It’s been a week for acknowledging women. It started with Frances McDormand winning an Oscar and asking all the female nominees to stand up during her acceptance speech. Then, Thursday was International Women’s Day, which began as a labour movement in New York over a century ago and has become a UN-recognised global, annual event. Ending such a momentous week with Mother’s Day (in the UK) seems very fitting. So today’s post is dedicated to my mum, a very special and brave lady.
Everyone says they have the best mum in the world, and that’s how it should be. I’m no different. True, I haven’t always seen eye to eye with my mum – but then who does? It’s only since becoming a mum myself that I’ve realised just how hard having kids is. And my situation is much easier than my mum’s was.
When my mum had my brother in the early 60s she was unmarried, something that was frowned upon then. Fortunately she had the full support of my grandparents. When my mum returned to her full time job, they moved the cot into their bedroom and did the night feeds so that my mum could get enough sleep. With the help of an extended family, mum was able to carry on working until she had me 11 years later. Mum met and married my dad when my brother was a toddler and settled down in the house my mum still lives in today.
After I came along she gave up work to be a full time mum, something I didn’t appreciate at the time. But looking back I had a wonderful childhood, and spent almost every waking moment with mum when I wasn’t at school. I even went home for my lunch rather than have school dinners, so she must have spent the best part of the day walking to and from school. I don’t think she had much “me” time…sorry mum!
My parents split up and divorced when I was 10, and shortly afterwards my brother got married and moved out. That left me, mum, and my nan (her mum), who’d moved in with us a few years before. She was showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and becoming increasingly forgetful. Looking after an adolescent daughter and an elderly mother with Alzheimer’s, while facing the financial burden of being a single parent must have been hugely daunting. The roof was leaking and needed re-thatching urgently (at an eye-watering cost). But rather than wallow in self pity she got not one, but two jobs; a full time day job caring for the elderly, and an evening job at the local dog track. The roof was fixed, I still went on foreign school trips, and somehow we managed.
My nan’s health suddenly declined when I was 13, meaning she needed round the clock care. While mum was at work and I was at school my aunt (who was like a second mum to me) looked after her. The three of us somehow managed, with the regular help of respite care. I’m not in any way saying my home life was the cause, but at the age of 14/15 I rebelled terribly. How my mum kept her sanity while I was being a major pain in the arse, looking after her mother who had advanced Alzheimer’s…AND working two jobs, I’ll never know. They say women are like teabags: you never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.
After my nan died when I was 16, life became calmer. It still wasn’t easy, but there was less stress. I made amends for messing up my exams by going back into education and doing my A levels, followed by a degree. At the age of 26 I left home, moving about 50 miles away to Nottingham when I got married the first time. I went home regularly though. The truth is, I never really settled. Unsurprisingly that marriage ended in divorce. Not long after, I settled down with Pete and Isobel came along just weeks before mum retired from the NHS. But instead of a carefree retirement, mum had yet another upheaval to deal with: being diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease.
PKD is a range of genetic disorders that cause renal failure, damage to other organs and can result in premature death. There are two types: Autosomal Recessive and Autosomal Dominant, which my mum has. ADPKD is the world’s most common inherited life-threatening condition, in which fluid-filled cysts develop in both kidneys and result in progressive renal failure.
There is a 50% chance of children inheriting the faulty gene and developing ADPKD sometime during their life. Unfortunately both me and my brother have it, so donating a kidney to her is out of the question. So is a transplant, because after several years of peritoneal dialysis she had to have emergency surgery for a perforated bowel. That resulted in almost a month in hospital, including several days in ICU with pipes and wires everywhere, and many more procedures. The upshot is mum is now destined to spend three days a week hooked up to a hemodialysis machine in hospital. Plus lots of other medical appointments in between. Yet she never complains.
Mum always says you should do things while you still can, and she’s right. You just don’t know what’s around the corner. I’m so pleased that we took her to Barbados twice – once for our wedding, and again while she was on peritoneal dialysis. Yes, it took a lot of organising to get the medical supplies delivered, but it was so worth it.
Even though I can’t be with my mum physically on Mother’s Day we’ve had a good chat on the phone. Being tied to school runs and work means I can’t make the 260 mile round trip very often. Likewise, she’s unable to visit me because of the dialysis. But, like mum, I won’t complain. When we do spend time together we have fun, go shopping…and sometimes spend too much! Another thing I’m very grateful for is taking her to the last ever AC/DC concert I went to. I’m so glad she got to see our favourite band 🙂