. It’s not just flaky skin that’s itchy. It’s unsightly red blotches all over. The Psoriasis is on my face, breasts and bottom. No where is safe.
It has affected my self-esteem greatly and at times my physical health when it cracks and bleeds. When I was 15 it was so bad on my arms that I couldn’t raise them further than my chest and my mother had to dress me. That was pretty humiliating.
I’ve been called several names because of it ‘scabby’ being the most popular and nothing makes me retreat to being a child who wants their mother, than an adult who stares.
I’ve had several treatments and have tried many diets and none have worked for an extended period of time. The most relief I had with these treatments was three months.
Hope for relief
So, this year I was informed I was a suitable candidate for a series of injections. These are relatively new. The injections work by changing how your immune system produces skin cells. Psoriasis is an overproduction of skin cells.
One of the main side effects is that my immune system will be lower than the average person. I will be more likely to get a cold/flu and it viruses and illnesses will be harder to shift.
The biggest warning I got was not to get pregnant. I probably wouldn’t carry full term and if I did, we both would have lasting damage. I’m a married woman and perform my ‘wifely duties’ as a certain religious organisation calls it. We use two types of protection but nothing is 100% safe.
This is why the Eighth Amendment needs to be repealed. If I were to get pregnant it could be very detrimental to my health and the foetus. I also know, from having relatives with these conditions, that I couldn’t care for a special needs baby, while ill myself. It would be a likely scenario if I were to have a baby.
My injections are life long, so I can’t get pregnant at all. My health is more important than a foetus. I have a husband and family and friends.
If I were to get pregnant, I would be devastated, particularly as I use two methods of contraception. I would have to arrange an abortion and that would be very upsetting. [pullquote]Nobody likes having to get an abortion but I firmly believe my health and well-being are more important.[/pullquote]
I also suffer with my mental health and to be honest, I’d be afraid that pregnancy would make it worse, due to the impact it would have on my life. My physical and mental health would be put on a back burner if I were to get pregnant under the Eighth Amendment.
I know I would be pressured to put the foetus’ health and needs before my own, even before it’s born. Sometimes I struggle to care for myself, never mind a helpless baby.
People have asked me if I can come off my medication to have children. The truth is, I don’t want to. It may be selfish but I want a quality of life for myself and not having children is a side effect of that. I did initially grieve before starting treatment but now I am fine with that decision. A door has closed but a new one has opened and so far, I haven’t looked back.
[bctt tweet=”No woman has an abortion for fun. —Elizabeth Joan Smith” username=”@thezebramom”]
How the Eighth Amendment could affect me:
During my last pregnancy, I was in a wheelchair from the first trimester until my daughter was three-month old. Having EDS, there are some risks involved in pregnancy. You are at risk of pre term labour, miscarriage and of hemorrhaging, to name but a few issues. I lost my son’s twin at about seven weeks into my first pregnancy.
Almost immediately into my second pregnancy my pelvis became an issue. Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) is a pretty common condition during pregnancy; but not early on in pregnancy. Most women complain of the pain in their groin, back, legs and hips in their last trimester and usually manage with crutches.
The foetus growing inside me was just two inches when my body turned against me. The pain was unreal. I have put up with dislocated joints-even popping them back in myself but this was something else. I could not physically walk without crying. Some days I did try not to use it in order to stay mobile and avoid muscle wastage but even then I had to use special crutches. For days after I attempted walking I would be stuck in bed screaming in pain. Before pregnancy, I was on opiates and they barely took the edge of my chronic pain.
My waters broke weeks before I was due to give birth. I went into the maternity hospital and told them I felt a pop and a trickle. So they examined me and came to the conclusion that my waters hadn’t broken. I went for an appointment in the high risk clinic a couple of weeks later and mentioned baby had been a bit quiet. So they scanned me and lo and behold, half of my waters were gone. So I was induced that night.
I was put on IV antibiotics to prevent infection. We were both pretty lucky we hadn’t picked up an infection with my waters leaking.
Several hours later I gave birth but then I started to feel very unwell. I was vomiting and passing out. I was having a massive bleed and the midwives were calling for blood. Luckily, they stopped the bleeding on time and I lost half my blood volume. It took a year and high doses of iron for me to feel “normal” again. The whole experience traumatised me.
