My husband and I were married for nearly 10 years before we decided to have a baby. IC was certainly a factor in postponing our family a while. But I finally felt like my body would cooperate well enough. I had all the usual fears and concerns of managing pregnancy with IC. I worried about flares and pain. At nearly 30 years old, I figured I knew enough about what the mom gig would look like that I could do it in spite of IC. Nothing truly prepared me for motherhood, though. It is all-encompassing and trying in every single way. Being a mom with IC was even more challenging than I had expected.
My first child is now 12 with a little brother who is 9. Together they are the light of my life and my proudest accomplishments. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that being a mom with IC is hard. Children have so much energy that can be so hard to keep up with when you are in pain and/or need to go to the bathroom often. But, so many resilient mamas are making it work. I am far from alone in my journey as a mom with IC. These 15 strategies can make being a mom with IC a bit easier.
1. Allow yourself a chance to grieve.
No woman is exactly the mom she wants to be. But those of us with chronic pain can feel that keenly. I love to swim, but I have sat on the sidelines while my husband did toddler swimming lessons with our youngest in a highly chlorinated public pool. My heart ached that I couldn’t share in that joy of water with my son because I knew it would send me into a flare at the time. I’ve waved good-bye to my husband and children as they headed out on the bicycles for a ride around our neighborhood knowing that riding a bicycle is something that will flare both my bladder and my fibromyalgia. My heart cracks a bit each time.
The truth is some parts of being a mom with IC are emotionally hurtful. Not recognizing that and dealing with those feelings is a mistake, though. It’s OK and necessary to grieve that hurt. Just don’t get stuck there. Those pool days gave me a chance to also watch my preschooler in her swim lessons at the same time and take photos of all of them. The bicycle times gave me a chance to rest in the sun alone for a little bit. Do I wish it was different? Heck, yeah! But I can feel and acknowledge the pain, and then find a way to move forward. And that leads to the next point.
2. Focus on what you can do.
This tip goes beyond parenthood to encompass dealing with all struggles related to life with chronic pain. Focusing more on what you can do instead of what you cannot do is important for your mental health. As a mom, you know the things you can’t do and they sting (see point number one!). Finding a way to move forward is important, though. Maybe I can’t take my kids for a long hike through the woods during a flare, but I can sit and read with them on the couch with my heating pad. We can snuggle together and watch a movie. It’s not the same activity, but it’s the same outcome of spending time together and making memories.
3. Talk with your children about your health.
When my kids were really little, I didn’t talk to them about my health. I’d like to think many times they didn’t even really know that I wasn’t feeling the greatest. But once they started getting older, they started wondering what was going on with me. I remember once going to the movies and my husband told our daughter she should go to the bathroom with me before it started so she could empty her bladder. She got concerned thinking a bladder was something bad, because she had overheard conversations about my bladder problems. That got my attention, to say the least. We were quick to explain that my bladder was a bit different and hurt sometimes but bladders aren’t bad at all.
I started with telling my kids that my bladder is sensitive and sometimes hurts. It’s a simple explanation, but it works. When they questioned why I said no to certain foods, I’d tell them it would hurt my bladder, so I didn’t eat those things. Really, the simpler the better. Making sure kids understand IC causes pain but isn’t terminal is also important as kids get older and learn about people with long-term health issues who don’t have a long lifespan. I’ve also tried to make sure my kids know that I will answer any of their questions about my health honestly. The last thing any mom wants is to cause her child extra anxiety or fear. Talking about IC rather than not talking about it can help prevent some anxiety and fear in kiddos.
4. Find low-impact ways to connect.
Some days you may totally be up for running down the hall, chasing your toddler in giggles or taking a walk through the neighborhood with your tween. But other days, those activities are just too much. Have some low-impact ways to connect in mind for flares or other hard times. Since I’ve had my children, I’ve had five surgeries (plus a second baby). Each has had a recovery period that has greatly limited my ability to do things physically with my child. (The worst was when my youngest was 9 months old, and I couldn’t pick him up for six weeks post-op.) I got creative with how to hang out with my kiddos.
During the toddler days, I’d set us up on the floor of their bedroom with the door closed and we’d play with toys. When they were a bit older, sometimes we’d lie on my bed and play together. Simple arts and crafts, like coloring or playing with Play-Doh, were other low-impact activities that allowed me to sit and still have fun with my kiddos. Throughout all ages, we also snuggled together to read. As they’ve gotten older, we snuggle together and watch shows or movies. We also enjoy playing games together, and sometimes my daughter and I do our nails or fun face masks. None of those activities require much — if any — physical strain.
5. Ask others for help.
Asking for help doesn’t make you a bad mom. (Read that sentence a few more times if you need to!) Like I mentioned in point four, I have had five surgeries since I had my first child 12 years ago. And that means I’ve needed help even just for post-op times, but it’s been more than that, too. I let my kids stay overnight with my parents or in-laws before they were 1. When my son was 4 months old, I got shingles and sent him to my parents’ house for his first night away. I cried and cried as they left with him for their house 10 minutes away, but I very much needed the rest.
Whether it’s family, friends, your spouse or your children, ask for help when you need it. Along with childcare, motherhood brings so many other responsibilities and needs from preparing food to doing laundry to transporting kids to activities, school and appointments. Even without IC, moms need help. Moms with IC definitely need help — and it’s OK to ask for it! Hire it out if you can and need to. When we moved into a new house a couple of years ago, I realized I couldn’t keep it both decluttered and clean without suffering physically for it. I took on a specific editing job so that I can pay for someone to come and deep clean once a month. It makes me feel so much better. I look at this as another way I can take care of my family.
In the end, the people who benefit most from you asking for help is your children. Their needs are met and they have a mom who isn’t so encumbered with pain and fatigue that she can’t function. I’ll say it again, asking for help doesn’t make you a bad mom!
6. Give yourself some grace.
Mom guilt is real and harsh! So don’t forget to give yourself some grace along the way when you mess up, can’t do something or need to ask for help. I remember the first year we planned to take our kids to see a fireworks show on July 4. They were finally old enough that we could have them nap and take them to enjoy the evening. I knew they’d love it and couldn’t wait to share that experience with them. And then I woke up with a raging UTI on July 4. I could never have made it to the fireworks show. I felt guilty and was hard on myself. After all, I was ruining my children’s childhood!
Then, my husband made a trip to buy some small fireworks. I pulled a lawn chair out front to sit in, and we had our own family fun. It wasn’t at all what I had planned, but I think my kids had as much fun that year as they have in the years since when we have been able to go to fireworks shows. Kids are pretty easy to entertain and keep happy. We are the ones who feel the most pressure and guilt. Give yourself some grace and embrace the plan Bs that have to happen as you live life with chronic and often unpredictable pain!
7. Don’t talk about plans too early.
This goes right along with the previous story of July 4. One of the reasons my kids weren’t at all disappointed about not going to see the big fireworks show was that we hadn’t told them our plans. IC is unpredictable. As a mom with IC, I know sometimes I might plan to do something but then my bladder rages, and plans have to change. I learned early on to not share plans too early with my kids kept them from being disappointed. Of course kids do have to learn to deal with disappointment, but there are plenty of opportunities in life to learn that lesson. Even now that my kids are 12 and 9, I still don’t always share plans with them ahead of time. I wait to make sure the plans are going to happen first.
8. Let kids be involved in taking care of you.
A great way to teach kids about sympathy and compassion is to let them be involved in taking care of others — and that includes you. Doing things to help take care of you also helps kiddos feel like they have some control over the situation and are able to help. For example, mine have brought me my water cup, handed me my heating pad and put away my dirty dishes. My youngest knows I have a lot of low back pain and will often come just rub my back at random times.
The thing is, I don’t want to be a sick or in-pain mom. None of us do! But my body isn’t on board with that plan. And a really hard reality is my kids have to live with a mom who deals with chronic pain. Allowing them to play a small role in managing it ends up bringing us closer together as well.
9. Manage your family’s schedule.
If you’re a mom with IC, then you have a limited amount of energy and ability to do things many times. So it’s important to not overschedule ourselves and our families. While my kids are in elementary school, the rule for our family is they can do one weekly activity at a time. The biggest reason for doing this is to give the kiddos downtime, because (as I tell them) they have the whole rest of their lives to be busy. But another reason this works well is for me. When I’m having difficult health times, doing too many activities is hard for my physically. Saying no to activities or commitments is OK for both your kids and yourself!
10. Plan ahead when you can.
As much as you can plan ahead for things, do it! I’m not naturally inclined to procrastinate, but having IC has taught me the importance of working ahead even more. Then having kiddos taught me that lesson the most. Parts of life and motherhood cannot be planned, but when you can plan ahead, do so. If you are working on your child’s birthday plans, for example, do so ahead of time in case you end up being in a flare just before or on their birthday. Sit down over the weekend and