The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It Isn't Easy

We spent last week being mom’s helpers and so I’m still in baby mode. New mom or new caregiver, there’s a lot of similarity. When Ursula became pregnant, it was a shock…she didn’t think she could. No more than an LBD diagnosis is expected. Few couples believe this going to happen to them either. It wasn’t the way you’d planned your retirement, no more than she’d planned her future as a single mom. But like Ursula, you took a deep breath, stepped up and said, “I can do it. I know it won’t be easy, but I can do it.” And you do.

It hasn’t been easy. For Ursula and Baby Ian, it’s been like learning a new and often frustrating dance. Ursula thought that with her difficult delivery a fading memory, the worst was over. But then she found that was only the start. First they had to learn the nursing routine. Then, once he finally got the hang of nursing, he didn’t want to quit. He’d found his life’s work! Her milk wasn’t in yet and so he was hungry, Hungry, HUNGRY all the time. No matter that Mom was sore, or tired and wanted to take a shower.

Ian doesn’t understand “night.” He wakes up, like all newborns do, every few hours, day and night. Already, he’s a sociable little guy and so he doesn’t want to just eat and go to sleep. He wants to be held, talked to, sung to, enjoy and be enjoyed. That’s fine during the day, but Mom isn’t getting enough sleep and she’s becoming cranky too. “How can such a little person take up so much time?” she asks.

Does this remind you of the many trials that caregivers have? The belief that the worst is over, only to find out that your journey is just starting; the continually new challenges that sneak up on you without warning? Of trying to meet your loved one’s needs even though you feel overwhelmed. And still finding that there’s more—and that it must be done now, not later, not after you are rested, but NOW. And of course, like Ursula, who’s recovering from surgery and often in pain, you have your own health issues: bad backs, sore knees, etc. We tell her, patience, patience, patience. That’s what it takes. She knows it. You know it. But it is hard to remember that when you are sleep-deprived, hurting and not at all sure of what you are doing in this new world you’ve been thrown into with little preparation.

And so Ursula frets at Ian, “I’ve checked everything. Nothing’s wrong with you. Stop crying and go to sleep.” Or “Why are you so selfish?” or “Why are you picking on me?” She KNOWS Ian is only doing his job of surviving, but especially when she’s at her wits end, it is easy to forget, and to personalize his behavior. She wants him to understand HER problems. And of course, he doesn’t. He only knows what Ian wants.

Mom and baby are the only relationship Ursula and Ian have had. If this new mom can forget that a baby can’t relate except as a baby, imagine how much more difficult it is for the caregiver of a spouse or parent. They are dealing with someone who once did understand and could relate adult to adult, someone who once was aware of more than their own needs. Caregivers use the mantra, “It’s the disease, it’s not my loved one.” And that is so apt.

Ursula is doing a great job. True, there are times when she voices frustration. But always, she is gentle with Ian and caring and with great effort, patient. Never a patient person, this last has not been easy. Likely, you can relate with this too….after all, few of you asked for your job or trained for it either. It just showed up. But like Ursula, you CARE. You love this person for whom you are responsible and there is no doubt that you want to provide the best care that you can. And that’s what it is all about, no matter what the age of your loved one.

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