Mommies Day

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day… a day when we are supposed to honor moms. Because moms get stuff done. This world functions because of the millions of things that mothers do every single day.

If you have ever read this blog before you probably know a couple of things about me (if you need to catch up you can check out a brief timeline of crazy):

  1. I am a mom to twin 7-year old girls.
  2. I am a Survivor. I have lived through cancer, the removal of way too many organs, depression, panic attacks, so much surgery, and the loss of my 28-year old brother- all in the past seven years.
  3. I started a non-profit organization called Mommies In Need (kind of by accident.)
  4. I really enjoy maternity pants (even when not pregnant,) the use of parentheses, excessive exclamation points, and the Oxford comma!!!

Today I am going to focus on number 3. Short summary of a very long story: just as I was coming out of the worst of my health problems, my friend Annie got diagnosed with colon cancer and needed help with her small kids. I sent a nanny to her and started crowdfunding to pay for it and it wound up turning into Mommies In Need. When I started MIN, it was just me and a couple of people I suckered into being on a board of directors that met on my guest bed while all our kids ran around screaming. For some reference on how this all started, check out My Why.

And last Friday night, just four and a half years later, I found myself on a stage in front of a crowd of 250 people (next to Dale Hansen!!) announcing that Mommies In Need has now provided over 18,000 hours of free childcare to parents going through a health crisis.

Those who know me understand that I am always ready to hop on a stage. I was basically born with “jazz hands.” I routinely embarrass myself in public and online to raise money for MIN (check out our Facebook page to see the time I sang Mamma Mia at Target.)

And yet leading up to Friday I found myself extremely nervous.

Nat on Mike
Sweating so much under that cape!!

Because this thing, this little spark, this call that I felt years ago has grown into something I never could have imagined. Not only are we continuing to develop and expand our successful in-home program, but we have found an innovative way to serve exponentially more families, and those who need it the most.

On Friday we announced publicly for the first time that we would be building a drop-in center at Parkland Hospital to serve the children of patients while they receive necessary medical treatment. We are working with some amazing partners, like The Beck Group and Winstead, PC, who are donating their time and talents to this project.

And for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Parkland is kind of big deal.

Parkland Health & Hospital System is the safety-net for Dallas County and is there when you need them the most- for the most vulnerable among us and for the most complicated, traumatic injuries and illnesses. And the need is staggering: About 1 million residents in Dallas County are uninsured or on Medicaid and critical trauma patients arrive at their doors every day. It’s innovative approach to care afforded Parkland recognition as one of the top publicly funded hospitals in the nation. 

And if that previous paragraph looks like I cut and pasted it, that’s because I did. See that is the text of my speech that got cleared by their communications team so I’m sticking to that when I write about it- I have 2 lawyers on my board now!!!

So now you all know where I have been for the last year. When I never responded to your text or email, when I seemed super distracted and ran in everywhere 10 minutes late — oh wait, that’s just me all the time! I haven’t written since December, but it’s not because I didn’t have anything to write about… I had all the things (except time), I just wasn’t able to talk about them yet. But now I can!

This collaboration that we are doing with Parkland is the first of its kind. There have been childcare centers at hospitals for the employees, or even at children’s hospitals to care for siblings… but not a place to care for kids when the parent is the one getting treatment.

We are the first organization to offer free childcare for patients at a public hospital. Or any hospital really. Which is crazy! Because something I have learned in the last 5 years of working in this space is that you cannot address women’s health if childcare is not a part of the picture.

That seems like common sense, right?! Except no one has studied it…until now!

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that we are also working on a research study? When I say we, I mean Parkland and UT Southwestern Doctors, not just like, me with a clipboard.

And I haven’t even gotten to the big, big, picture part of this thing. We are building this whole center to be something that we can scale and replicate in hospitals throughout North Texas and eventually across the country.

I am so unbelievably excited, and also a little terrified. Because this beautiful thing that I created is growing. And with every day it gets a little bigger, and more self-sufficient, and I am proud, and in awe, and realizing that it is not just mine anymore. It is time for it to venture out into the bigger world.

So this is where I circle back to Mother’s Day… see how I did that? Because MIN is like a child… did I just ruin it by explaining the metaphor?

Anyways…I have always looked up to my mom. I just had no idea how much until I became a mother myself. Before that I didn’t really understand that to be a mom is to have your heart out walking around in the world.

Me and my mom
I love hanging out with her… especially at an off-Broadway show held in a bar!!

My mother taught me how to love well. And she did it under some pretty difficult circumstances.

She took care of me when I was little by making me a nest on the couch when I was sick (which I do for my girls now), and she took care of me when I was a grown woman with kids of my own who needed her Mommy. My mother spent months going back and forth between helping with my babies during the day and staying at the hospital with me at night. She helped feed, and bathe, and dress me when I was too weak to do it on my own. Not to mention the fact that she was the only person who could perfectly arrange a “nest” of pillows for me to get comfortable in a hospital bed.

Sometimes I get compliments on my resilience. On my ability to turn the worst things in life into a blessing for others. On my kindness. But to quote a late 1980’s PSA, “I learned it from watching you, Mom!”

I have written before about Annie, the mom that I started MIN to help, who sadly passed away in 2018. We are naming our new program “Annie’s Place” in her honor.

When we open Annie’s Place at Parkland, we will have a plaque on the wall that reads:

Mommies In Need was built by moms to care for moms. We celebrate the community of women that make everything possible. We dedicate this place, Annie’s Place, to them.

And the first name on it will be my mom, Connie Howe.

Happy Mommies Day!

** If you would like to honor a mom in your life, you can make a donation here.If you donate $200 or more OR sign up to be a monthly donor of $25 or more, we will inscribe your loved one’s name on the plaque and send a card on your behalf to a designated person with the message:

“In your honor (or in memory of your loved one), a donation has been made to sponsor a child at Annie’s Place at Parkland. This donation will give 8 days of safe and loving care to a child whose mom is getting necessary medical treatment at Parkland. Your name will be inscribed on a plaque that hangs at Annie’s Place that reads:

Mommies In Need was built by moms, to care for moms. We celebrate the community of women who make everything possible. We dedicate this place, Annie’s Place, to them.”

Once you have made your donation, please email info@mommiesinneed.org with the name as you would like it to read on the plaque which will hang in Annie’s Place as well as the address you would like to send the card to if applicable. If you would like the card to be received before Mother’s Day we will need all information emailed by Wednesday May 8- we will continue to send out cards after this, they just might not arrive by Sunday.

We welcome donations in loving memory of someone special to you.**

 

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Mitzvah Therapy

Yesterday was an amazing day.  A Hallelujah, sing in the car, have a super-cool dance party with the hubs and kids sort of a day.  Yesterday I got some incredible news- my Osteoporosis has not only stopped getting worse, it may actually be reversing itself!!!!  I also had a great meeting with the wonderful folks at Cancer Support Community of North Texas.  The work they do for people affected by and living with cancer is unbelievable.  If you or anyone you know are dealing with cancer, please check them out as a resource.  They have support groups, informational meetings, kid’s nights, social workers, counselors- you name it, all FREE to members (but that actually cost a lot of money, so if you have some extra cash laying around you might want to throw it their way!)

At this meeting I got invaluable ideas and support for Mommies In Need, and I also came away from it with my favorite new term: “Mitzvah Therapy”

When I explained the whole backstory of Mommies In Need coming from my struggles and said that it has really been a huge source of comfort and joy to me in my recovery, one of the women in the meeting said that was an example of Mitzvah Therapy.  In its casual usage a “Mitzvah” is an act of kindness that you do for a person without expecting anything in return.

When I got home I googled the term and found this video:

http://storiesofchangeandpossibility.com/tag/mitzvah-therapy/

The story told here made me cry in it’s simplicity and beauty.  In it, Bill O’Hanlon describes what the late Dr. Sol Gordon coined “Mitzvah Therapy” and tells a lovely story about how it changed one woman’s life.  Now, I am all for psychotherapy- I’m not canceling those appointments anytime soon!  But as he says in the video, psychotherapy is all about you and Mitzvah Therapy is all about giving.

