For many of those with chronic illness, fear can be a challenging side effect to grapple with. Fear can manifest for a number of reasons, but one of the most common sources is parenting. Whether you’re considering raising a child or already have a few, being a parent with a chronic, life-altering illness can certainly give rise to some fears and anxieties.
In a recent essay for Shondaland.com, actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler wrote about her 17-year journey with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that causes damage to parts of the central nervous system. Sigler explained that as a young girl, she lived largely without fear. Before MS, the only thing she was ever afraid of was not being liked by others. Now that she has gone public with her diagnosis and her disease has been relatively stable for a decade, Sigler said the only fear she struggles with these days has to do with motherhood.
“When I learned I was pregnant with my first son, Beau, six years ago, I was terrified,” she wrote. “All of a sudden, I had to think about how my MS would affect someone else. (I say this, because my husband has made me feel since day one that this disease had no negative effect on us as a couple.) But with my son, his safety depended on me! His survival!”
Sigler said a number of thoughts ran through her head – fears that might sound all-too-familiar to other chronically ill parents. She wrote:
What if he runs off and I can’t chase him one day? What if I can’t carry him up and down the stairs? What if he won’t want to play with me because I can’t be the “fun mom” who runs on the beach with him, or chases him around the house? I even, sadly, had to have the talk with my husband about what we’d do in the worst of circumstances, where I thought out loud: If there ever was a mass shooting, you have to take the kids and run, and trust I will do my best to stay safe. Just thinking about this still makes me tear up.
Depending on the unique symptoms and challenges different conditions can bring, the “parenting fears” you experience may vary. For instance, Mighty contributor Karen Habashi fears her kids will catch a cold, because her chronic illness means she must limit contact with them to avoid catching it herself. Contributor Ama Wei also struggles with anxiety, fearing a migraine will strike and cause her to be unable to drive and pick her daughter up from a playdate.
Sigler now has two sons – Beau, 5, and Jack, 14 months – and does her best to be there for them every day. Though she struggles with pain and a body that doesn’t always do what she wants, Sigler said she still walks Jack around the block, no matter how long it takes, and will attend Beau’s sports games and cheer him on from a seat on the sidelines. “I am definitely participating in life the way I always dreamed, but it’s not without challenges,” she wrote.
On Mar. 18, Sigler appeared as a guest on the motherhood podcast “Katie’s Crib”, and explained that she sometimes has to “get creative” in order to care for her sons and give them a full life. When her older son began walking and running, Sigler feared he would run off somewhere and she wouldn’t be able to catch him due to her MS. “And I don’t want to keep him confined and home all the time, so I started to become creative and so I would find parks that were gated,” she said.
As Beau continued to grow, however, Sigler worried her illness would slow him down, so she hired a nanny to take him on longer adventures, like hiking trips, that she is unable to do. “You just have to make — they’re not sacrifices but choices,” she said. “I’m bummed that I’m not the one that can experience it all with him but… I don’t want him to not have those experiences.”
Despite her fears surrounding parenting, Sigler wrote that motherhood has given her back her confidence and reminded her that she is worthy of love.
“In the face of the daily fears that I have of not being enough, my two little boys give me all the love and reassurance I’ll ever need,” she explained. “They only know this one mommy. They don’t ask why I move the way I do, why I need help upstairs sometimes, or why daddy rubs my legs a lot. They don’t care. They have shown me that I don’t need anything, good or bad, working or not, disease or no disease, to be deserving of love.”
If you have a chronic illness and struggle with fears about parenting, you’re not alone. As Habashi wrote:
Sometimes we need to go easy on ourselves as parents, because the struggles we face daily are enough to beat us down. We don’t need any more shackles to hold us back. So if you’re a parent struggling with a chronic illness… remember: take it easy on yourself. You’re not a bad parent and you’re not selfish. You are doing this because you love your kids so much.