Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Care Giving and Motherhood

The notion that care giving and motherhood are the same would have had me shaking my head NO WAY a couple years ago. Heck, even a few months ago I would have strongly disagreed. I had this hazy fantasy of what motherhood is. I would be always joyful with light beams coming out of my fingertips and floating around as I do daily tasks for my children and husband. My home would be perfectly organized, the weekly menu was always planned and the chaos of family life would be easy to handle, since it would help me grow in virtue. Now that I am in the position of helping care for my mother in law (Ma Crow) a few days a week while she is rehabilitating from a stroke, I see things much different. My idea of motherhood is now very different than the idealized dream that infertility gave me. 

Yes, I still see babies as the cutest creatures on the planet and when you see them, the struggle to care for them makes it all worth it. But now I see what a struggle it is to care for another human being who is not independent and needs you to feed them, clothe them, change them and make sure their needs are taken care of. My mother in law is not at the point where we need to physically feed her but we do need to cut up her food and be preparing healthy nutritious foods for her recovery as well as watch her as she eats to make sure she does not choke. We are so used to seeing babies as the most vulnerable in our society, but what about our aging parents and grandparents? Well, Ma Crow's condition has certainly challenged my ideas of love and my capacity to give of myself.

At the beginning of July is when all of this started; when Ma Crow was sent to the hospital by her Dr. for extremely high blood pressure. That weekend while she was hospitalized, we learned that her right carotid artery was about 90 percent blocked. The hospital doc sent her home with meds and a warning to go to her primary Dr. asap to get a surgery date to unblock the artery or put in a stint within the next few weeks so they could prevent a stroke. Can I just say I HATE HMO insurance! All this led up to our greatest fear and what we were trying to prevent, a stroke.

The day before the stroke, JJ and I took Ma and Pa Crow to Santa Barbara and showed them our favorite spots to eat as well as exploring the Mission. We had such a lovely day with them. 

Pa and Ma Crow at Savoy Cafe where we had a very healthy breakfast

JJ and Pa Crow on the Mission Grounds

The Drs. said there was nothing more they can do for her condition. There were no other surgeries they would attempt; they would just monitor her every 6 months. It is almost like we were all waiting for this to happen, since we knew that a stroke was a huge possibility. The next morning after Santa Barbara, around 6am, the stroke happened. Thank God my SIL was home to call 911 once she realized what was going on; because my FIL had no idea what was going on. I got the phone call around 6:45 am and then called JJ right away so we could get to the hospital. That was six weeks ago. Since then, we have been by her side as much as we can advocating for her care.

 JJ's siblings are all adults and some live as far away as Arkansas, so it has been hard on the whole family. Everyone is doing what they can in the capacity they can to help care for her. Not being a blood relative, there are times where I question if I am stepping on any one's toes for speaking directly to her doctors and nurses; but then I think, if this were happening to my mom I would want to know answers. Plus, I have gone to almost every Dr. appt. with her, so I know what they have all said and question any discrepancies.

Here is the Crow Clan circa 1987.
JJ is the one Pa Crow is holding with a white shirt and a scowl on his face, lol. 

I have always had a pretty good relationship with my MIL. She is easy going, not one to tell me how to do things, and easy to get along with. JJ is very much like her. She and I have great discussions about Catholicism and her growing up in Minnesota. I have JJ call her often to ask how to cut up a chicken or I text her corny jokes. Even though she is not one to give advice, I will ask her for it because hey, she raised 6 kids! Having a good relationship with her has made it easier to care for her. There have been times since this has happened where JJ and I have cried at different times because this is hard to deal with and we truly feel we are walking with her through this suffering.

Caring for Ma Crow has made me feel even more like a mother than when I found out I was pregnant with Cecilia. I have been stretched and poured out in the way in which I am being called to at this point in my life. I told JJ last week as we were going to bed that I felt like a wet cloth wrung dry. Yes, I am tired, but it is a good tired; a tired that I remember feeling when I was a missionary. One where you know that you are doing exactly what God asks of you and grace allows you to take it day by day. I relate to my friends who have children in the sense that sometimes you are so tired you forget to brush your teeth in the morning, you are trying to figure out when you are suppose to eat and shower, you just want to wear lounge pants all the time to get things done and sometimes you feel so overwhelmed and ask "can I really do this?" Now, I am not saying I am superwoman and in charge of her entire care yet, but the days we have been with her at the rehab facility all day are tiring; especially in the beginning when we had to do so much for her. She still needs a lot of help, but she is progressing. It takes her so much longer to do simple things because she is very weak and still has some paralysis on her left side.

It has been such a rewarding privilege to be able to be a part of Ma Crow's care and see her progress. I am learning that it is not about me or any "pats on the back" of a job well done. That does not matter. What matters is Ma Crow and her recovery. I need to check my attitude and impatience (with my FIL) at the door and be a positive light for Ma Crow. I need to be an encouraging cheerleader and nurturer for Ma Crow. Letting her know that she can do it and God has a plan for her; even in this suffering. I need to push her doctors and nurses when needed so that they don't cut corners with her care. I see so easily in these facilities how people can get left behind because there is no one to speak for them. 

