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Isolation

by julie on May 14th, 2017

Thirteen years ago, I spent my first Mother’s Day cooped up in a room with Meredith and Tim in isolation at our children’s hospital. Just 6 months earlier I was nearing the end of my pregnancy and looking forward to this next stage in our relationship when we would graduate as parents. I was excited to experience all of the firsts that would follow our baby’s birth which was due to unfold in early December. I imagined my first Mother’s Day gathering with my own mother and celebrating that I was now part of this revered clan.

Meredith was struggling right from the moment she entered the world and by the spring we had spent a total of 15 weeks in the hospital. It seemed that we would just get home and settled in when another crisis would arise and back we would go to where we were inevitably admitted for lengthy visits.

So when Meredith was continuously waking throughout the night and violently retching 20 times per day, we knew we needed to get some answers. We were placed in isolation and I recall feeling like a caged animal. We lived on submarine sandwiches and chocolate and made the best of our time. This was not how I envisioned my first Mother’s Day.

I remember being connected to a mother in Vancouver who had a 14 year old daughter diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of 2 after a choking incident at her daycare.  When I reached out to her I was a brand new mother and I was terrified. We had been at the children’s hospital since the night of Meredith’s birth and the days quickly turned into weeks. I wondered what life would be like on the outside of the walls of the hospital. How would we survive this? Was it possible to ever be happy again? Would life ever feel normal and easy? Would our marriage survive? These were the questions that swirled around our minds as we got up each day and gave everything we had to ensure Meredith’s survival and happiness. I will never forget Cindy, the Vancouver mom, who emailed me and assured me that we would be able to have some sort of normal life again. In one email, she described how she and her husband were preparing to go away for the weekend and I remember thinking that maybe we, too, could do that one day. I knew it wouldn’t just happen but that we had to make our relationship a priority. It was critical that we not lose sight of that. 

It started with a lunch date when Meredith was just three months old and we had finally been discharged from the children’s hospital. We left Meredith with my parents to walk to a nearby café. It was far from romantic and our conversation was strained under the weight of our sleep deprivation and new reality. Still, we forced ourselves to face each other head-on in a feeble attempt to catch a glimpse of the love that we knew was there.

During one period of crisis where Meredith screamed for hours on end and we were not buying into the “kids-like-her-are-irritable” explanation, we ran away for one night and left her in the capable hands of my sister and mom. I knew that, as seasoned mothers, they could tag team for 24 hours so Tim and I could have a chance to catch our breath. We needed to regroup as we knew our next steps would likely lead to another lengthy stay at the children’s hospital.

Over the years, we slipped away for a night every few months, camping out in motels that lacked in both visual appeal and cleanliness. Regardless, we made the most of those nights. Closing the door behind us, we approached these getaways with the sole purpose of reconnecting and remembering that our relationship was worthy of the same care and attention we gave to Meredith. This carried us along for many years. It wasn’t much, maybe only 4 nights away in a year, but it was enough to sustain us.

Thirteen years have gone by since that first Mother’s Day. We are in isolation again but this time it comes in the form of a cabin reserved for couples who need time away from their usual day to day lives. Tim and I left Friday at noon and drove almost two hours to Le Canotier, a rustic cabin by a river where a couple can be self-sufficient for a weekend or a week and simply bask in each other’s company and in the beauty of nature that surrounds them. For 48 hours we have been disconnected from people, technology and responsibility. We have sat by a river in the hot sun, drinking wine and listening to the birds. We have fallen asleep in complete darkness listening to the chorus of peepers outside our window. The cabin is equipped with a record player and over one hundred excellent albums for all music tastes plus board games and puzzles. We have lived on cheese and crackers, pate, gourmet sausages, potato salad, coffee, wine and Baileys. As each hour has passed, we have felt the distinct sensation of stress and worry loosening their grip and being carried away with the river.

Tim captured me napping to remind me of the importance of self care.

We learned many years ago that guilt has no place at these retreats and this time away together is not only a wise investment in our marriage but it is a necessity in being the best parents we can be to Meredith. It not only nourishes our relationship but it is nurtures us as individuals. Tim sneaks away to walk in the woods and takes photos. I stay at the cabin to curl up with a book and then nap without any concern for the time.

We rarely have privacy in our home. Having caregivers/ nurses to assist us is a fact of our lives and one that we are grateful for yet we have never completely gotten used to having our home so open to so many people. Getting away provides us with privacy, perspective, uninterrupted conversation, time to linger in bed and to really see each other again and remember who we are beneath the daily grind. There is magic in that and it is something we will continue to do and to guard with as much determination and dedication as we put into caring for Meredith.

Tim and I at the end of our weekend. Blissful and ready to head home and see our girl.

I am grateful that thirteen years ago a wise mother, unknowingly, gave me the best advice I could receive when she shared her plans for the weekend. It has been a gradual process and it took us twelve years to get away for two nights in a row. Deliberate, intentional plans to spend quality time with your love is a starting point. It is my wish, on this Mother’s Day that you will take this advice, as I did so many years ago, and will not underestimate the wonders a cheap motel and a bottle of wine can do for your relationship. If you think cannot do it, you are starting too big. Start small. Do what you can manage and build on that. Look for the helpers. They are waiting in the wings for your cue to allow them to take over for a little while so you can nurture yourself and your relationship. You deserve it. Your relationship deserves. Your family deserves it. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

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One Comment
  1. Shallen Dam permalink

    Hi Julie,

    Thank you for this post. We have 2 kids who are 2 and 5, and it’s been a long time since we have spent a night away just the 2 of us. We do try and have special dinners at home when they are in bed, but it never seems to work out (they always know……) So it really isn’t the same as being away. This is something we need to start doing again, so this is a great reminder. Thank you for that.

    Please tell Tim I said hi, and I hope he is enjoying his new job 🙂

    -Shallen Dam

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