And I have a confession to make here, I have kind of become a giving junkie.  Seriously, I am always looking around for my next fix.  I actually keep some of it a secret (I guess until now) from my family because it seems a little crazy- well, crazier than usual.  If I have extra cash I pay for the parking of the person behind me whenever I leave the hospital lot- someone did that for me once and it made me smile on a not-so-good diagnosis day!  I have blessing bags in my car with protein bars, tissues, soap, etc. to give to any homeless people I see.  We did a diaper drive for the twins birthday and I got a huge high when the woman picking up the donations was so excited about everything she was loading in the car to distribute to underserved families.  I even carry around $5 gift cards to Starbucks that I sometimes give to random moms when I see them carting 3 kids through Target or dealing with a toddler having a stage 5 meltdown.  I hand it over with just a few words, “One mom to another, you probably need to treat yourself” and walk away.

I tell you this, but please don’t go on about how awesome I am or anything like that.  I mean, I’m pretty cool, don’t get me wrong, but I am not writing this for compliments!  See for me, those acts are actually pretty selfish, because I get such a huge boost of happiness and even self-confidence from doing those things.  When I walk away from that mom who has a little light of hope in her eyes that someone gets what she is going through, I feel pretty darn good about myself.  And that feeling, really helps me get through the day sometimes.  I have been forced to deal with a lot in the past few years- see A Brief Timeline of Crazy.  And there are days when I can get pretty depressed or anxious or just plain mad that all of those crazy and terrible things happened to me.

And I need my psychotherapy to work on the root of that depression and anxiety and anger, it’s not something that just goes away when you ignore it- believe me, I tried that and wound up with panic attacks (which I really don’t recommend!) But for me, when I get in a dark place, being alone and thinking about myself is a surefire way to go even darker.  And the quickest fix? A little Mitzvah Therapy!

So maybe I have taken this to an extreme by starting my own non-profit, but seriously, try to insert a little random kindness into the days you are feeling like crap.  It’s hard to be grumpy when you are giving joy to someone else.  Even just holding the door open for someone with a genuine smile on your face, rather than grudgingly doing it with no eye contact can brighten a person’s day just a bit.

Ugh, sorry if this whole post is a little Pollyanna, but I am coasting on a major high right now.  Mommies In Need has officially accepted TWO new families to help!  I am overwhelmed by the amount of support that this cause has gotten in such a short amount of time.  Don’t get me wrong, my heart hurts for the women we are helping.  I have been in situations like theirs and I know the kind of rough road they are going down.  But I am filled with joy knowing that Mommies In Need is taking a huge burden off of them by making sure their children are well taken care of.

If you feel like doing a little Mitzvah Therapy of your own today, please consider donating to our campaign to support these Mommies in their journeys through cancer.

The kids of the first Mommies In Need family.  Knowing we helped them have stability while their mom was sick is the ultimate Mitzvah Therapy!
The kids of the first Mommies In Need family. Knowing we helped them have stability while their mom was sick is the ultimate Mitzvah Therapy!

You Won’t See My Facebook “Year In Review”

Seriously, stop asking Facebook.  No, I do not want to share a montage of my life the past year with the caption “It’s been a great year!”  Because 2014 sucked!

It's been a great year for drugs!  Sadly most of them are anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea...but still!
It’s been a great year for drugs! Sadly most of them are anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea…but still!

It has been nothing resembling a great year, in fact I can genuinely say it has probably been the worst year of my life.  Now before I go on, I want to make it very clear that I have had bright shining moments this year.  I have found love and support everywhere I turned, I have reconnected with old friends and made new ones.  I have had some wonderful times with my family and been hugged a million times and laughed a lot.  For example, today my husband taught Curly to do a dance routine that included “The Sprinkler” and ends with Jazz Hands.  Well, to be fair, she is 2 1/2, that is pretty much the whole routine, but still… awesomeness!

But honestly, the best thing I can say about 2014 is that I survived it.  I survived 3 major surgeries, the removal of my colon, 3 months with an ostomy bag, a skin cancer biopsy, a thyroid cancer diagnosis, the removal of my thyroid gland, panic attacks, depression, anemia, and being told by multiple doctors that my hemorrhoids will probably never go away.  I survived 16 days in the hospital and countless more in recovery.  I survived mountains of pain.  Epic, horrible, screaming pain.  Pain that was so bad that when I finally got the drugs (I heart you Dilaudid) that helped, I may or may not have tried to kiss the male nurse who gave them to me, with my amazing husband standing right next to me.  Umm awkward!

I struggled with seeing my husband take on more than anyone should ever have to by caring for me and our kids.  He stepped up in a major way but I hated having to watch him do it and not being able to help. I survived not seeing my little loves even by Facetime because all the tubes I was connected to scared them.  And after months of being at home with them but being too tired, or sick, or in pain to play with them, I survived learning that I can’t always be Supermom.

That was a hard one for me.  I have never been good at the home-maker part of being a stay at home mom.  So having other people come around and help clean, cook, and do the dishes and laundry was perfect for me.  But I’ve always been good at the “Mom” part.  I love getting on the floor and playing silly games with Flopsy and Curly.  I love teaching them, and listening to them, and reading with them, and wrestling with them, and cuddling with them. And for a good part of this year I couldn’t do those things, and when I did, it was not with my usual enthusiasm.  I survived letting someone else take care of them when I did not feel up to it.  And guess what?  They survived too!

And I came out of this year a changed person.  I really don’t think I could go through all of that and not be a little different at the end.  I am much more anxious about everything, and I don’t really trust my instincts when it comes to my health.  Finding out I had cancer when I had absolutely no symptoms and between two other major surgeries for a completely different issue, kind of made me into a nutcase.  So now I tend to expect the worst, am kind of always waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I’m working on that.

I do like some of the changes in myself though… I have found this blog, a place where I can be truly honest rather than just “sucking it up” or pretending that I am fine when inside I am a giant hot mess.  It has been wonderfully liberating to have pretty much everyone I know (and a lot of strangers) filled in on my struggles so people are kind of caught up to my drama and I don’t have to spend every moment talking to them discussing my health issues, because I Refuse To Be Old!

I also really like that I have become a resource to people who are going through a difficult time.  Over the past year I have had friends come to me to talk about surgerymiscarriage, anxiety, depression, cancer, and lots of other issues because of how open I have been about my difficulties.  I don’t want anyone else to ever suffer through the things I have had to deal with, but if they have to, I am at least grateful that I can be there for them.  I can be a listening ear that lets them cry or a voice to tell them “that just sucks,” and allow them to feel their negative feelings, because pretending those don’t exist doesn’t make them go away… believe me I tried.

And I love that I have become more compassionate, because I understand that things can get really, really bad.  And that I want to make it easier on people going through a difficult time in any way I can.  So I started a non-profit, Mommies In Need, that helps sick moms have temporary in-home childcare so they can focus on recovery rather than constantly worrying about who is taking care of their children.  I may have done it with no plan in place and in a very fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants manner, but hey, we got 501(c)(3) status in just 2 months, so I must have done something right!

So I guess that 2014 hasn’t been all bad, just… complicated.  There is no way that a Facebook algorithm is going to be able to sum up my year, so I did it here instead.

Friends, family, and virtual friends, I wish you a very Happy New Year and a wonderful 2015.  To 2014 I say, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!”

** If you want to help other mommies out there who are sick and need help with childcare in 2015 and beyond, please consider donating to Mommies In Need here or share that link wherever you can.  We accept Paypal and all major credit cards (or you can mail a check) and you can get a last minute 2014 tax deduction!  If you ever wanted to do something for me when I was sick and didn’t know what to do, you can help now.  I am really passionate about this cause, and starting Mommies In Need has been a huge source of healing for me.  It helps me understand that maybe all the crap I went through in 2014 can lead me to something positive in 2015 and beyond!

My Why

I have said on this blog before that I no longer believe that everything happens for a reason.  Some of you may have heard me articulate this as “I don’t believe that God gives us the bad stuff.”  I just can’t wrap my head around a world where the difficult path that I have been down was chosen for me, that I have suffered so much because I am uniquely strong enough to bear it.  I think we have a lot more choice than that, and sometimes shit just happens.  And it’s not fair, and it’s not because I deserved it, or because I needed it to grow as a person.  I am just someone who for a long time couldn’t catch a break.  And I went through a long string of crazy health problems and am just now coming out the other side of it.

What I do believe is that people who are dealt a rough hand have the option to bet on it anyway.  We don’t always have the ability to change the circumstances that come into our lives, but we can choose to keep going, to get out of bed every day (or most days) and hope for the best.  And if we are lucky, we can find a way to turn those things into something great.  And sometimes God, or The Universe, or Completely Random Chance (whatever you want to name it that makes sense to you) lets things line up in a way that all that crap makes sense and has a purpose and can be turned into something beautiful.