Three months and a lot of hard work and I got myself out of the wheelchair for the most part. I still have to use it if I am out of the house for an extended period of time. My pelvis is almost always dislocated and affects my back and legs as well.
Pregnancy could leave me permanently immobile
Progesterone plays a massive role with my condition as it causes my joints to become even more lax. If I were to get pregnant again, it is very, very likely that I will not be so lucky (not so much luck as I put in a tonne of work) to get out of the wheelchair. I have been warned not to get pregnant again. The contraception I am on at the moment but it will have to come out as it is affecting my health. I can not have any “unnecessary” surgery like a tube ligation or hysterectomy. A C Section can not be performed without it being an emergency because I am susceptible to infection, stitches don’t hold well and I would suffer with chronic regional pain on top of the wide-spread chronic pain I suffer with now.
I have two children. I have a husband who is my carer. He does almost all the cooking and the cleaning while looking after our two children and a budding business. There are days where he must help me get out of the shower and even dress me.
If I were to have another baby, I would never have a “good day”. I would be in even more pain than I am in now. An American doctor who used to be an Oncologist has stated that EDS would be one of the top three most painful conditions to live with.
Abortion would be the best decision for our family
[pullquote]I can not put myself in more pain. It is not possible to put my family through more than what they already experience. I have to be a mother to the children I have now[/pullquote]. Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is an inherited condition. My children have a 50/50 chance of having this condition. Both our son and daughter have EDS. Our two-year old daughter is more affected than my son-suffering three dislocations already. I can’t subject another child to this life of pain. I will not. Accidents happen and if I were to get pregnant accidentally, I would have to have an abortion no ifs or buts.
Travelling for any amount of time leaves me bed/couch bound for days. Stress causes my symptoms to flare. If I should need to have an abortion, I should be able to go to my local hospital, have the procedure and go home that night to my own bed, to be surrounded by my family. I should be able to be open about what had just happened and not hide it in shame. I would be making the right decision for my family. The family that is living and breathing.
Up until pretty recently, I was anti choice. It was when I had to travel to the UK for treatment not available in Ireland that my mind was truly changed. I empathised with all the Irish women who had to travel. I cried at the thought of these women being alone because their partners couldn’t get the day off work or because they were raped and didn’t want to tell anyone.
The Eighth Amendment needs to go.
I’m fighting for repeal of the Eighth Amendment not just for me, but for my daughter. EDS gets worse when a girl hits puberty and most of the time, during pregnancy. If she’s already this affected now, it does not bear thinking of how the condition will manifest later on in life. She needs to have bodily autonomy. This condition takes away so many freedoms over our bodies, we do not need anything else taken away from us.
I have started a Facebook page, Disabled People for Choice in Ireland to show the world that despite what the anti-choice might think, there are those with disabilities who believe in choice, no matter the situation.
[bctt tweet=”You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion. —Hillary Clinton” username=”@thezebramom”]
Some facts from the Abortion Rights Campaign in Ireland:
The Eighth Amendment equates the life of a woman to that of an embryo.
The vast majority of women who want and need abortions are unable to access them in Ireland under interpretations of this law.
Women have already died in Ireland having been denied life-saving abortion procedures.
At least 150,000 women have travelled to other countries to procure abortions since 1980.
Thousands of women are unable to travel for abortion services due to family, legal status, financial situation, or health.
People who procure abortion within the country risk a 14 year jail term. Doctors can be jailed too.
The majority of people in Ireland support much wider access to abortion than is permitted under the 8th Amendment.
The life and health of a pregnant woman has a much greater value than our constitution places on it.
Thank You to Laura and Catherine for sharing their stories with me.
If you would like to tell your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org
When you’re child is seriously hurt you can feel so helpless. You might feel guilty for not having a sharp eye on your little one when they injure themselves. If you have a faulty genes and a genetic condition that you’ve passed on to your child, there’s an added guilt.
Last Saturday two year old Ollie Pops N’ Clicks was playing happily with her Dad. We had a lovely day up till then, hubby and I were celebrating our five-year wedding anniversary. My Dad cooked us a beautiful lamb dinner and after we retired into the sitting room in front of the stove. Despite having a pain flare, I was content. That is until Ollie started screaming.
She was pulling on her Daddy’s clothes and then all of a sudden her arm was hurting. Nobody could touch it and if we tried to move it she cried. Hubby knew immediately that we were faced with something that happened in 2015. Ollie was just seven months old then. Her elbow was dislocated. She was behaving the same way she did that cold night in November of 2015.
So, we had to leave Bendy Boy with his Granddad for the night as we sped up to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) of the University Hospital. She fell asleep before we even made it out of town. I thought maybe she was OK now but when I touched her arm she woke up screaming.
What is a 45-minute journey felt like hours. We arrived into A&E and we were surprised to see how quiet it was for a Saturday evening. Then again, it was still pretty early. The drunks and those involved in fights wouldn’t be in for another few hours yet.
At the hospital
After we checked in, we sat in the waiting area. Looking around I saw a teenager with their arms in a sling, an old man with bandages around his head and another man with a black eye. I was worried that this scene would upset my already frightened two year old. You could tell exactly what was wrong with these people. All you could see when you looked at Ollie was a little girl with a sourpuss face protecting her little arm.
Just like before, the Triage nurse saw us fairly quickly, when we explained what we think had happened and that I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. This is a result of my faulty collagen genes. We were taken into the ward.
The last time Ollie was seen in A&E at just seven months old, she had to have an X-Ray. It was torture for us both. I had to move her tiny little arm around in different positions. She cried, I cried. This time however, there was no need to X-Ray because of her history.
When I told the on call doctor that I had EDS, he asked could he have a look at my hands. He bent my fingers back and pulled on my skin. He nodded and turned to little Ollie who was finishing off her second ever dose of painkillers. In two years she’s never been ill enough to need any type of medication. The only time she’s had Calpol is the first time she dislocated her elbow.
Like a punch to the stomach
Anyway, he attempted to take Ollie’s hand but she was petrified. He did eventually manage to get it and within seconds. He confirmed it was dislocated and he said it’s pretty safe to say that my beautiful daughter has EDS. She has inherited my faulty genes. It was like a punch to the stomach.
We knew this since pregnancy but every time I hear a doctor say it again, the guilt gets to me. Ollie is not officially diagnosed with EDS. We hope to rectify that soon just in case social services do get involved during a future trip to A&E.
Like nothing ever happened
Within forty minutes of arriving at A&E we were out the door. Ollie was back to her old self again and I’m pretty sure she was on a sugar buzz after that medicine. She kept talking about how the doctor fixed her and that she was all better now. We arrived home and the three of us sat on the couch to unwind after a stressful couple of hours.
Ollie climbed on me and fed until she was ready for sleep. She then sat up and threw herself on to the couch. I watched her sleep for awhile. She looked so peaceful and you’d have never had known she was in agony just an hour before. We carried her into her new room and didn’t see her till morning. It really is amazing how resilient kids are and that does make it a lot easier to live with a condition like EDS.
I know I cannot control my genetics and that I shouldn’t blame myself for Bendy Boy’s diagnosis and Ollie’s inevitable diagnosis. But, I can’t help it; this illness comes from me. If Ollie is dislocating this early on in life it doesn’t bare thinking what will happen, as she gets older.
What does the future hold?
When she starts playschool, when she’s old enough to play outside with friends, when she climbs a tree for the first time. Then there’s puberty. The majority of girls with EDS experience an increase in symptoms when they reach puberty. This is because the hormone, progesterone wreaks havoc on our bodies. Progesterone makes us lax. It’s why girls and women suffer more during their periods and in pregnancy.
How many more times is she going to be in hospital with an injury? Is she ever going to work or have a normal life? These questions whiz around my head. I try to say to myself what I would say to anybody in this situation; cross that bridge when you come to it.
Overcoming the guilt of faulty genes
But, I will eventually overcome this guilt. How? Because I know I am the best person to get my children through what they will face later down the line. I know what they need, who they need to see and where I can take them to make all this happen. The fight for access for appropriate medical care of which there is none in this country will be my biggest challenge. I will take them to the doctor or hospital as many times as they need and I will do it with empathy.
They will be believed when they tell me they are in pain, because I know what it’s like not to be believed. Not being believed by my parents, by friends and by doctors affected me greatly and I still carry that pain around with me. That pain can be just as great as the physical pain my genes have caused me. An old friend once said that she would rather face a pack of rabid Rottweiler than a parent who wants to protect and fight for their children. If you mess with my kids and their health, I’ll go through you for a shortcut.
Be your child’s champion
Having EDS myself makes me the best advocate for my children. Any patient with a rare disease becomes his or her own expert. I will now be the expert for my children too. From how their genes work to the treatment they need, I will be their champion.
It is a great comfort knowing that they will always have each other to lean on for support. Even when I am not there anymore to fight for them, they can fight together.
So, for anyone out there who is feeling guilty for passing on their crappy genes, know this; it is not your fault. I know more than anybody that it’s hard not to. Take a leaf out of my book; take that guilt and turn it into something positive. Raise awareness of the condition, fight for proper treatment, do everything in your power to make your child’s experience with their condition better than what you experienced.
Being a mom is hard. Really freakin’ hard. You have sleepless nights that go on for years. Then there are snots, wee, poo, endless requests, and endless questions. Stresses of school, work, childminding, and meal prep grind you down. I could go on and on. Now, imagine being a mom with all of these stresses and then add a chronic illness into the mix. For the most part, it makes no difference to your kids if it’s all they know. You can be the mom who spends all day resting on the couch or in bed for hours and your kids will still think you’re awesome. [pullquote]You can be the mom who spends all day resting on the couch or in bed for hours and your kids will still think you’re awesome. [/pullquote]Well, my kids do and I would consider myself a pretty mediocre mother. But I’m often told I’m too hard on myself.
I do cut corners-daily. I’m disorganised. I put things off. I loose my shit regularly. My chronic illnesses are a mix of physical and mental ailments. EDS, POTS, Autonomic Mediated Syncope, anxiety and depression all plague me. Sometimes separately but most of the time they join to create a storm of symptoms.
While most mothers will make a home cooked meal, I depend on my air fryer to cook quick and convenient food. Once a month I do manage something home cooked and special like my Crispy Chinese Pork or my Lemon Chicken Pasta. But for the most part the kids live on chicken or fish goujons or chicken and pesto pasta. Daddy does the majority of the cooking but with a budding business and all the other household chores, he simply doesn’t have the time or the energy to be making food from scratch.
“Why don’t you do meal prep and freeze?” I hear you say. Yep, I get these notions all the time. But then fatigue plagues me or my wrist pops out of place from chopping. In a town of 5,000 people, we have approximately 12 take aways. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a meal on wheels service for those with chronic illness? Or wouldn’t it be great if the village mentality still existed where the whole community helps out those who are struggling? Wouldn’t it be great if we were provided with balanced dishes that tasted just as tasty as a burger and fries from the local chipper? There’s a business idea right there.
In my mind, I’m supermom. I come up with all these Bree Van de Camp type ideas like cooking breakfast muffins or making clothes for the children. In reality, I’m lucky to get dressed and put my make up on once a week. Most people don’t have to decide on whether to wash and dress themselves or feed their children. Most people don’t have to decide whether to cook a decent meal or to stay awake long enough to make sure the children don’t kill themselves.
I’m not a “fed is best” advocate, far from it. I truly believe what we feed our children is of the utmost importance. The science shows that what we feed our children in infancy and childhood directly affects their long-term health and eating habits as they grow into adulthood. I know we could make better choices and soon I hope to collaborate with some foodies to offer some recipes that are suitable for the whole family and that are “spoonie” friendly for parents.
So now I have had that little rant off my chest, it’s time to make things a little lighter. Here are some of the signs of being a mom with a chronic illness.
You spend a good portion of your day in pyjamas
It’s probable that you own more pairs of pyjamas than actual clothes. You figure, I don’t need to go anywhere today so what’s the point in spending spoons on getting washed and dressed. But, when you do get washed, dressed and put make up on your good days, you feel more human. Sure you might be exhausted from prepping yourself for the outside world but it does wonders for your mental health.
You get takeout more than you should
Sometimes when you literally can’t move during a flare up, you can’t get up to pee, never mind having to stand at the kitchen counter and then dealing with the heat of the cooker. But when you manage to make a delicious home cooked meal, you feel like Gordon Ramsay (minus the constant swearing…mostly).
Your kids get full meals while you live on crackers and coffee
You do your best to nourish your kids. You’d rather spend your spoons on making sure they are well fed. You get so nauseous or fatigued that the last thing you want to do is eat. So you when you are feeling peckish you’ll grab the first thing that comes out of the fridge or cupboard. It’s taken me years to figure out how to eat healthier snacks that have some form of nutrients. I do like crackers on days that I’m nauseous so I buy pre hummus for some protein. A pre-made salad or a handful of nuts are a light handy snack that will give you the boost to look after your munchkins.
