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#Chronic Illness, #Toddlers, and the #WAHM – Five Ways to Make it Work

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Every chronic illness has its flare ups, those moments when it gets worse and stays worse for days, weeks, or months on end. Some are brought on by potent triggers. Some are seasonable. Mine is a combination of both, and the last two weeks have been particularly bad. Toddlers, however, don’t care about the triggers, the season, or our illness. They just want mommy to play.

This makes things difficult.

Coping with a bad flare up by yourself is hard. Coping with it while working is even harder. Coping while working and raising a toddler may be one of the hardest tasks of all. Thankfully, there are a few ways to make it easier:

  1. Call on your family and/or friends for help. Do you have an older child in the house? Assign babysitting duty, even if you’re in the same room. (In fact, sometimes this works best if you ARE in the same room.) Ask your spouse or significant other to make dinner and/or take care of the nightly toddler tasks (bath, story, bed). Have you watched your neighbor or friend’s kid once or twice when they needed it? Now is the time to call in that favor.
  2. Simplify. Take a look at last month’s post on this for pointers.
  3. Take advantage of games and activities that require little movement on your part. My 19-month-old son, for example, loves to bounce – on pillows, on stuffed animals, on the couch, and on me. As long as I’m coherent enough to squeeze my ab muscles, I love this game. It requires little of me other than laying there and giggling at the right moments. Duplos, puzzles, cars/trucks, and story books are other good activities for days I don’t feel well.
  4. Nap when your child naps. It’s age-old advice for parents of newborns, and it applies equally well when you’re ill. You need the rest. Take it. Resist the urge to use this time to catch up on work. By resting now, you’ll up your productivity later. Guaranteed.
  5. Take serious advantage of your internal clock and natural rhythms. If you’re like me, this may mean waking up at the crack of dawn to make the most of your peak energy levels. If you’re like my husband, this may mean staying up into the wee hours of the night. Regardless, find the time of day when your illness is at its most manageable and you are at your most productive, and commit to showing up and working during that time. Even if it’s only for 45 minutes at 3 a.m.

Five Tips for Surviving as One of the #ZombieMoms

My son turned one this month. He is walking, running, pointing, gesturing, saying words like “come” and “sister,” laughing, playing jokes, and learning about boundaries – his own and those of other people. He is not, however, sleeping through the night.

In fact, after 40 weeks of pregnancy and 12 months of baby, a “good night’s sleep” for me is still a three-hour chunk of uninterrupted slumber followed (or preceded) by a couple of 90-minute chunks.

I’m exhausted, and the get-your-toddler-to-sleep routines touted by many don’t work for us. I can’t night wean him, because he is underweight, and I can’t delegate a night feeding to dad because he won’t take a bottle. I can’t leave him to soothe himself to sleep, because his cries typically only escalate (and I’m not an advocate of CIO anyway). And, prior to this week, I couldn’t get him to fall asleep without being on the breast.

So, for now, the only recourse to my severe lack of sleep is learning how to survive as one of the sleep-deprived #zombiemoms. Luckily, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that enable me to continue working and existing as a quasi-human, despite my lack of zzz’s:

1) I’ve become a huge fan of the 20-minute power nap. Even if I don’t actually fall asleep, I’ve found that just resting my eyes for 15-20 minutes can really help fight off exhaustion and increase my cognitive functioning.

2) I’ve figured out how to make the most of my coffee intake. I LOVE coffee and the ritual of drinking it is one of the biggest morning pick-me-ups I know. Unfortunately, I’m still breastfeeding, so I can only have about a cup of the caffeinated stuff per day. In order to make the most of the small amount I’m allowed, I brew four cups (my typical pre-pregnancy serving) of 1/4-caf coffee first thing in the morning. (I use one scoop of regular caffeinated and three scoops of decaf.) That way, I feel like I’m getting the same amount of caffeine as usual, even though I’m only getting a fraction of it. Also, by drinking it in the morning, I get a pick-me-up when I most need it, and I don’t keep myself from sleeping later.

3) I learned how to nurse lying down. This was something I figured out with my first child and used again with my son. It allows me to drift in and out of consciousness on those inevitable nights when he decides he wants to eat from 2 to 4 a.m.

4) I carry a liter of water with me at all times. Staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to boost energy (and keep migraines at bay), but it’s difficult to remember to drink water all day long, especially when you’re chasing after a toddler. A large-sized bottle cuts down on the number of times I have to refill my glass and ensures there’s always water at hand when I need it.

5) I cook and freeze individual-sized breakfasts once or twice a month. Eating a healthy breakfast has been shown to increase alertness, but cooking first thing in the morning (before coffee) with a toddler on hand is anything but easy. To make sure I don’t settle for something less than satisfying (or worse, nothing at all), I cook individualized baked-oatmeal bites, mini egg and sausage quiches, and breakfast burritos once or twice a month and freeze them. Then, in the morning, all I have to do is stumble from the freezer to the toaster oven and wait 20 minutes.

I have high hopes for a solid six hours of sleep some night in the future, but, for now, these five fixes will have to do.

Reader question: What do you do to combat mommy exhaustion?