This is more philosophical than I usually get here, but I need to explain to everyone why all of the sudden I have become (even more of) a crazy person and decided to take on a huge project when I am not quite fully functional myself.  I started a charity.  Like yesterday.  With no real plan in place, just flying by the seat of my yoga pants and praying that it turns out ok.

I have actually been thinking about starting this since I first got sick.  Because I always knew how fortunate I was that with the help of our families we could afford to hire a nanny to get me through the worst of it.  And I found Wonder J– as I have written before she has been amazing for our family.  I always knew that I could focus on taking care of myself and be there for my girls as much as possible, but have confidence that if I hit a wall and had to go lay down, or got dizzy, or was about to poop my pants (sorry for the TMI but we are talking colon removal here!) my girls were in good hands.   I can’t even begin to describe how much I needed this help, I am not exaggerating when I say I am not sure I could have gotten through the last few years without a nanny.  Cause stay at home mommies don’t get sick days.  Ever.  Not if you have a cold and not if you have cancer.

I never thought I would get so sick I couldn't even lift ONE baby!
I never thought I would get so sick I couldn’t even lift ONE baby!

Stay at home mommies of young kids don’t have disability insurance and most of us don’t have any sort of childcare set up.  Maybe a MDO or a couple of hours of babysitting here and there.  Not enough to go to seven doctor’s appointments a week.  Or be in the hospital for 20 days in a year.  Or go through invasive treatments and surgeries that leave you feeling like warmed-up death.  And if you can’t afford to hire help than at best you have tons of different people volunteering a few hours here and there, having to explain your kids schedule to every person that helps you, feeling guilty that there is no consistency in the kids lives, and at worst have to miss vital appointments or treatments because you can’t find someone to watch your kid with strep.  Who, by the way, you shouldn’t even be near because you have a severely compromised immune system.  Not a great situation, huh?

So when I heard that my friend Annie (who has two darling kids and not-so-cute colon cancer) was back in the hospital following surgical complications, and did not have and could not afford full time help to get her through the rest of her surgeries and chemo, I knew I HAD to do something.  See, a few years ago, I would have heard her story and thought, “Aww that sucks, she’s so nice, this is going to be really hard for her.”  But now I hear that story and say “NO!!! You can’t do this by yourself, if you can’t get help then I will get it for you.”  And then the real miracle happened.  Our previous nanny (who left only because she got a full time job, we loved her) texted me and said she was looking for a new family.  And I thought, “Hello, all I have to do is put these two together, raise a bunch of money, and I’m off.”  So Mommies In Need was born.

But can’t I just raise money for another charity that does this?  Nope.  If there is one, I couldn’t find it.  And my vision is very specific.  I want to not only fund the nannies for sick moms, but also provide them with someone who is vetted, background checked, and stamped with the SuperCrazy Mommy seal of approval (as in I have/would leave my own kids with them.)  Because when you are in pain is not the time to have to do interviews and reference checks and try to find the right person.  My long term goal is that if I get a call for a mommy who just got a diagnosis I can move fast and have a reliable nanny to her in a few days.

I know that there is a daunting amount of work ahead of me, I just opened the new bank account and am starting all the 501(c)(3) paperwork, and I actually do have “Grand Plans” for the future.  But already I am amazed at the people who have stepped forward and said they think this is important and want to be a part of it.   I am feeling grateful that everything came together at the right time for me to get off my ass and actually start this thing.  So is it crazy?  Yes.  Is it Super Crazy? Yes!  But I am doing this because I feel like I finally found the good that I can pull out of all the shit I have been through.  This non-profit is my silver lining, my reason for all my difficulties.  I actually have an answer now to the question that plagued me everytime I got hit with another diagnosis or huge crisis.

In Mommies In Need I found my “Why?”

 

*If this blog has ever spoken to you, or made you laugh, or given your day a little lift, please consider donating to MommiesInNeed.  If you can’t donate, please check out the fundraising page and share it on any media platform you can.  Plus as you will see on the campaign page, if you donate $100 or more I’ll Be Your Best Friend! You can also like me on Facebook for more updates on this project.