How Motherhood Forced Me To Get Serious About My Health

My body has been through a lot in the last three years: I’ve had two pregnancies, two postpartum recovery periods, the removal of a melanoma tumor, and surgery to repair an umbilical hernia. Suffice to say, it’s been a real challenge.

But it was during my second pregnancy (during which I was caring for my one-year-old son) that things really took a turn. I had just moved past a queasy and insomnia-ridden first trimester and was trying to get back into the swing of things. The long winter days and dark afternoons—paired with first trimester nausea and hormones—had left me grumpy and a little depressed, sure, but I was finally able to eat a little and get out of the house occasionally.

On one of these feeling-okay days, things took a drastic turn. I was stacking blocks with my son when I started to feel exceptionally strange. The light seemed exceptionally bright and objects had become slightly blurry and pink-hued. The room started spinning.

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At first I thought I was tired or dehydrated or that this was a passing pregnancy complication, but as I sat absolutely still with the room whirling around me, I realized that the sensation was like being, well, drunk.

The light seemed exceptionally bright and objects had become slightly blurry and pink-hued. The room started spinning.

It turned out, as I’d learn later, that this was my first attack of vertigo. And I later learned that I have Meniere’s Disease, a condition caused by the buildup of fluid in the inner ear, the part of your body that regulates balance. Meniere’s causes dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), nausea, headaches, vomiting, and vertigo.  Sounds fun, right?

Meniere’s Disease can be chronic and, for some people, totally debilitating. You can’t really push through a Meniere’s attack when it happens, and then when it’s over, there’s usually a strong chance it will happen again in the future.

No matter what my body went through, I refused to take pain killers because I was pregnant or nursing, so dealing with the struggle of repeated health issues became a challenge.

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Friends, doulas, relatives, and my partner have all been there for me, but I had trouble accepting help from them for a myriad of reasons.  For one, I felt guilty asking others to help with my kids because I was no longer working outside the home and therefore felt it should have been my responsibility.

You can’t really push through a Meniere’s attack when it happens, and then when it’s over, there’s usually a strong chance it will happen again in the future.

Time spent helping me recover meant time taken away from the kids—whether they got less of my attention or less of my partner’s attention. There was a constant self-imposed expectation that I could or should force my body to keep up with my own unrealistic demands to do more, get better, be better.

With Meniere’s disease, unlike any of the other health issues I encountered, there’s no way to push through a bout of vertigo and remain functional; you simply have to give in and wait to recover. You simply need help.

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But what I have learned over time and through trial and error is that my changing body—and all the demands it put on me—requires care and attention.

This means that there are mornings my partner has to get up early and watch both the kids while I sleep—because getting run down means getting sick, which triggers vertigo. I also need to watch what I eat and drink; subsisting on tons of caffeine (as moms are want to do), leftover mac n’ cheese from my son’s dinner, and chocolate are surefire ways to bring on the vertigo.

Instead, I’ve had to take the time to drink plenty of water, eat fruit and veggies, and make sure I’m taking my vitamins.

What I have learned over time and through trial and error is that my changing body—and all the demands it put on me—requires care and attention.

Exercising has been vital to reducing the frequency and intensity of my attacks because of its natural stress-relieving effects and because it helps to boost my immune system.

I’ve also returned to my yoga practice and meditation, although post-children it often looks more like gentle stretching while my children use me as a jungle gym, and less like the beautiful sequences in Yoga Journal.

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Meditation can mean mindfully washing dishes or taking a minute to step outside and breathe deeply while the kids are occupied inside.

In the end, Meniere’s Disease has forced me to care about myself, as a parent and as a person—in a way I don’t think I would’ve embraced without having kids. Because taking the time to care for myself doesn’t mean that I’m depriving my children. It means that I’m ensuring I’ll always be around to care for them.