You say yes to your kids even when you shouldn’t just to have some peace and quiet
Saying yes when you should to all sorts of things that you know you shouldn’t. You just want them to be quiet for five minutes. We simply don’t have the energy to argue when we are in pain or fatigued. Don’t beat yourself up when you say yes to that extra packet of crisps or chocolate.
You say “not today” frequently
We say yes to the things we shouldn’t and no to the things we should. You would love nothing more than to take the kids out or let them have a play date in your house. The guilt is real. You want to give your kids all that they desire but sometimes it’s better to save your spoons for a day you feel better. Then you can all enjoy yourselves. There will be a day you can yes to that playdate or day trip. Rest up today for what you want to do tomorrow.
You manage to wash and dress the kids while you look like you’ve been dragged through a bush backwards
Your kids are dressed beautifully with shiny teeth and brushed hair almost every day. They could pose on the cover of a shopping catalogue. You on the other hand, you look so dishevelled that you could easily pass for someone who’s just found her way to civilisation after being lost in the woods somewhere. If I need to look presentable while still feeling comfortable I put on my sports bra (cause under wired bras are the devil) and a jersey cotton jumpsuit like this one from Boohoo. I feel super comfy but I look super chic. Plus jumpsuits are a great time saver-no need to pair up tops and bottoms. Jersey cotton is a chronic illness sufferer’s best friend.
TV is your best friend
You’ve probably watched everything there is to watch on Netflix. When the kids are at school and you’ve managed to one productive thing that morning, you find yourself in need of a rest. If you’re anything like me; reading a book during the day will simply not do. Two pages and I’m out like a light. TV is always there for you-no matter what. You can be transported to another place and forget, just for 30 minutes, that you’re on the couch involuntarily. [pullquote]TV is always there for you-no matter what. You can be transported to another place and forget, just for 30 minutes, that you’re on the couch involuntarily. [/pullquote]As soon as you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness you should automatically have a free subscription to Netflix. Netflix and chill and pills for us! Oh my!
The Internet is your social life
Going out for coffee, going for drinks with the girls is a rarity. People used to come by to have a cup of tea and a chat but they’ve stopped coming. Since you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, lots of things have changed. So social media becomes your social life. You can connect with others in the exact same situation with just a couple of clicks. [pullquote]Even though you may have not met these people in real life, you feel super close to them because they know exactly what it’s like for you. [/pullquote]We do have the tendency to get lost in social media though. I noticed this about myself recently so I signed up for a creative writing class. It’s just 2 hours, one night a week. Nothing to heavy and I find writing a good therapy. With so much life experience, I’ll have a lot of inspiration to draw from.
With chronic illness, the housework is a constant stress
You would love nothing more than to move ever piece of furniture out of the way and get cleaning the collection of food, dust and small toys. The pile of laundry is giving Everest a run for it’s money and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t keep up. Sometimes you wonder if you’ll end up on an episode of Hoarders. But, in reality, your house is probably not as bad as you think. In fact, you could probably walk into almost any family home and see the same messes. If you do feel overwhelmed, check out my blog about household products that can help you manage your household with a chronic illness.
When you do manage to get to the bottom of the laundry basket you’re not a domestic Goddess, you’re a domestic badass. Celebrate with cake and a rest. That’s an order!
When you achieve something you feel like a total rock star
You’ve woken up and it’s one of those rare days you feel semi human. You do a few loads of washing; you get dressed and even put on a bit of make up. Then you prep dinner while the kids are at school. It’s all done from scratch and smells amazing. Even organising your meds is a huge achievement for you. Whatever you managed to do today, it’s an achievement and needs to be celebrated. [pullquote]Simply getting up out of bed and leaving the house for a cup of coffee with friends is something to be proud of. Those days can be few and far between so when it happens, you appreciate so much more.[/pullquote]
Maybe you have a chronic illness but manage to live normally, that doesn’t mean you are not struggling. It is so important not to compare yourself to others. I personally don’t believe in thinking I’m sicker than anyone else. Everyone’s illness is his or her own. We all handle things differently. A lot of the time, fear of pain and fatigue and of course mental illness as a result of the physical illness can hold us back. No two stories are exactly alike.
