My birthday falls on or around Mother’s Day. I always said that when I became a mom, I wanted two separate and distinct celebrations. No combos! Our family enjoys celebrating each other. My own mother’s birthday falls close to Thanksgiving but we buy her flowers and desserts before any turkey is served. My niece’s day is near Easter, but we get her an ice cream cake—the only cake she’ll eat days before we go egg hunting! Even dad gets his own cake and favorite take-out before we don our costumes and go trick-or-treating for Halloween. Like I said, no combos!
And then, last year I became a mother. Along with the uncertainty and fear of a growing pandemic, I was experiencing a growing belly. It was late 2019 when I found out we were expecting a baby. We spent those first three months in quiet jubilation as most expectant parents do. By the time we started sharing our news, the nightly newscasts were getting bleaker and bleaker. Shortly after, a COVID lockdown was ordered in my state. There was fear for the early days of my pregnancy and of my family members getting sick. Underlying all that was the fear for the health of my kidney transplant. All of those fears made me feel anxious, anxiety made me stressed, and stress stalled me in place. Like an idle motor, I’d just sit still until I’d snap out of it by talking myself into feelings of love and gratitude for my health, my baby, and my life. It isn’t easy to do but my life has taught me the goodness of gratitude.
Acceptance was hard to find and much harder to hold on to. Turning that acceptance into gratitude helped cement acceptance.
I have had kidney disease since I was a teenager. Through specialists, medications, lab work, missed appointments, and surgeries, I grew into an adult. And off to college I went, and then out of college, and back into college again. I went through various stages of grief multiple times over. Just when I thought I was okay with it all, I would turn cynical and get angry or sad. In high school, after my mother and I had gone to the store together, I remember hiding all the herbal supplements she purchased for me under my bed and having a screaming match with her that none of it mattered. In college, I hung my Prednisone from a string in front of the dorm door to literally hit me in the head to remember to take it. I also remember ducking my head many times and skipping doses.
Acceptance was hard to find and much harder to hold on to. Turning that acceptance into gratitude helped cement acceptance. Whenever I feel my acceptance making a downward turn towards denial, feeling grateful brings me back. It is a positive action, a purposeful movement as I go toward the light. I am grateful to have had options in dialysis treatments. I am grateful for the medications that help my condition, I am grateful for having a job I can do from home, and I am grateful for my child.
Becoming pregnant was quite a journey for my husband and me. We tried for a couple of years. It was a lot like my kidney journey with the same emotional roller coaster feeling. Through specialists, medications, lab work, procedures, and lots of sick time taking me away from work, I finally saw a little pink cross on a pregnancy test. Before that, I had many months that ended in sadness or depression, anger, or even denial. I remember one month I took five different pregnancy tests back-to-back. Acceptance was hard to find, much less hold on to. Eventually, perhaps because of my kidney experience, I found acceptance. With acceptance, I can muster up gratitude out of thin air. Today I am grateful for my iced espresso. Sometimes, a little thing feels big.
There were, and still are, so many things to worry about or become angry over. While I am good with my feelings and about honoring them, I find it just as important not to linger in them. When I can’t manage on my own, I find support. And when friends and family won’t do, I go online. There is comfort in being with others experiencing similar circumstances. The Renal Support Network has bi-monthly live Zoom opportunities. I’ve also found a very useful Facebook group for those with kidney transplants trying to become mothers. I worry less when I get my questions answered, and when I’ve helped another, I’ve felt gratitude rise up in me.
Having an underlying medical condition and being pregnant, all the while having to change all aspects of a normal life to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, is like an endurance test of gratitude. To borrow a phrase voiced by Lori Hartwell, an illness (or a pandemic, or a pregnancy) is too demanding when you don’t have hope. And for me, not only hope but some gratitude as well. This year I am grateful to have a new reason to celebrate Mother’s Day. I no longer care if it is a combined celebration! In fact, I’ll be combining it with my birthday and with mothers of all types all over the world. I want this to be the biggest combo celebration yet!
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Joanna Galeas Lee has had kidney disease since 2009 and recently received a kidney transplant after almost 6 years on the waitlist. She is a Board member of Renal Support Network and serves on the Network 18 Subject Matter Expert committee. She holds a degree in business.
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