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Mother’s Day, multiple sclerosis, and motherhood

By Cherie Binns
Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms, grandmothers, stepmothers, godmothers, foster mothers, and mothers-to-be. This weekend (at least for those of us in the Northeast) is often the first lovely, warm, sunny time to be out of doors with the family doing things together. We rake, reseed, plant, weed, and mulch our yards and gardens or take time out to go for a hike in the springtime that promises summer is coming. We get the grills out and cleaned and let the family cook for us and wait on us instead of the other way around. It is a time of joy, newness, relaxation, and hope.
Over the years of living with multiple sclerosis, I have discovered this day is also often a day when I can succumb easily to being overheated. With that, my MS symptoms can often reawaken and put a damper on the day’s activities. You would think that after more than 20 years of knowing this to be a cause of problems, I would recognize immediately and take action to get ahead of this. But it often takes someone noticing I am not my usual chipper self to get me into the shade or remind me to put on a vest, collar, or hat to assist in cooling me down and putting that spring back into my step. After a long winter with much time spent indoors, we naturally want to go and do things that, for us, are rites of spring, things that get us closer to nature, the soil, and our families. For those of us with MS, that may mean preparing our loved ones to pick up on cues that may save the day and keep the joy in time together.
Multiple sclerosis does not have to rule your day or time with family. Remember (and teach those closest to you) to keep cool and well hydrated. Keep the freezer stocked with cooling vest and collar inserts, full ice cube trays (if you are like me and don’t have an ice cube dispenser in the door of the fridge) and keep a favorite chair in the shade outside. Planning ahead in this way can go a long way toward making your Mother’s Day activities joyful and a success all around.
Unlike Mother’s Day, motherhood is a lifelong commitment and if you have MS as well, it may mean that you will be put into situations where you perhaps are not able to care for your children or family in a way or to the degree that you want to. Those early years when children don’t sleep through the night or are up through the night with an illness are taxing on any parent but more so on a parent who is living with a chronic illness. It is so important to have a significant other who is committed to helping out during those night time awakenings, feedings, changings, and vigils with sick children. I have found it to be a tremendous help to have even one of those times where I can stay in bed and doze off knowing my child is in the hands of someone who loves them as much as I do, and that little bit of extra sleep goes a long way toward making the next day more doable and comfortable for all concerned.
I generally used the children’s nap time as time to get needed (or at least I thought so) housework or projects done. That can take a toll on those of us living with MS particularly if we are sleep-deprived by nights up with children; or have sleep interrupted by pain or spasticity, or the need to get up to the bathroom. Use naptime to put your feet up and recharge your batteries if your body is telling you that is needed. Learn to listen to the messages it is sending to you. Ultimately you will feel more like you want to feel and your children will remember a happier, less-stressed mom as they grow up.
As early as possible, teach your children to clean up after themselves. A toddler is able to pick up their own toys and with a little help and guidance can put them away. I grew up as the oldest of seven children. There were less than nine years between me and when my baby brother arrived. By absolute necessity, my mother had to have each of us pitching in with age-appropriate tasks and chores. I did not know it at the time, but those early life lessons instilled in me a strong work ethic. By helping, and teaching the younger children to help, I had been prepared to raise my own children in the same manner, not realizing that the odd symptoms that were making young motherhood so taxing physically and emotionally were due to multiple sclerosis that had not yet been diagnosed. Children thrive on a sense of purpose. We do them no favors by making sure they want for nothing and have no “work load” placed on their young shoulders.
So, again, Happy Mother’s Day! May your journey with multiple sclerosis be a successful one with the tools needed to minimize symptoms and disease progression readily available for use. And may your family come to know how best to support you and keep you enjoying time with them and lighten the load by taking on tasks willingly and joyfully that make your family a close knit unit that works and plays well together.