After a strenuous pregnancy with my older daughter (now five), the pain took on a new dimension. Within two years of hoisting my precious cargo into her stroller and high chair, and yes, standing and rocking her to sleep—my body buckled under the strain. Back spasms made it impossible for me to stand or walk for long stretches and sometimes put me out of commission all together. Neck stiffness stopped me from turning my head, shoulder pangs kept me from lifting my arm, and my fingers tingled. I got through my days by popping anti-inflammatory medication, and I spent nights laid up with a heating pad.
Yet whenever my daughter reached for me, I was there with open arms. When my husband was home, he’d often urge me to let him carry her, but all I could think was, “How does a mother suppress her instinct to hold her child when those little arms reach out?”
A scoliosis specialist recommended corrective spinal fusion surgery but after scheduling a surgery date, I learned that the risks of the invasive procedure may not be worth the potential benefits. The surgery would involve cutting open my back, inserting steel rods into my spine, taking a bone graft of my hip, and fusing the vertebrae together to straighten and stabilize the curve. Under the best of circumstances this surgery could lead to complications, cause pain in other areas, and may eventually necessitate a second surgery. Plus, after the operation, I’d barely be able to move for three months, or carry my daughter for a year. Who would dance with her in music class or tuck her into her crib? What if the surgery caused nerve damage, paralysis, or worse? Sure, the physical demands of parenting were backbreaking, but at least I was there to attempt them. I cancelled my surgery date and decided I’d deal with the pain.
Fast-forward a few years—to that afternoon when I couldn’t rock my younger daughter to sleep. My worst symptoms were flaring up, and I couldn’t see how I’d carry us through this time. I sat on the couch, muscles clenched, listening to my toddler cry, distraught that I was of no use to her and could even be causing her harm.
Then, mercifully, she stopped. I checked the baby monitor and saw she’d finally fallen asleep, her arms holding her pink baby doll. My muscles relaxed, and I thought of the pain-free moments I have with my daughters—talking, singing, laughing—moments that strengthen me. I envisioned our cozy weekend mornings, snuggled up, both girls on my lap, enveloped in the soft red blanket that’s big enough to cradle us all.
Science may say the odds are against parents with chronic pain. And I know there are days I’m sidelined and short-tempered. But I’m determined to raise children who feel supported, secure, and loved. I don’t know what my future holds—surgery, therapies, or a lifetime of pain. But I have to believe that despite a deteriorating body, it’s possible to be a successful mother.