So celebrate your achievements no matter how small they may be. Try not to dwell on all the things you couldn’t get to do today. Focus on what you did manage to do, even if it was “just” getting dressed.
This week I spoke to Sara from zebrawrites.com. In a previous life, Sara worked as a school psychologist and now she works part-time as a behavioural therapist. Sara writes about her experiences on her blog.
Sara’s primary diagnosis is Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS). You can find Sara on Facebook and Twitter.
“Hi everyone, I’m Sara – a 29 year old spoonie, bibliophile, professional napper, and aspiring disability advocate. In my previous life I worked as a school psychologist, but as I no longer have the stamina for that, I work part-time as a behavioral therapist and spend the rest of my time as a professional patient. I write about my experiences at zebrawrites.com”
Now that we know a little about Sara, let’s have a look at her Friday Feelings entry:
Fridays are hard for me because I am very tired by the end of the week, especially if I have been working. I most often spend Friday evenings at home, enjoying the company of my pets and my husband. I prefer to meet up with friends on a Saturday or Sunday during the daytime, in a quiet place. My intractable migraine make me extremely sensitive to light, noise, and smell – so I have basically given up on attending parties or visiting bars during prime hours. When I’m feeling particularly well I do enjoy playing trivia with friends at a local bar on a weeknight (when it is quieter).
At this moment I feel both hopeful and frustrated. I am still young, and there is so much that I want to do with my life.
I want to be a mother in the future, and I hope that I will have the energy to be a good one – but I know that sometimes I will fall short of my expectations for myself – in this and other endeavors because of the limitations that my illness imposes on me. I have hope that new medications that are on the horizon may be able to control my daily migraine pain, but also am tired of waiting. I worry that my body will continue deteriorate. In the meantime I’m learning to sit with the pain and be as functional as possible while enduring it. I’m doing my best to strengthen my body with physical therapy. I hope that it will be enough.
I think that people have difficulty understanding chronic illness unless they have experienced it for themselves. It is hard to understand the fluctuating nature of our pain and level disability or ability on any given day. I also think it’s difficult for people to understand a condition for which there is no cure or finite ending.
EDS is not (likely) going to kill me, but it’s also never going to go away. It is a part of who I am. When confronted with this fact, most people want to “fix” it, or come up with a solution.
They might offer unsolicited advice, or suggest you’re not taking care of yourself well enough in order to ease the discomfort our condition makes them feel. I know that they mean well, they really do. So if you are a person with a chronic illness I challenge you to educate others about your life, and what it is really like. If you are a person who knows someone with a chronic illness, I challenge you to quit trying to “fix” it for them, and ask them about their experiences and true feelings.”
Thanks to Sara for taking part in our Friday Feelings blog. Can you relate to Sara’s story? Do you get unsolicited advice? How do you deal with it? Let us know in the comments below!
Want to write your own Friday Feeling entry?
A high res photo
A short paragraph about yourself
What illnesses you have
Your diary entry with the following topics in it:
It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. What do you do on a typical Friday night?
How are you feeling at this moment about your chronic illness?
How do you feel about the future in regards to your illness?
How do you feel about the way people view your illness?
and links to your blog and social media to email@example.com
Be sure to put “Friday Feelings” in the subject bar.
As it is Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Awareness Month, during the course of May, we will be reading the diary entries of EDS sufferers. Each person experiences their illness differently and I think it will be interesting to see these differences throughout the month.
This week I spoke to Claire from Pain Pals Blog. The mum of two previously worked in health care but medically retired nine years ago. She now works in the education system and enjoys Spoonie friendly hobbies.
Claire was diagnosed with hypermobile EDS at 42. She also suffers from migraines; dysautonomia/POTS, chronic nerve pain, gut problems, Raynauds, neurogenic
“Hi, I’m Claire. I am a married mum of 2 boys aged 21 and 18, and a girl aged 14 living on borders of South London & Surrey, UK. My career was nursing and I trained and worked in various London hospitals, and then worked as a palliative care nurse in a local hospice – a fantastic, rewarding job that I loved. I was medically retired 9 years ago when my back gave up on me. Now I am kept busy with the family (more needy as young adults than they were as toddlers).
I am a school governor at a local primary school, and I am about to become Chair of my old school’s friends’ committee. We keep old pupils in touch as well as arranging careers events for current pupils. I love meeting new people and interacting with the pupils at both schools. I love reading and belong to several book clubs, posting reviews on the blog, and when I can get there I love the cinema and streamed theatre live events.”
So now that we know a little about Claire, let’s have a read of her Friday Feelings entry.
It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. On a typical Friday night I will usually be found curled up in my PJs! How much of the evening meal I help with really depends upon what sort of day I have had and how fatigued I am. These days my hubby, Duncan is based at home with me, and in theory the kids can take over the kitchen duties but, it is usually like Piccadilly Circus as they come and go, leaving us to keep pace with who is eating or not! Some weeks I will try to join in with Spoonie Speak – a chat set up on Twitter for those of us who can’t go out, but like a chat in our PJs. Like lots of spoonies Netflix, Amazon & TV play a big part in my life but, this week I am actually going out on Friday for the leaving dinner of the current Chair of the friends committee.
I really want to go but do get a bit anxious about making arrangements in case I have a bad day, can’t go and let others down. Not to mention missing out.
My physical health has really deteriorated recently and since having a spinal cord stimulator implanted for the chronic pain, my POTS symptoms have really gone mad. I feel frustrated, tired and worn down by the constant pain, fainting, dislocations, drug side effects, losing my independence, the uncertainty of how I will be from hour to hour and struggling to make plans. Something I really struggle with is the fatigue and the subsequent guilt at needing to rest. On a beautiful day I can’t stand not being to jump up and just go for a walk in the park.
Some days I feel like I am constantly saying sorry for needing help to have a shower, for fainting, for being unable to cook, for being pushed in the wheelchair, even for not being able to lift the iron.
I try not to think too hard about the future for me – on bad days I can’t think about living with the pain, particularly the chronic back and leg pain, for another week let alone another 40 years! Sounds dramatic but that is how it feels. I also know that there is very little that can be done for the extreme joint pain – I have been told I need shoulder and hip replacements, but that it isn’t possible because of the dislocations and I’m still too young.
I don’t want to “give in” to the illness any more than I have to. Sometimes this is easier said than done – and at times the future feels uncertain.
But I do tend to do what I can when I can and probably don’t pace. I want to keep as active as I can for as long as I can, but the severity of POTS symptoms this last 6 months has left me feeling really low and really ill. Hopefully the different consultants can sort me enough to get me back on an even keel – but the lack of “shared” care is frustrating; repeating the same story over and over, no one knowing what other specialities are doing!
What does worry me for the future is the kids – the younger two anyway. The 18 year old has bad and frequent migraines, with neck pain, hand and arm pain. The youngest is now subluxating and dislocating, has daily pain in joints, can’t hold a pen in a normal grip, writes slowly and has pain. All 3 are dizzy on standing and lose vision – and all three are overly anxious. Two have had counselling, one self harms, one is on anti depressants, we are well acquainted with CAMHS!
I do accept that hardly anyone will have heard of EDS and have got used to suggestions of having collagen injections but what is tougher is the lack of understanding about what chronic illness means. No, I won’t get better. It is genetic so no there is no cure, not even for the kids! I feel that I have to justify myself for being tired, cancelling plans, etc. I hate having to ask for help and would love it if friends would just remember that I can no longer drive and offer a lift without me having to ask. Some people can’t understand why I use a wheelchair when I can stand and walk – pain is invisible, as are the implants in my back, and damage to my joints, but these are what making standing up and walking a near impossibility some days. I feel that other people’s lives are so busy and that I should be fitting in with them, after all I’m at home all day.
It is frustrating when I’m told how well I look and this happens when I’ve put on some lippie and blusher.
You don’t see me at my worst because I can’t actually get out of the house then! But I would probably rather people think I’m putting best foot forward and being positive – chronic illness doesn’t stop you wanting to look good, go out, have a laugh; even if you can’t always actually do this.”
A big thank you to Claire for taking part in Friday Feelings and being so open with us. Can you relate to Claire? Do you feel guilty not being able to perform certain tasks? Let us know in the comments below!
Want to write your own Friday Feeling entry?
A high res photo
A short paragraph about yourself
What illnesses you have
Your diary entry with the following topics in it:
It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. What do you do on a typical Friday night?
How are you feeling at this moment about your chronic illness?
How do you feel about the future in regards to your illness?
How do you feel about the way people view your illness?
and links to your blog and social media to firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to put “Friday Feelings” in the subject bar.
One mother's experience of life with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome