The Mental Load of Mothers

The kind of tired that sleep can’t fix.

Being a mom is tiring; there is no question about that. At any age and stage during infancy to adulthood there is always a reason that being a mom is exhausting: as a newborn it’s the constant waking to feed, as a toddler it’s the constant energy, as a child it’s the constant activities. Past that I can’t really say first hand but I have some ideas.  But being a mother comes with more than just lack of sleep and energy, it comes with the type of tired that sleep alone can’t fix.

Hailey, Charlotte, and Timothy at 6 weeks. Hailey and Charlotte are smiling. Timothy is crying.
It’s tough to be a baby.

The main reason that being a mother is so exhausting is because of something called the mental load. I like to think of the mental load like a giant backpack filled with miscellaneous items that are inside my brain. It is a weight that mothers carry every single day, and being a mother to a special needs child adds a significantly longer list of items to the backpack.

This backpack is filled with big and little things, but the weight of each adds up to be quite heavy for one person to carry alone. Especially when just as quickly as something gets taken out of the backpack six more items are placed inside it.

This mental load aspect of parenting is something that usually falls onto the mother (not always) and therefore can cause some strain in the parenting relationship because it is a lot to ask of one person. Men and women are just different and as much as everyone knows that it can be really frustrating to deal with those differences in daily life.

This morning my husband got up and decided he had enough time to make himself some eggs and toast for breakfast before work. So he did that, and he went to work.

This morning I came downstairs to get Hailey ready for school and all of us out the door in time for the school bus. But I saw there was no bread left to make her a sandwich and so I had to go get some from the deep freeze in the garage. On my way over there I noticed James’ boots tracked mud all over the front entry way so when I got back inside I swept. Then when I went to throw out the mud I noticed the garbage never made it out last night and so I changed that. And then I cursed under my breath and got all the kids ready and out the door.

Charlotte laying on the ground throwing a tantrum beside a teddy bear.
Toddler Tantrums.

As I sat at the bus stop waiting I sent off a quick snippy text to my husband “Thanks for leaving me no bread to make Hailey’s lunch”. I was furious. Yes I know it’s just bread and at least we did have some in the freezer but I’m tired.

I am tired of being the only one to remember that: Hailey’s lunch needs made, the agenda needs signed, the pediatrician needs called, the physiotherapy needs scheduled, Timothy’s on his last pair of clean pants, Charlotte only has 2 diapers left ,next week’s appointment conflicts with school pick up, did we use the last of the frozen vegetables last night? I better pick some up.

The to-do list that continues for eternity in my head is overwhelming. As I think myself into a spiral I heard my phone. “Sorry babe I didn’t think of it.” That was my husband’s reply and as much as I was still seething, I also wanted to laugh. Unfortunately that was just the truth of the situation, he didn’t think of it. There was no master plan to make my morning more difficult although it felt like it at the time.

Remember how I said the mental load is like a backpack full of miscellaneous items in your brain? Well continuing with that analogy… think of when you go away as a family, even for a night. What does your husband pack? Probably his own bag which consists of a new shirt, underwear, deodorant, and if you’re lucky a toothbrush. What do you pack? What do you pack for the kids? Chances are a lot more than what he packed. As women we tend to want to be prepared for anything, and are generally more organized then men. So if you pack more in your physical backpack than your husband, what makes you think it would work any different mentally?

James sitting in the car with Timothy at 6 months sitting in the passenger seat. We are parked.
Road trips.

Now I’m not saying this means that it should all be on you and that he is off the hook. Not at all. But I think the first step of sharing that mental load is for you both to understand how the other sees it and why. And then to try and find a common ground and compromise on what you each can realistically take care of.

For my husband, he doesn’t have a great memory so if I want him to take out the garbage for me, or switch over the dishes while I’m out late at girl guides with the kids, I just need to ask. And for myself even though I know realistically I need to handle all the scheduling of appointments, I just need a listening ear from him to vent to about my stresses with it.

There will always be differences between my husband and I in how we deal with things and that is just a part of joining your life with another person. The way we communicate about it and work together is the most important aspect.

I don’t ever expect to not carry the majority of the mental load simply because of who I am as a person (I like to be organized and I’m a worrier). What I do expect is that my husband is there to hold the backpack for me for awhile when I just can’t carry it anymore or that he is there to help catch it when it starts to slip off.

James and Melissa sitting together smiling
Partners.

Thank you for patiently waiting for a new post, the backpack has been a little extra heavy these days <3.

Our New “Normal”

This week is normal; in fact it is so normal that it actually feels abnormal. We don’t  have any doctor appointments, therapies, or specialists. I’m not expecting any phone calls for scheduling or testing or updates. It is just a plain old week. And as much as I should enjoy it, it feels wrong, like I must be forgetting something.

Timothy sitting on the couch smiling. He is wearing a blue sleeper with a polar bear on it.
Smiley Timothy.

Ever since we started this journey with Timothy’s Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA) I have gotten accustomed to the busyness of it. There seems to always be something going on whether that be an appointment, or two, a therapy, a new doctor, a follow up phone call. I don’t really remember the last week I had without at least one of the above.

Although this is an unusually quiet week, I can just look at my calendar for the next 6 weeks and realize that this is the calm before the storm of all of the above and then some.

