Finding Gratitude Through Tough Times

“I don’t want to carry gratitude in seasons. I want to carry it in my bones. I want it to rest on my tongue like it is a language that I never stop speaking.” -Arielle Estoria

I saw this quote the other night and it really resonated with me, especially with the holidays just around the corner! Yes, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to celebrate all of the blessings in your life, and yes we all know we are of course just as thankful throughout the remainder of the year, but do we really focus on that gratitude outside of the holiday season? A lot of us do not. And what about when life has been particularly hard to us? How can we focus on gratitude when we feel like life has been unfairly cruel?

Having a special needs child has completely changed the way I celebrate gratitude. Madison is a constant reminder to be thankful. When you have watched your child fight for their life, and when they are left with needs in which people can’t tell you what to expect or how long you’ll have with them, every single day with that child becomes a blessing you are immeasurably thankful for. Every moment with her is a reason to be thankful because I truly don’t know what her future holds.

And special needs or not, the day to day of motherhood is HARD. There is no question about that. In fact, for many women their journey to motherhood is HARD. It doesn’t come easy to everyone. And when you’re longing for a family of your own, the holidays can be tough to bare.

When in the moment each day seems so hard, it can be difficult to be thankful. There are days when I just curse this universe for what it’s done to Madison and my family. How can I feel thankful when the daughter I’ve waited for my whole life was stolen from me at just 11 days old? And sometimes I let myself feel that way. I let myself have days where I’m angry and sad and that’s ok, because I have every right to be. That’s right mamas, you can be thankful AND be sad! We can be grateful AND be angry. We can feel all of our feelings, as long as we don’t let ourselves get stuck in the sad ones.

I have a lot of hard days as a special needs mama, but then I remember how much sadder I would be had Madison not survived. I think of all of the incredibly strong superhero parents that I’ve seen lose their children far too soon, and I know that I’m lucky I have this time with her. So even though I don’t always like this special needs journey I’m on, there are still things to be thankful for. There are still things all of us can be thankful for, even through the darkest times when it may not feel true.

Community

Personally, I am thankful for my husband and his unconditional love and support. I could not get through life without him. I’m thankful for our family and friends who stand by us everyday, help us when we need, and simply check in on us to see how we’re doing. I’m thankful for the doctors, nurses, specialists, and therapists who saved Madison, who continue to make her care a priority, and who have helped her get to where she is today. I’m thankful for the other special needs mamas that I’ve connected with over the year. These mamas have helped me immensely in learning about new treatments or side effects, have given me stories of hope, and also been those I could vent to knowing I would not be judged because they are the only ones who truly know what I’m going through. It’s a tribe I never thought I’d be a part of, but I’m blessed to know so many incredibly strong women.

It’s important as mamas that we find our tribe and hold onto them. For some of us our community consists of family or friends. For others, a yoga class or coworkers. Hell, your community might be an online support group of women you don’t even know in person, it doesn’t matter! Let’s value those relationships ladies, and be thankful for the people in your life that make you smile and lift you up, even when you may not realize it.

Progress

Sometimes it’s hard to see how far Madison has actually come, but when I think back to last year I realize how much more fragile she was. It’s so easy to focus on the areas our children struggle, especially when your child’s developmental goals are things that come so easy to a healthy child, but we need to remember to celebrate the inchstones too. Any progress is better than no progress and is something to be thankful for. No matter what Madison is able to accomplish, you can bet I’ll be proud of her. We cannot compare our child’s accomplishments to another’s. Try not to stress on the missed milestones or areas your child is struggling. Take it from the mama of a medically complex babe, these things truly don’t matter! Celebrate their health. Celebrate the things they CAN do. Celebrate the fact that you have a child when so many women long to be mothers. Celebrate your child for exactly who they are and watch how much fuller your heart becomes.

Strength

Being on the special needs journey will mold you into a completely different person. I can’t tell you how many times people compliment me for my strength, but in all honesty, I have no other option but to be strong. Being an advocate for a medically complex child will make you more resilient, unafraid to speak your voice, smarter, more compassionate and understanding, and less judgmental. I have no time to worry about anything in life other than Madison and my family. Nothing else matters. And I’m thankful for this strength that has allowed me to think like that. It can be hard to be confident in our mothering abilities. We all wonder if we’re doing enough, even though most days it feels like we couldn’t possibly give any more. But trust me, you are enough. There is no one stronger than a mother. The days may be long and hard, but remember to be thankful for them; for they have made you the strong, badass woman you have become!

Resources

I’m also extremely thankful to have so many educational resources at my fingertips. With each diagnosis and with each failing medication, all I do is research what else I can do for Madison. What meds haven’t we tried that might work? What alternative treatments are available? What therapies have worked for others? I can’t imagine going through this journey in a country where the access to education and resources is limited. We’re lucky to be able to research and learn on our own and to have the ability to travel freely to esteemed medical professionals. Fertility struggles? Marriage problems? Addiction? The list goes on and on for the plethora of difficulties we might face, and yet there are so many resources available to help us through. Going through hard times can cloudy our want to be thankful, but it’s important to remember that we have resources to help pull us out, and that is a blessing in itself.