 Mainly, I need to practice charity toward Ma Crow and all those I encounter. It is not easy to do this normally, but when you are sleep deprived, it makes it that much more difficult This charity is going to become much more real in the next couple of days since a recent development is that Ma Crow will be released from the rehab facility and she will be coming home with JJ and I! Our home is the best imperfect situation for Ma Crow at this time. We have a small 1 bedroom apartment right now which sounds like this whole idea is crazy and the thoughts, "Can this actually work?", keep running through my head. Our whole life is about to get turned upside down again. My work schedule, alone time, time with JJ and daily tasks are all about to change and as a melancholic that is difficult since I do not like rapid change. I will be caring for another human being full time in my home and still working with CrMS clients. We will have some help from the insurance home health care worker for a couple weeks so that is a relief! I will have to realize that I have to cut myself some slack with work and family life since I will be learning how to juggle both at this time, which will be very difficult since I have high expectations for myself. I am terrified and feel like there is a moving train that I can not stop; so I either need to hop on or let it hit me. I vote for hop on!    

This is much like motherhood in that the true nature of our femininity needs to shine through and our gifts as women must take over. This is where that "feminine genius" St. JP2 talked about in his apostolic letter, becomes such a powerful tool to heal our broken world. That innate ability to care for others and desire to keep them safe."Grace never casts nature aside or cancels it out but rather perfects it and enobles it." (Mulieris Digitatem par. 5) Femininity and motherhood are made perfect in me through my very nature, even if that nature includes infertility. Motherhood includes the entire person, not just the body parts needed to become a biological mother. 

"The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way." (Mulieris Digitatem par. 30) Again, this entrusting is not just physical; it includes the entire person. This takes a continuous preparation through out a woman's life. This is uniquely designed for women. Men are not entrusted with the human being in the same capacity a woman is. This is why women are fierce and have so much power in our society, especially women who realize this responsibility. Women who possess this awareness become "an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit." (Mulieris Dignitatem par. 30) Wow, just wow. Is this not a beautiful goal to strive for? This is is my goal. This is the type of woman and mother I want to be.

No, I am not breastfeeding a baby, changing poopy diapers, homeschooling or dealing with tantrums. I am not caring for little ones or cleaning up their mess. I am not lulling them to sleep or reading bed time stories. I am not worrying about a little ones cough or about the color of their poop. I am making bone broth, making healthy meals for Ma and Pa Crow to eat, helping her brush her teeth, telling her she did great at PT and praying with her when she feels she can not do it. I am brushing her hair, asking what outfit she wants to wear and making sure she does not choke on her food. I am sacrificing my usual amount of alone time and time with JJ because this is more important right now. I am seeing the toll this can take on my marriage and how easily the enemy can try and use this situation to drive a wedge between us.There are days when I am just trying to "get through", and the pile of laundry that needs to be put away or dishes in the sink, just have to wait. I relish my morning prayer time with a cup of tea when I get up early enough before the start of daily tasks. I ask God to help me keep going when I just want to curl up in a ball under my covers and hide from the world. 

I see the dignity of Ma Crow and want to uphold it while I care for her. But then the worry starts to creep in; that you are doing this all wrong because you see others do it so naturally. Being woken up in the middle of the night because the person you are caring for needs help. Being attached to your phone when you are away from the person you are caring for "just in case" that phone call or text is about them needing help. The worry that another stroke can happen to Ma Crow, since they can not really prevent it from happening again, and she is at high risk. I am leaning on the grace of the sacraments; heeding the words of my confessor that "a lung that breathes in also must breathe out" and trying to find a balance between what God is asking me to do vs. what I think I should do. This is motherhood. This is care giving. They are one in the same.

 My ideas of motherhood have been challenged and oddly fulfilled during this time of trial. No, I am not carrying life within my womb. I am mid-cycle right now and we did 5 different novenas the past cycle to conceive in a last ditch effort. I have actually been thankful that we don't have small children to care for at this time so that we can focus on helping Ma Crow. I feel that these past 7 years of infertility have trained me for such a time as this.  I am carrying life in my soul. That life is Jesus Christ and He is the life of the world. This is my calling as a woman: to bring Christ to the world around me in each situation I encounter. This is going to make me the care giver that Ma Crow deserves to have. This is going to transform and sanctify my soul. I know I will be very challenged in the coming weeks and months especially with regards to introversion, privacy and perfectionism. So, prayers would be greatly appreciated for us all! Finally, I think St. JPII says it better than I ever could: 

"The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness." (Mulieris Digitatem par. 31)

What would our world be like if more women answered this call or realized this awareness? What would your world look like? How would you go about your daily tasks differently?