Being a mother has been the best job in the world to me. I always wanted to be a mother…from a very young age. I felt capable, ready, and committed to being the best mom possible. I wanted to be, and often was, the supermom, who could seemingly do a little bit of everything at a moment’s notice. Then the wreck I was in changed all of that forever. It shook my confidence. It shook how I existed from one breath to the next; it shook every aspect of my life as a daughter, sister, wife and as a mother.
I have been a mother to foster children, stepchildren and biological children. I have been a mother figure to kids that never even lived with me. I have been mothering to kids I came into contact with. I am convinced that how we care for, love, and embrace our children is exactly what makes us a mother, no matter how those children came into our lives, or became our own.
After the polytrauma and traumatic brain injury, I was no longer the mother my children knew before that day. I was different. I didn’t even know who I was. I was injured, I was in pain and I was unavailable emotionally, mentally, and physically. I have heard stories about things I don’t remember – things I have allegedly said or done, most humorous, some horrible and embarrassing. I apparently was a horrible person sometimes, especially in the first year after the wreck. This was just bad mojo – cognitive changes, personality changes, and enormous pain from all my injuries. I was often in so much pain I couldn’t function at all. I was useless to everyone around me. I definitely couldn’t make effective and meaningful decisions. I couldn’t remember one day to the next or who had visited me, or what was said by whom. I couldn’t muster taking care of anyone else, let alone myself.
My outlook on everything, while hopeful, was also littered with confusion and a myriad of emotions I didn’t seem to be able to control. I noticed my mood was worse as the pain increased and for a long time just breathing or moving caused me pain. I slept A LOT. I couldn’t even force myself to stay awake. I wasn’t the mother I had always been. I was the mother fighting for life and fighting to come back to my family. I was a mother still inside, still to my children, still to the world who knew me as their mother. Yet I wasn’t at the same time.
My own mother took care of me. She bathed me, clothed me, fed me. My mother was there for my first steps as an infant and again as an adult as I learned to walk all over again. My mother was my caregiver. She didn’t have time to grieve. She became the needed mother role for my children. My husband and my mom were my pillars of care and support. I was fortunate to have such amazing support. Not everyone has a supportive system like that. Some days my mom was more of a mother to her grandchildren for a period of time than I was….than I was capable of being. I don’t like to dwell on that. I don’t like that this was her reality – however I am enormously grateful.
I realize that being a mother is an enormously different experience for every woman who ventures down that path, and the experience is different with each of our children as well. I am acutely aware of this. Not every woman wants or enjoys being a mother. Some mothers are not mothering at all. Some women abuse or neglect their children. Some women wish they never had children. Some are the opposite however and actively involved, readily available, completely vested, and doting.
My job as a mother is constant. Being a mother is a full time endeavor and is totally consuming, no matter how old your children are, or how many you have. No matter how old, how broken, or how healed you are as that mother. A mother sometimes worries for her children. A good mother desires to see her children succeed. It is frustrating and depressing when you go from full time, full speed ahead in parenting and life to an abrupt halt due to an injury that doesn’t even allow you to participate part time…if at all on some days.
Learning to embrace the new normal after catastrophic injuries is no easy feat. Most days it seemed impossible and almost always overwhelming. You would be amazed at how much the love of being a mother motivated me to give my best effort each day. Some days, literally the only reason I found myself able to face the day was because I knew my children needed me, were counting on me, and were hoping for my recovery. So in that regard, the kids helped save my life. They helped me stay motivated just by existing.
Some days are challenging still, though much better than in those first few years. Did you know that any women who are mothers take on additional caregiving for loved ones with disabilities or long-term care needs, beyond the work that we normally do to raise children or to fight through their own rehabilitation? This became the case for me when my mom developed encephalopathy and a resulting ABI (an acquired brain injury) secondary to being diagnosed with Anca Vasculitis. I then also absorbed some of the role as her caregiver. Signing documents in the hospital for procedures and care she needed when she was unable to do so for herself. I took on the role of caregiver and I wasn’t even ready to be back in my full role as a mother to my own children. That was a series of difficult transitions……for all of us. Yet we persevered. Survival was inevitable.
Did you know that the CDC reports that the average life expectancy for women is 81? Living to the age of 81 is nearly four years more than that of men. In fact, many women outlive their husbands. Some even outlive their retirement. Even those on disability. Older, single women face significant challenges in managing their own long-term care needs as well. If you add the extra job of being a mother to all that mix – you learn a lot very fast and you shoulder a LOT of responsibilities.
To be the best mom possible, I realized it was imperative for me to not just let go and let God; but to let go and let others. Let others help me, let others give rides to my kids, help my kids, help my family. Let my husband take on those responsibilities I had as a mom, that I sometimes didn’t have the energy to be present for.
I realized that being a supermom didn’t mean I had to do it all. Being a supermom meant I just had to be here to the best of my ability, to love my kids to the utmost, to voice my tolerances and intolerances in a different way. Being a supermom meant giving myself the freedom to recover at my own pace, and forgiving myself for not being who I used to be. Being a supermom meant being the best me I could be in each moment.
I still love being a mom. I still love hearing the laughter of my children. I love watching them sleep, hearing them play, and watching them grow. I still value being involved, present, all while being respectful of my limitations.
I am still a supermom. I just do it differently. Do you know a mom who is recovering from an injury….who is a caregiver….who is employed…..who is unemployed….who is on disability…..has her own children….or is a mother figure to the children of others….offer to help her out. Can you think of that mom out there who is struggling to do her best? ….Offer to shoulder some of her responsibilities. Appreciate her. Celebrate her as an invaluable contribution to the family as a whole. After all, that is what she is – invaluable.
Is that mother you? Ask for help. Love yourself. Forgive yourself for not doing or being all that you envision all at once, or still. Get involved in a support group, counseling, whatever it takes to help you face each new day and each new moment. You are after all….if you love being a mom….if you are go getter, a survivor, a brave face in a sea of thousands. If you are a mother giving her best effort….even if you aren’t able to do everything….you are still a super mom.
Happy Mother’s Day
~Caren Robinson – May 2019
Below are some articles and links I thought would be helpful to all those who have mothers, are mothers, are children of a mother with special needs, or are caregivers for mothers…..
Parenting After Brain Injury – A Guide
How Motherhood Makes You Smarter
The effect of parental traumatic brain injury on parenting and child behavior.
When Parents Have Brain Injuries: Helping Children Cope
Adult functioning of mothers with traumatic brain injury at high risk of child abuse: a pilot study.
Children with Traumatic Brain Injury: Associations Between Parenting and Social Adjustment
Children of a parent with brain injury
Finding My Mom Again After Her Brain Injury
TBI Ten Years Later: A Mother’s Story Continues
This Mother’s Day, know the symptoms of concussion