Hello, my name is Ashley, and I’ve had chronic pain since I was 16.
Generally, this is not how I like to introduce myself. I like to think that I am more than the (sometimes) debilitating pain that wracks my body. In all truthfulness, if you didn’t know me in the past, you won’t be familiar with this part of my story.
The thing about chronic pain is that it isn’t always visible. It’s not something I like to share. I’ve learned how to live life harmoniously with this chronic illness. Unless I cancel on you last minute, I probably won’t share this part of me.
Like most moms, my life changed when I had kids. But because of my chronic illness, it changed in ways I didn’t expect.
My husband and I were both nervous about having kids: What would pregnancy do to the pain levels in my body? How would I do with crawling babies and scampering toddlers?
Turns out, becoming a mom was the best thing I could have done for my body. Here’s why.
Having Kids Keeps Me Active.
I love going on adventures with my kids: Hiking, exploring a park, or just playing in our driveway. Before kids, if I were in pain, I would crawl into bed and sleep the day away. Staying in bed all day isn’t possible with kids. The more active I am, the better it is for my muscles.
Having Kids Forces Me to Slow Down.
Although my family loves to “go,” rest time is sacred at our house. Before kids, during my full-time job, I would do it all. Then my body would pay for it. I would end up lying on my office floor, begging time to hurry up so I could go home and go to bed. (Yes, at 5:00 p.m.!) I know my limits now. I try to stay active in the morning, during my best hours, and when nap time comes for the kids, I rest, even if it’s just lying down and reading a book. My body needs it. I stay close to home in the afternoon, only venturing out if I’m feeling particularly well that day.
Having Kids Taught Me about Healthier Eating.
My son was six months old, almost ready to start eating solids when I realized microwaved chicken pot pies and frozen yogurt treats were not a good *daily* lunch (and dinner). I didn’t want to feed my son that food, why would I feed it to myself? That’s when I tied on the apron strings. I started to cook real, whole meals. Who knew? My pain level went down, and I began to feel energized. All my years of doctors, no one had said to me, “Hey, maybe if you changed your diet, you could reduce some of the inflammation you are dealing with.”
Having Kids Makes Me Take Care of Me.
I’m not that great about epic self-care. You know, the go-to-the-spa or have-a-girlfriends-weekend type? However, I make space for my health needs. I go to the chiropractor weekly, and I am careful about making commitments. I know my limits, and when our schedule is too full, I can’t function. My body cries for mercy, my energy zapped. But taking care of myself is also so beneficial for my kids. It means more outdoor time and a slower pace. These are the things that feed my spirit. My mental health is so essential to my physical health. If I’m stressed out, my body feels it. So, I incorporate daily rituals into my routine to relieve life’s anxieties.
Having Kids Helps Me Get Out of My Routine.
I like routines. They help me get where I need to be without much thought. (And they help me balance my chronic pain needs.) However, sometimes breaking up the schedule is exactly what my family needs. And every mom knows you have to be flexible when you live with a toddler. Yesterday, instead of going home after school to rest and practice violin, we headed to the beach. It was cold. I was tired, but the warm sun was beckoning. Because I am so consistent with our schedule, I knew I could handle a detour from our routine. Since my parents were in town visiting, it was the perfect time to make a memory. So, I forewent my comfort and chose the adventure.
As my children grow, I know I’ll have to re-think some of my strategies. We won’t always be able to stay home in the afternoons. Naptime will morph into a quiet time. The “mommying” part of my job won’t always be so physically demanding.
More than anything, though, my kids make me want to be healthier. I don’t want to miss out. I want to do everything I can to be a part of their world.
I do that by taking care of me.
I choose the adventure.