Yet something about the quietness of this week has my anxiety going wild. After shrugging it off as just anticipation for the crazy month and a half that is creeping up on me, I realized it actually isn’t that at all. Instead it is the fact that all the busyness is what feels “normal” to me now.

Having a child with special needs comes with a lot of moving pieces and I have been organizing those pieces into our lives for about 7 months now. In a way it feels like it has become our life. So when we have a chance to sit back and just have a quiet week at home it just doesn’t feel right.

This is a part of special needs parenting that I really struggle with; the right to feel normal in abnormal circumstances.

Hailey holding Charlotte to go down a slide. They are both happy.
Playtime with our girls.

I think it confuses other people who haven’t been in this situation to think of weekly appointments and a lifelong disability as being “normal” but for us special needs families we need to regain a sense of normality in our life after the initial shock of a disability diagnosis.

 I get more comfortable with Timothy’s diagnosis every day.  The little details of his nystagmus (jumping eyes) or him not making eye contact with me have become less obvious and I can go for hours in a day without even thinking about him being blind. He is just my Timothy, he interacts with me how he always has, and he interacts with the world as he always has. And to us that is normal.  

I get used to running around to all the appointments and in a way I enjoy it. Checking in with Doctors and starting new therapies makes me feel like I am doing something to help Timothy thrive.

Yes there are still days where I am completely overwhelmed by my schedule and how I will make it all work, or completely heartbroken over the dirty look Timothy got at Wal-Mart because he was going cross-eyed (which is actually called Strabismus  by the way).

A big part of acceptance and moving forward is finding our new “normal” and being able to enjoy our family fully just the way it is and that is what we are learning to do every day.

So I hope for other special needs families out there, you can also realize that we all deserve to feel normal regardless of if your “normal” is different from others.

Timothy is sitting on the couch. He is wearing a t shirt, a blue batman baseball cap, and black sunglasses. He is smiling.
Our cool dude.

Thank you so much for reading about our journey.

Why Me?

Finding my place as a Special Needs Parent.

The first evening after learning about Timothy’s eyes I came home and thought “why me?” now I know that sounds terrible but it’s not what you think.

Melissa in the hospital NICU right after Timothy was born. She is wearing a hospital gown. Timothy is in an oxygen mask cuddled to her chest.
Brand new baby.

I wasn’t thinking why me because I did not want to have a child with a disability, but because I didn’t know if I could be strong enough, brave enough, smart enough, organized enough, just overall  good enough to handle everything we were about to have thrown at us.

I had seen parents of children with disabilities and the struggles they had. I didn’t know exactly but I saw how much it took out of them. The paperwork, the appointments, the testing, and the waiting. Watching your kid suffer, be afraid, cry, not understand what is going on, not be like other kids, and be bullied because they are not like other kids.

I got a sudden case of Imposter Syndrome wondering if I was ‘Mom’ enough to handle this. Timothy is my third child so I felt like I kind of had the hang of it all. At least age 0 to 5 but that was with typical children. I had no idea how to handle a child with special needs… and blindness? Well I knew it was a thing but I never had really been around anyone who was blind before.

All I knew about blindness was that Timothy would have to learn and read Braille. You know those little bumps on the washroom signs. So in an effort to rid myself of the Imposter Syndrome, I threw myself into learning Braille and I was pretty good at it too. I memorized the entire alphabet within days.

But Timothy was just 4 months old and having me know the alphabet in Braille was not really going to help the current situation. So I also threw myself into research, on blindness and on his preliminary diagnosis of Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). I read about how we can adjust the house for him, how we can help make him more comfortable in new places, how I can teach him about things through talk and touch. I learned about LCA and read about all the different gene types (we didn’t yet have our diagnosis).  I also connected with tons of families. I joined Facebook groups and followed Instagram pages. I learned through others who had blind children who were a bit older than Timothy.

 And slowly the Imposter Syndrome started to fade. You know the saying knowledge is power and not only had I been gaining knowledge about blindness and LCA for months, who else was more knowledgeable about Timothy than me?

Timothy laying on his black and white playmat. He is chewing on a fabric book and has a musical toy dog beside him. He is 78 months old.
Some of Timothy’s Sensory toys.

I would go to countless appointments with different doctors who all have different specialties but they seemed to ask the same questions. Nothing seemed to be going anywhere. I know Timothy and I know what he needs and what he is ready for or not. I know where we need help. So instead of going to these appointments answering the same five questions about his growth and development I now go with my list of questions and the things I think we should be doing for him.

This is when I finally started to answer the question of “Why Me?”

Because I love my children deeply and unconditionally.  I will advocate for Timothy in every single situation whether it’s to a Doctor or a family member or a stranger in the mall. I will never stop researching and learning about all the things I can do to make life easier for Timothy. I will never stop educating others on Timothy’s condition.  I will do absolutely anything and everything to help Timothy succeed.  As I started to really think about it the better question that first night would have been “Why not me?” .

Becoming a Special Needs parent was not something I had planned and at first it was really uncomfortable for me to feel like I had anything to offer the situation but slowly I’ve discovered that I am one of the most important people on Timothy’s team. I am his Mom.

Melissa is sitting on the couch cuddling 10 month old Timothy.
Mama and Timothy cuddles.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog.