When I was pregnant with my son and my body was expanding in every direction, I asked my midwife, “How long will it take for my body to get back to normal?” She said, “Most women take about 9 months to get back to their pre-pregnancy size… Pregnancy takes 9 months and it takes about the same amount of time to bounce back.” She was right (about me anyway). I was back in my pre-pregnancy clothes about 9 months later. It also took me about that long to adjust mentally and emotionally to being a mom, to find my “new normal.” Even with my second baby… Lately I’ve wondered if this same recovery time applies to other life events.
When Jenna was in the middle of chemo and it felt like our life was falling apart, I asked other moms whose kids had cancer what to do, how to get through it all. One very wise mom said, “Take care of your baby now while she needs you. You can pick up the pieces later, when this is all over.” So that’s what I did. I took care of my sweet girl. I did little else. I didn’t try to find a job and I didn’t try to revive my business until her chemotherapy was finished. Honestly, I barely cleaned my house. Now, more than 9 months since Jenna rang the bell in March on her last day of chemo, we are still picking up the pieces.
As Jenna’s treatment came to an end last Spring, we started out being excited about the possibilities of living life again and had many months of fun and adventure together. We even created our Learning To Live Again project. This fall, however, our Learning to Live Again project morphed into the Picking Up the Pieces project. The pieces of our lives that we neglected during Jenna’s treatment – our finances, our marriage, our own selves, our house – have needed to be dealt with and it’s not been very fun…
After many months of feeling good, even through Jenna’s treatment, my husband sunk into a major depression. He somehow kept his great sense of humor and happy countenance through her entire treatment and I wonder now if he had a delayed reaction to the trauma. It took some time to find another effective treatment, his sales dropped in the meantime and our already taxed finances became even more so. I decided it was time for me to go back to work and got a job for the first time in over 11 years. Luckily I work from home and have flexible hours, since Jenna still has a feeding tube and requires much care, we’re still homeschooling our son, and I’m still running my Etsy shop.
Our marriage counseling continues. I’m trying to give my husband the space he needs to work things through and find his “new normal”, and together we are trying to find a new balance now that I’m working. And somehow stay connected and close through it all. The whole arrangement is kind of precarious, the need for space and the need for connectedness. We are working on it almost constantly.
A small leak we mostly ignored during Jenna’s treatment, from our upstairs bathroom into our downstairs bathroom, was finally “diagnosed” as a leak through the walls (not the pipes or drain) and a big mold problem we needed to take care of before Jenna’s transplant. We moved out of our house while our upstairs bathroom was partially gutted and redone. For the first 3 weeks we house-sat for my sister, then lived with my mom and stepdad for the remaining time. Six weeks later we moved back into our house, with a beautiful new bathroom!
Our son has developed some health issues as well. After no success with our family doctor, we took him to a different doctor and have recently found out that his very limited diet of bread and cheese variations is the culprit (he doesn’t digest carbs or fats well). We are finally making headway with him and he’s feeling better than he has in months. Hurray!… progress!
As for me, I’m dealing with health issues I neglected and/or ignored during Jenna’s treatment. I need to take better care of myself. On one hand, we’ve finished the chemotherapy adventure, and with each passing month of remission, it’s a little easier to relax and breathe. On the other, Jenna is waiting for a liver transplant. She’s been on the transplant waiting list for almost 8 months. It could happen any day. And as the months pass, we see more symptoms of her liver disease worsening. Small, but alarming signs. I feel so afraid sometimes. And I’m so focused on her and everybody and everything else, I forget to take care of myself. I purposely stay busy to keep my mind pre-occupied. It’s a blessing and a curse.
Picking up the pieces is hard work and slowly we are putting our lives back together. If the 9 months in, 9 months out theory applies here, we still have almost 9 months to go before we’re back to our pre-chemotherapy life (not even possible), or settled into a “new normal.” But who knows how the next 9 months will go. Going through treatment with Jenna was kind of like climbing a mountain. After all the months it took to “get to the top,” we weren’t really done. We still had to hike back down to find our “new normal.” And in Jenna’s case, we will have another mountain to climb most likely before we get to the bottom of this one. Jenna could have her liver transplant any day and then we’ll be on a whole new timeline, climbing a different mountain altogether. Thinking about the possibilities is too overwhelming so for now, it’s easier to stay in the present, today, this week, this month, and pick up whatever pieces we can as we go.
With all that’s been going on recently, I admit I’ve lost sight of the spirit of our project. I have felt worn down by life. But in spite of that, we actually have done some things to fulfill on our Learning to Live Again project….
We explored new parks and met new people while we were house sitting for my sister. We also helped her sell off many of her belongings (she and her husband had already moved out-of-state), packed up what was left in the house, cleaned and helped them move. (I wouldn’t have had the energy to do all that even 6 months ago – More progress!)
The day after Halloween we went to a Trade In Your Unwanted Halloween Candy Party. In the center of their table was a huge bowl the kids dumped their unwanted candy into. The bowl was over 2 feet across… seriously big bowl. (see below) It was overflowing.
Jenna planted herself next to this bowl and tried all kinds of candy, mostly DumDums, those little lollipops. She would unwrap them one by one, take a lick or nibble, put it down and move to the next. This may sound like irresponsible parenting, letting our child who doesn’t eat much of anything eat a bunch of candy, but when your child hardly eats anything, it’s thrilling and delightful when they will eat something, anything, no matter sugar content or lack of nutritional value.
We also spent a lovely Thanksgiving with relatives we haven’t seen in a very long time, drove around looking at Christmas lights (Jenna was delighted!), had a wonderful Christmas with family, enjoyed a few days of relaxation and movie marathons, baked goodies and delivered them to neighbors, and walked in the first snow of the season.
In spite of losing the spirit of our project we still managed to do a lot of living. We’re looking forward to a new year, doing a lot more living life, and making the best of whatever comes our way…
Best of life and living to you and your family in 2015!
From The Appelbaums and TiffinyDesigns!