Religious Trauma, Cancer While Pregnant, and Being a Mom

My deepest fear by far these days is that I’ll inadvertently be a bad mom and permanently fuck my kid up in the process. This is a complicated fear for me, given the fact that during my pregnancy I was receiving regular chemo treatments.

For my entire life, the seemingly constant message to me was the need to raise Godly children to be foot soldiers in the church’s culture wars. To this day I could quote to you about half a dozen or so verses enumerating the need to teach your kids about Jesus from the time they’re old enough to understand the words you’re saying.


And my own childhood was fairly traumatic, so I have reason to doubt my mothering skills to begin with.


And then you throw in the fact that I have a laundry list of “no-no’s” that I went through during my pregnancy: CT scans, X-Rays, MRIs, MASSIVE doses of steroids, Rituxan treatments, 4 full chemo treatments, being born 2 months early…


From 8 weeks of pregnancy on, every single time I met with my maternal fetal specialist or my OB-GYN, we got bi-weekly scans, stress tests, blood pressure/sugar tests, and more just to make sure my baby hadn’t died.


Yep. Every two weeks or so we had to check to make sure that nothing had killed, maimed, or disfigured my daughter. 


Later on, due to the placement of the mass, we would also have to constantly monitor my O2 levels to make sure we were both getting enough oxygen, so that she didn’t get brain damage. This situation would eventually be what lead to her having to be born 2 months early: she was safer in an isolette in the NICU for a month than she was in my womb.

I’d known from the beginning that this would likely happen. Nevertheless, walking out of that hospital and leaving my girl in the NICU was one of the most soul-crushing experiences of my life. During her month there, my doctors wouldn’t allow me to stay overnight in the NICU because the chemo had so thoroughly trashed my immune system.


My body was so weakened by the situation that my muscles had deteriorated, and I was nearly constantly in a wheelchair during the week following delivery.


My girl was four pounds when she was born, and I could barely hold her. The NICU nurses had to bring her to me for our “kangaroo care” times because it wasn’t safe for me to lift and carry her.


I’m two years out from chemo now, and the fatigue still keeps me glued to the couch some days.


Treatments paralyzed a lung, too. So I easily become winded and have to sit.


Treatments caused my hip joints to rot, and I barely escaped getting them replaced before I turned 30. They’re still just hoping at this point to get my hips to last till I’m 50 before having to replace them (fingers crossed).


THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE WHAT MOTHERHOOD WAS SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE.


My girl and I have figured out ways for me to play with her. She constantly brings me the toys and books she wants to play with or read. She brings me legos when she wants to build. She brings me our Darth Tater Potato Head when she wants to hear the weird voice imitations I do. She brings me her little pink piano when she wants to hear my pathetic rendition of “Fur Elise.”


But I still constantly worry. My childhood trauma has made it difficult for me to express affection at times. I worry that the religious trauma will cause me to veer too hard in any direction, influencing her own mind’s decisions (our extended families are still heavily Christian).


What if everything I was taught actually IS true, and I’m damning my toddler to hell??


I’m absolutely paralyzed with fear at the thought of doing something wrong. What if the house isn’t clean enough? What if she lays awake in her crib for too long before I get her up in the morning, and she thinks I’ve abandoned her? What if I miss some cues when she’s scared or ill? What if I’m missing cues that the chemo gave her Autism, or ADD, or ADHD? What if the baby wearers are right, and she’s not bonding to me like she’s supposed to? What if the breast feeders are right, and she’s so underweight still because my milk never came in due to chemo? What if being an only child because I’m sterilized from chemo cripples her socially? What if me planning on homeschooling makes that even worse?


The fears spiral deep into the night sometimes, sweeping me up into the deepest corners of my psyche that always lay in wait. I have zero chill when it comes to fear sometimes, and being a parent is terrifying even under the best of circumstances.


I was indoctrinated into one life purpose and one purpose only: being a baby making machine for the “Lord’s Army.”


I’ll never have more kids. The one I have will be whatever she damn well wants to be when she grows up. I no longer have the old “train the child up in the way they should go” and other such scriptures and platitudes to lean on. I’m an emotionally crippled mother raising a perfect, brilliant, hyperactive child who saved my life before she was born. She deserves the best.


I just hope that someday I’ll be even a fraction of the mother she deserves.


Blessed Be.

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