Photo Credit: 
Cheyenne Belew | For The Chronicle
From left, Helen Kate, 8; Caleb, 11; and Joshua Belew, 9, stand proudly at the top of a hay pile while enjoying a day outdoors with their parents.
From left, Helen Kate, 8; Caleb, 11; and Joshua Belew, 9, stand proudly at the top of a hay pile while enjoying a day outdoors with their parents.

Constant achy joints, fingers and a back riddled with pain. Eight years ago, this was me. The aches never relented; they were simply restrained. I lived my life in a perpetual state of need — need of relief. So, I decided to do what I had never done before — submit. I gave in to the pain. Rebellion only caused resentment, confusion. I was at the mercy of this wretched condition. For once in my life, I could not control my fate.

A woman of action

From birth, I have sought action. I was the first in my family to get a scholarship, go to college and join the Army. I had no reservations. No hesitations. No worries. I didn’t know there was any other way to live. I strove to be the best. Why would you not? But my competitive lifestyle, specifically my time in the military, wore on me. I began to have aches and pains during deployment, which I thought were normal. I went to sick call a few times. But my complaints went mostly untreated. I would stretch and use heat and ice. I just figured I would have to live with the pain. It is the Army way.

Difficult pregnancies

Not long after my husband and I returned from deployment, we started a family. I went through three arduous pregnancies, unsure how millions of women had done it before me. What’s more, modern women chose to go through it. The pain. The weight pressing down on my body. The all-over soreness. I suffered in silence, grateful just to be pregnant, but I was left to wonder how others could bear it. Yet, I opted to do it three times despite my pain, because I was already in my mid-thirties and running short on time. After I delivered my last child, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.

My fibromyalgia diagnosis

I remember sitting on the exam table in quiet tears, describing four different complaints of pain spread throughout my body, desperate and apologizing for bringing up so many issues in one sitting. Most of my body was painful to the touch. I hurt all over with what I can only describe as the achiness you get with the flu. Even my neck and throat area radiated pain. I was exhausted and had no idea why. I embodied a general sluggishness that made my feet drag. When the diagnosis came, I was relieved. Yet eventually I became infuriated, realizing I had no control over it. This new life of pain had me pinned down and I was in the middle of the final count. I was trapped.

Children know no different

I got the news the same year my husband was deployed to Afghanistan. I had three children ages three and under, all in diapers — cloth diapers (that ended really quick). I knew I had to put all my energy into taking care of my children. That left little time for me, for my pain. I just focused on getting through those long days alone.

The experience of selfless devotion to my three little humans that year gave me some insight. I wondered how single mothers did it all and stayed sane. As bad as my struggle was, I knew it would come to an end. That year away from my husband was doggedly rough. But I learned to balance my children’s needs, my needs and my pain simultaneously. You have no-doubt heard the saying, “Children are more resilient than you think.” It’s true. Honestly, children don’t know any different than the environment in which they are raised. They don’t notice the big changes as much as we think. In my experience, they really cue off of our behavior. If we act like it’s no big deal, so will they. The pain. The diagnosis. The deployment. I played it off, putting on an award-winning performance. I put one foot in front of the other each day, doing the next right thing. One step at a time was all I could handle. And it was enough. I was enough.

What makes me special?

That year I learned to parent through pain. I had to. You do things you never thought possible when you have no choice. How was I any different than all the other moms out there with chronic pain, arthritis, or even cancer? They didn’t choose it. If this was my lot, then so be it. I submitted to the agony. The constant downward pressure on my body. The sluggish life I now knew. My energetic, on-the-go personality was “in the wind” now. It is gone and I am a different person.

All they will remember

I don’t fully understand why I must go through this, but I know I must do it well. After all, my children are watching. They see me hurt, sleep, cry. But they also see me get up with them and take them to school in the morning. They will fondly remember our family vacations, where I do what I can to keep up. And as for the times I cannot drag myself out of bed to be present with them? I will give myself a little grace. I must. Now, do my children watch too much television in the winter when I feel the need to nap daily? Yes. Will they be as good at sports as their friends? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t care to sit on hard bleachers two to three times a week for practices. Yet, they will learn empathy when they see that I cannot do everything they can. I hate that I must stay home from overnight camping trips. I can’t afford a lost night of sleep lying in pain on a hard ground or even an airbed. However, we have enjoyed a few backyard camping adventures where I stay until lights out. You do what you can, right?

These are the choices I make because I love my children and do the best I can. Hey, if it’s the best I can do, then am I not still competitive? Even if I am merely competing with myself in this venture of parenting through pain, I am wholeheartedly committed to doing what I can with what I have. My parenting may not look like other forms of parenting, but I will always give it my all. I will still seek action wherever I can. Even if it is just crocheting.

Because I have always been honest with my children about my pain disease, they understand when I cannot do everything. I do make it a point to take every opportunity I get to hug, kiss and cuddle. It is one concrete way I can show my love for them. I can only hope it makes up for everything I can’t do. We must raise caring, empathetic humans, and, in the end, I think my pain actually helps accomplish this. Is my pain a part of God’s plan? I don’t know, but whatever that plan is, I know it is good.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV).