The Social Experiment

I wanted to share some things I learned when I was forced to be on the sidelines of my life for a few weeks.  Here’s a little background…TMI alert…

For pretty much my whole adult life I have suffered from extreme menses (heavy periods), as well as all the lovely side affects that come along with it–raging mood swings and cramps that reduced me to lying in the fetal position for hours at a time.  And over the years, things just got worse and worse.  After years of struggle and trying failed alternatives, I finally decided that my only option was a hysterectomy.  I also knew that this would not be a cut-and-dry (no pun intended) procedure.

Back in my early teens I was in an accident that did significant trauma to my intestines and I’ve had many bowel surgeries.  Over the years scar tissue grew and basically encased my reproductive organs.  The scar tissue would have to be removed before the hysterectomy could be performed and hopefully without damaging my intestines.  If everything went perfectly, I would still be looking at 6 to 8 weeks of recovery.  I just couldn’t imagine stepping out of my life for even a couple of days, let alone for several weeks.

I have three children all with different special needs.  My two girls (Samantha – 12 and Izabella – 5) both have emotional challenges and don’t handle changes in routine well.  I was very concerned that tantrums and outbursts which we have to manage daily, would explode to an unmanageable level and I would be confined to my bed, not able to help Herb (aka: The Most Amazing Husband EVER). I was not sure how our 4 year-old, Devin, was going to handle things since he has much more significant delays and has trouble understanding what’s going on around him.

This alone filled me with anxiety to the point that I kept putting off the surgery.  I also knew that Herb would have to work fewer hours in order to take and pick up the kids from school.  He’s our sole bread-winner, so the idea of an already tight budget getting tighter didn’t help any.  He kept saying, “We’ll make it work.”, but all I could see was the worst-case-scenario.

The final straw came when I had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance because I was in extreme pain and passing blood clots–I had no more excuses, I needed to have the surgery.

My sister, Gretchen and I compared calendars to see when she would be the most available to help out with some cleaning and laundry while I was recovering.  She would be able to come by on Wednesday and Saturday mornings to help out.  I felt much better that she would be able to take some things off Herb’s plate, so I scheduled my surgery for February 17th.

We prepared the kids as much as possible by telling them what was going to happen and what changes they could expect.  The girls were going to attend the school’s “after care” program so Herb could pick them up on his way home from work.  Devin’s bus picks him up and drops him off at the house, so as long as I could get downstairs to open the door for the bus driver, I could have him play in his room until Herb got home with the girls.  Until then, Herb would have to leave work early to be home before Devin got dropped off. It wasn’t the best plan ever, but it would have to do because we didn’t have anyone who could come stay with me during the day.

Surgery day came and as expected, my case was more complicated, so a typically 2-hour surgery became 5-hours.  After two nights in the hospital and seemingly steady improvement, I was released to go home.  I could barely make it up the stairs and knew that I would be spending at least one week sequestered in my bedroom.  I felt completely helpless.  For someone who is usually the “helper”, I did not like being so dependent on everyone, but I did have the unique opportunity to step back and observe my kids and husband from the sidelines and I was so impressed with what I saw.

I am not surprised at all with how well Herb managed the household.  He took on all the responsibilities of getting the kids up and ready for school, including packing lunches, and still managed to leave 15 minutes earlier than I ever was able to.  And he did all this extra work without complaint. I also saw how much grace he extended our little ones (who honestly can be quite a handful in the morning).  Gretchen’s help with cleaning and laundry was amazing and I never felt like the house was a mess or out of control.  Kudos to my two heroes for a job well done!

I was most surprised with my 12 year-old, Samantha.  Due to her very premature birth (<25 weeks gestation), her brain did not develop in a typical way and she has several neurological disorders.  One of which causes mood/behavior challenges.  She also has global tactile sensitivity.  Combine the two and you have a recipe for extreme behaviors.  For example, she frequently doesn’t like the way socks feel on her feet.  If she can’t position the seam perfectly, she will have a raging, sometimes violent tantrum.  This is a frequent occurrence.  She will also fight, scream, and hit things when trying to brush her hair if there are too many tangles.  I usually end up having to brush it myself and face the brunt of her fury–day after day. It is exhausting and I feel abused in the process.

For months leading up to my surgery she was having at least one “rage” a day.  Samantha’s psychiatrist had changed her medication again because she wasn’t getting any better in managing her emotions.  I was very concerned about this behavior going into my surgery.  I didn’t want Herb to have to go through the same gauntlet every day.

Guess how many tantrums she had while I was upstairs, detached from the family?

Zero.

What that told me is that she actually does have control over her behavior and that could be the reason we weren’t seeing any results from the medication.

So what did I learn through this mini social experiment of mom not being in the forefront?

  1.  I’m not indispensable.  As a mom, most of the times I feel like I am carrying the future of my family on my shoulders and If I’m not there every second something horrible is going to happen and it will be my fault.  I actually have peace that if something were to happen to me, my family would be fine.  I don’t want to sound morbid, I am only 47 after all.  However after less than a week home, I had to be rushed back to the hospital for a small bowel obstruction.  This is a very serious condition and it was the first time I saw Herb truly worried.  I was very sick and out of the house for another 4 days.  Things are going to happen that are beyond my control.  I can’t fix everything.  I am very blessed that I am home again and on the road to a full recovery.  As I resume my usual duties, I am not as stressed about things going awry because I know who’s got my back.
  2. I’m grace-deficient.  In the mornings I could hear the hustle and bustle of Herb wrangling three kids as he got them ready for school.  I could also hear the usual complaints, whining, and arguing that is part of the routine.  What I didn’t hear was him yelling or getting overly frustrated with the kids. That is not my M.O.  I am very quick to raise my voice or enforce a time-out for non-compliance.  I’ve got a schedule to keep and I will bulldoze over you to make sure we leave the house on time.  Not only did Herb have a gentler demeanor with the kids, he still got things done–and more efficiently than I do.  Hmmm….
  3. I’m part of the problem.  There is a reason that Samantha’s behavior is so much different with Herb than me.  It’s me.  I am the closest one in her life, always have been.  Due to her prematurity, I have been with her (with few exceptions) every day of her life.  To this day, it is very hard for me to leave her for any reason.  I still have nightmares that if I’m not with her, she is going to die.  I’m sure that over the years we have developed an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship.  The solution is not medication, but counseling–for both of us.  Deep down I want my daughter to become independent, but in reality I think that I project that she can’t do anything without my help.  That is why the first day I was able to come downstairs and have breakfast with the family, she threw a fit about her socks.  I hadn’t said a word. I was just in the room.

These may sound like bad things, but I feel refreshed and in tune with the heartbeat of my family more than ever.  I see where I need to focus my energy and where I need to leave well enough alone. I see where I have not been trusting God or demonstrating his love.  I am glad that circumstances forced me to take a step back so I could truly see changes that I need to make.  I hope that I can from time to time take an honest, objective look at my marriage, children, and myself to see how I can make our lives better–only without the hospital stay.

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