When my mama said they’ll be days like this, she was not screwing around.
I remember having a conversation about motherhood with her months ago when she said, with a shudder: “Just wait until you’re sick. You will not believe you ever thought you knew misery before that day.”
I trusted her, but by that point the babies were six months old and we’d never been sick, not one of us. So I put it on a shelf and forgot about it.
Then a month ago Henry got croup. His first illness (at nine months, which I was pretty proud of). Like the gentleman he is, he graciously passed it to each of us, so we shared colds for a week. Mike and I swam in a sea of tissues, comforting babies, low on energy. But it didn’t bring us to our knees.
Then last weekend, Arden got her first fever. She had no accompanying symptoms, so I called the pediatrician who advised I do nothing but monitor her and keep her comfortable. Her fever raised and lowered over the next two days, and then Henry caught it. I took them both to the doctor because it was strange to have fevers and literally no other issues. She did a thorough exam and said it was a virus, and that many babies had been in with the same experience. She said it would be gone in the next day or two.
Since they were nearly healthy again the next day, I decided to go on our first run since the cold I’d had several weeks before. I felt great, and was doing my best time post-birth. I got back to the house and put the babies in their highchairs for a snack — and suddenly, I felt wrong. My skin hurt and every single joint ached. At first I thought I’d pushed myself too hard during the run, but the feeling wasn’t going away as I recovered from that effort. I prepared the babies’ food and felt worse with every passing minute.
After half an hour I called Mike and told him something was wrong with me, but I had no idea what, as I’d just been healthy enough to push 65 pounds over hills in the neighborhood. Fifteen minutes later it occurred to me: take your temperature, genius. Bingo: 100 degrees.
From then on it was like being run over by a train. I had to say out loud, “Just get me to the next thing, Jesus,” as I washed dishes or moved the kids to a different area. I felt so weak and aching that I physically couldn’t play with them. I went limp and laid on the floor, holding up a book and whisper-reading it to the babies. I realized I would be laughing out loud at myself if only I had the strength.
It was soon obvious that Jesus had heard my pathetic wimper because the babies were chubby-thighed angels for the next forty-five minutes. They just sat quietly playing next to the woman heroically auditioning for the role of a starfish washed ashore: arms and legs splayed, eyes closed.
In a moment of grace I will never forget, Arden looked at me, leaned over, and put her head on my arm, right in the crook by my shoulder. She stared at me with her enormous eyes and just laid beside me, radiating empathy. I felt so impossibly in love with her I thought it would be enough to heal me on the spot. I also remembered she had felt this sick over the last five days, and maybe still did a little, and my heart broke.
I kept my hands on each of them so I knew they were safe, and then I pretended this all wasn’t happening, because I knew I didn’t have an out. My mom was out of the country, my mother-in-love was working, my husband was working. Okay — my husband was working and then had a four o’clock tee time, but I still felt guilty asking for help. As soon as that became a conscious thought — “I feel so guilty asking him not to golf to come take care of the babies because I can’t move,” I realized how absurd it was, and I called him.
He immediately offered to come home before I had to beg, which helped me to remember this was the first such call I’d ever made. He was understandably bummed about his plans, but made it home within an hour. At his insistence I went to bed, announcing as I walked up the stairs that I’d sleep probably half an hour (because what kind of a mother takes a longer break than that? I berated myself)…and then didn’t regain consciousness for more than two.
Thank God this happened on a Thursday, because on Fridays my mother-in-love comes to help (alternating Fridays with my sister) so I knew I wouldn’t be alone the next day. I felt much better through that day, but the fever spiked again as evening approached and I went to bed early, sleeping like the dead.
That Saturday we didn’t have plans, which is always cause for celebration in our house, and I told myself I was ruining it by being sick. How could we do anything fun if I was sick? How could we leave the house? I had to rally! This was Mike’s day off and the kids’ chance to get out and do something new and exciting; I had to pull it together. But every ounce of my 101 degree temperature body was saying, Abby, move to the couch. Do not move off of it. So, logically, I forced myself to get dressed and put on accessories.
What is with this mother guilt? Did I drink from a vial concocted by a gaggle of evil raccoons stirring a pot of poison in the woods labeled “Mother Guilt”? Have I forgotten this disturbingly detailed memory? Why do I not allow myself to get physically ill?
Mike walked into the room and saw me sitting next to the children, fully dressed and ready to go, but staring into the distance like one of the rubber giraffes they were playing with.
“Babe, I think you should stay home,” he admitted. “You look like…babe, you need to sleep. I’m taking the babies, we’re going walking along the water and getting lunch and you will sleep.”
He was so sincere, and so earnest about having a daddy-twins day that I finally caved. I crawled to the couch and shouted last instructions.
“Take a bottle for each,” I moaned. “Do you have wipes?”
As he left I burrowed under a blanket, freezing despite the heat radiating off my skin. I was just about to fall asleep when I remembered: “Be sure to cover their legs with the thin blankets in the back of the car so they don’t get sunburned,” I texted him.
And with that motherly duty complete, I fell into a blissful two and a half hour coma. When I woke up, my fever was gone and never returned. Mike had a fabulous time with the babies on an afternoon adventure — perfectly happy, and not sunburned, without me. Evil raccoon mother guilt be damned!