Motherhood is tough enough when you’re healthy. How do moms with chronic illness manage the daily tasks of caring for themselves and their loved ones?
That is the basic question Emily Graves tries to address in her new book, How to Be a Good Mommy When You’re Sick: A Guide to Motherhood with Chronic Illness. However, her answers fall short.
During the times I’ve struggled with health issues, I felt that I was barely able to hang on and care for my children until I recovered. So I looked forward to reading Graves’s book, hoping it would provide guidance on how to handle mothering while suffering from pain or illness. Graves has firsthand experience — she has rheumatoid arthritis as well as kidney problems. She tries to provide help in a slew of different areas: dietary needs, managing medication, and choosing baby clothes to adapt to your health issues, for instance. But while there was plenty of information, I often felt overwhelmed by the volume of details. Many of these details were not particularly useful because they were too specific to the author’s personality type and diagnosis.
Indeed, the book’s advice tended to fall into one of two categories: general knowledge that most mothers already have (Google calendar can help you stay organized!), and advice very specific to the author’s particular diagnosis (compression gear reduces swelling!).
For example, the author recommends using baby and toddler clothes with Velcro instead of snaps and buttons, because if you suffer from RA, using your hands can be painful. That, certainly, is a great idea. She also recommends baby gates and round coffee tables so your child stays safe in the home — advice I thought was common knowledge by now for all parents.
Meanwhile, I was looking for more research-based theories and techniques.
The author is clearly a fighter, one who has made many adjustments to her lifestyle to stay on top of her illness and provide good care for her child. Unfortunately, reading the book left with me with the feeling that I’d just had an incredibly long conversation with someone who shared every detail of advice she had to offer — most of it only applicable to a mother suffering from RA, kidney issues, and responsible for a very young kid.
The book would have been stronger if it had been structured differently and included some visual organizers. More important, it would have been stronger if Graves had considered readers who differ from her: those who have different physical issues than she does, or who have mental illness, or who have multiple children, or who have children past the toddler stage. She strongly recommends strategies such as meal planning, staying organized, and mobilizing loved ones to help when you need it. But for the mom face down with depression who just wants to survive the day, having the motivation to plan everything in advance may not be an option.
In all, the information Graves presents would have been more appropriately shared through a blog. She clearly has learned a lot about how to manage her own situation, and expresses a deep desire to help other mothers who might be similarly suffering. The checklists at the end of the book might be useful to mothers who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness and aren’t sure where to start.
But as much as I wanted to like this book, it simply doesn’t apply to many mothers with chronic illness.
How to Be a Good Mommy When You’re Sick: A Guide to Motherhood with Chronic Illness
MSI Press, February 2015
Paperback, 210 pages