The Chaos

The pure chaos of motherhood may seem like something silly to be thankful for when it’s also the thing that drives us crazy, but trust me, it is. So your house is a mess? Be thankful to have a roof over your head. Be thankful your child is able to make that mess. It means they are learning and playing and figuring out this world, a joy that a mama of a disabled child, like me, would give anything for. So you’re juggling therapy and doctors appointments for your medically complex child? Be thankful you’re able to offer them care and opportunities to grow. So you’re balancing fertility appointments or childcare with work? Be thankful you have a job, a safe place to send your child, or the means to explore the wonderful advances science has to offer in helping you start or grow your family. The chaos, as exhausting as it might be, simply means we are living!

Let’s also remember that feeling grateful and being grateful are two different things. No one feels grateful for the bad things that happen to them, but despite those things, we can choose to BE grateful for the things we do have. Being forced into some really tough times has showed me not to take anything for granted, as I’ve seen firsthand how quickly life can change. When you learn that the things you love most can be taken away in an instant, you become immensely more thankful for them. My gratitude for the good times has also provided me hope and the will to keep going.

So as you sit with your loved ones this holiday season and reflect on how hard this year may have been, remember to instead focus on all that you DO have. There were moments and people and learnings and even your own bravery through these times, that you can and should be thankful for. Let us remember to be thankful every single day, and not just during the holidays. And above all, please be thankful for the health of yourself and your children. Not all mamas, like myself, are as lucky in that regard. Hold those babies close and I promise you, you’ll feel more reasons to be thankful than you ever imagined possible. Here’s to a wonderful holiday season mamas! We’ve got this!

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Kelly Backiel is a wife, and SAHM to her daughter, Madison. Madison was diagnosed with meningitis at 11 days old, leaving her with severe brain injuries and complications. Kelly blogs about her experiences as a special needs mom, and hopes to spread awareness and support to others in similar situations. She is a fan of the beach, and a nice glass of wine! Read more about her here!

Your Life Doesn’t Have to Be Over: 5 Ways To Reclaim Your Life After Baby

I hate to admit this, but I’m one of those girls who thought she had it all figured out BEFORE she had a baby of her own. I wasn’t so bad that I said my child would never use an iPad in public or would only eat organic food… I know better. But I thought I knew what life would be like—what I would be like once I became a mom. Spoiler alert: I had no idea.

 When we found out I was expecting, my husband and I talked about it and I decided I would quit my job and stay home with our son. I had wanted to be a stay at home mom for a while, and my husband was very supportive, so we figured out a way to make it work. Bryant was such an easy baby; Sleeping through the night at just one month old, really only crying when he was hungry or tired, and settling into his routine fairly quickly.

I on the other hand… did not adjust so well. I had zero routine. I was somewhere between going with the flow and getting run over. My husband would call me during his lunch break and ask what I had been doing, and sometimes my answer would be 100 things before 10:00AM! And other days, all I had done was watched Real Housewives and eaten a bowl of cereal.

I was constantly criticizing myself, feeling like a failure at the end of most days. Did I read Bryant enough books? Did he do tummy time for long enough? When was the last time I showered? What’s for dinner? I felt like the days were going by and Bryant was growing up, but what was I doing with my life? Was motherhood the only thing that defined me now? Did staying at home mean my life was truly over and all about Bryant?

I knew had to get some semblance of control back, but how would I do it? I decided I would set some non-negotiable “daily rules” now that I was staying at home. I do these things consistently, every single day, and I think it has made me feel so much more confident in my choice to stay home, so much happier as a mom and just makes me feel successful day in and day out!

1. Wash your face and brush your teeth.

I do this every morning before I get Bryant out of bed. In 20 years, your baby is not going to tell their therapist about all the times you didn’t go get them out of their crib the moment they woke up. He/she will survive you taking 3 minutes to practice a little personal hygiene.

It just makes me feel alive and awake and ready for the day ahead!

2. Get dressed.

I don’t mean get dressed up, by any means! If I’m being honest, sometimes I just change out of a pair of pajamas and into a pair of leggings! But some days I do put on a bra and a cute top. It just depends on what that day holds! But this is just a simple way I can feel like I accomplished something.

3. Set up a cleaning/laundry schedule.

This has saved me. I am a extremely distracted person, so having things planned out and written down is VERY helpful. At the beginning of this year I wrote out a cleaning schedule and stuck it on the fridge and it has been so helpful! Each day I clean one room in my house during Bryant’s naptime. For clarification, this isn’t a deep clean. I just do the basics: dust and vacuum and pick up clutter. But it helps! And it feels like I really got something done, and there’s usually still time to watch an episode of Law & Order before the baby wakes up!

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4. Meal Plan

I’m not big into meal prepping, but I ALWAYS meal plan. This is something that just makes me feel like I have a little bit of structure to lean on when the days are chaotic. I start at the beginning of each month and write down anything going on that month, and then plan meals week by week. That way I can see our schedule at a glance, and then plan supper around anything we have going on. I try and plan ahead for eating out and picking up fast food, too!

5. Journal

This is not something I did pre-baby, but I wish I had. I take time each day to write down something—anything! It doesn’t have to be a page full of your deepest hopes and dreams, but just what you’re feeling or what you have planned for the day. I usually do it in the morning, but doing it at night could be cool as a way to reflect on the day before you go to bed. I think journaling is just an easy way to feel connected to your life, especially when it feels monotonous.

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Of course, you don’t have to follow all of my “rules” – in fact, you don’t have to follow any of them! But when I felt like my life was spinning somewhat out of control, these are just some of the ways I found helpful to take back control. What about you? What “rules” have you set to make life run a little bit more smoothly day to day?

 


 

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Laura Beth Harpe is a wife and mother, living in small-town Georgia. She loves connecting with other mamas as they stumble through the new season of motherhood. She loves shopping and binging Bravo and Law and Order: SUV. Learn more about her here!

You Are The Most Beautiful Disaster

Hey mama, I see you.

I see you in all your hot mess glory.

I see you with those bags under your eyes, because you were up with the baby in the night. I see you in your stained shirt that you smelled this morning before you put it on. I see you with your day old make up and messy bun, because that’s all you’ve got the time and energy for. I see you with your extra large Diet Coke you snagged in the McDonald’s drive-thru after you dropped your daughter off at preschool.

I see you, and I feel you.

I feel those nagging negative thoughts that keep popping up into your mind today, “I am a hot mess.” “I am barely surviving.” “Am I doing enough?” “Am I enough?” “My kids deserve better.” “My husband deserves more.” “I am failing.”

You, my sweet friend, are not alone.

And for the record, you’re doing great! You aren’t failing. You are being a Mom.

“But look at Sarah and her perfect Instagram life. She never wears day old make up, and stained clothes. She never has bags under her eyes. Her skin is glowing, and her smile is so perfect. She drinks water and protein shakes and has the perfect butt in her Lululemon yoga pants. Her kids are always dressed in matching clothes, with their hair tied up perfectly in a bow. She’s never late for preschool pick up, and she always brings healthy homemade snacks.”

“I forgot it was our snack day and had to run to the grocery store before school and sent my child in with Goldfish.”

Girlfriend, snap out of it. You’re living the real mom life. The one where we make mistakes… constantly. The one where our alarms don’t go off, so our kids are late to school… again. The one where we have cereal for dinner because that’s all the energy we have left for at the end of the day. The one where the laundry piles up until the mountain is so high there is no possible way we can fold it all. The one where we survive on Diet Coke and a cat nap while the kids have TV time. The one where we put on a movie just to entertain the kids for a few hours.

BUT… You are also living the one where you held your daughter today and rocked her in the rocking chair while you sang songs. You got down on the floor with your son and played race cars. You told your kids about a million times how much you love them. You covered your babies from head to toe with kisses. And when they asked for a silly snack, you arranged those leftover goldfish you sent to school on a plate to look like they were under the sea.

So, your Instagram doesn’t look like Sarah’s does. Who cares? Your life reel looks happy, full of love, giggles, and snuggles. One day you’ll look back on these memories and you won’t remember that you looked a hot mess. You’ll remember your daughters face as you sang together. You’ll remember how much your son loved crashing his car into yours. You’ll remember how there are never enough kisses to cover your babies with.

That stain on your shirt? It’s because yesterday, you let your kids make slime, and those sticky little hands hugged you to tell you “Thanks mom, this was so much fun.”

Those bags under your eyes? It’s because your daughter needed you, not daddy, YOU to snuggle her back to sleep (because you give better back rubs).

Your day old make up? Oh yea, you stayed up late helping your son finish his science project and didn’t have the energy to wash your face afterwards.

Mama, you may think you’re a hot mess. But what I see is a mama who puts everyone before herself. Who makes sure her children know just how loved they are. A mama that plays cars and sings songs because the laundry can wait (at least it’s clean). I see a mama that makes sure her babies are taken care of in all the necessary ways. And I see children that love and adore you because you are the one that showed them how to love and adore.

What I see is A Beautiful Disaster.

And it truly is, beautiful.

You, Mama, Are The Most Beautiful Disaster.

 


 

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Laurel Dowse is a wife and mom to 2 girls and a baby on the way. She is a SAHM by day, and teaches dance a few nights a week. She loves true crime podcasts, binge-watching her favorite shows, and encourages naps! She is a cancer survivor after being diagnosed with malignant melanoma on her leg in 2015. You can read more about her here!