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Behind the Lens Blog
Thank You For Being The Best Mom You Can Be
By Rhiana Ehara

A child’s birthday party; kids running around, eating too much sugar, and getting away with stuff they’d never be able to do at home. It’s a rite of passage for parents, as they drop off their kids and head out for some well-deserved quiet time. But for our daughter, this happy scene is full of danger and I have to stay with her to keep her safe. It’s just one of the many challenges I experience as a parent with a chronic illness.

Parenting a child with a serious medical condition adds another dimension to your life. You need to be present, alert or prepared to act 24/7.

My husband Kaz and I got married young and waited more than five years before we had our first child. By the time we were ready to start our family, we had seen friends and family members have kids, and we were relatively confident that we knew what to expect. We had a baby, and then another, and it felt like our family was complete.

A life-changing diagnosis

Suddenly, our two-year-old daughter Chiyo was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). Our son, Cai, was only three months old. It was very hard, but by no means an experience unique to my family. We threw ourselves into figuring out how to manage her illness, and we privately worried about missing whole segments of Cai’s babyhood as we focused disproportionately on his sister. I worried all the time and doubted myself as a mother.

Parenting a child with a serious medical condition adds another dimension to your life. You need to be present, alert or prepared to act 24/7. There are many repetitive but extremely important tasks that must be performed without fail: blood sugar checks, insulin injections, carb counting, monitoring ketones, middle-of-the-night feedings. Even if everyone is sick, even if you’re exhausted, it has to be done, and done carefully, because nothing is more important than keeping your child healthy and safe.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Promo for Sweet Dreams for Chiyo
Diabetes in children can be deadly

Many people don’t know that Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that has no cure and cannot be outgrown. Something caused Chiyo’s body to attack and destroy part of her pancreas so that she is unable to produce insulin. Now, and for the rest of her life, she needs multiple insulin injections each day to survive, and we check her blood sugar many times a day and overnight — and yes, even at birthday parties — to make sure that she is safe.

If I had one message to give to other moms, it would be, you’re doing a beautiful job. You are enough, just as you are.

Both high and low blood sugar can be life-threatening and cause ugly long-term complications. Although we don’t live in constant fear of losing Chiyo, the possibility is always at the back of our minds. While the numbers are unclear, some people with Type 1 Diabetes will die from an undiscovered low blood sugar overnight. I still can’t say its name — Dead in Bed Syndrome — without developing a lump in my throat. The stress of it all can be overwhelming, and I have found myself on the brink of burnout several times.

And yet. Staring down the long road ahead of us can be overwhelming, so I try not to focus too far into the future. I draw strength from the faith I have in the progress being made toward finding a cure, and the support of my family and friends. We are alive, and we are living.

Finding support from family and friends

My husband says I’m blessed with a dark sense of humour and, in my best moments, the ability to laugh at my own family and our struggles. I know that things could be so much worse and I’m thankful for our many blessings.

My girlfriends and I have a tradition of letting off steam by drinking wine, cursing like sailors, and occasionally roller-skating. We laugh, we cry, we vent, and we remind each other that we’re all doing okay. I also belong to a group of other parents of children with Type 1 Diabetes, and we meet monthly to drink coffee, offer support, and brainstorm solutions to our diabetes struggle du jour. (There’s very little swearing, but it’s still deeply cathartic.)

Thank you for being the best mom you can be

If I had one message to give to other moms, it would be, you’re doing a beautiful job. You are enough, just as you are. The kids are fine. It’s a message I need to hear from time to time.

birthday card

For my birthday this year, Chiyo made me a beautiful handmade card that said, “Mommy, thank you for being the best mom you can be.” At first, I’ll confess, I felt slightly demoralized, and a tiny bit cheated. Isn’t the sentiment supposed to be you’re the best mom in the world?

After thinking about it for a moment, I realized that her way is healthier and smarter. I don’t need to be the best mom, best woman, best anything on planet Earth. I’ll just continue to be a woman who is doing her best, determined to be kind to herself in the face of those little voices that are sometimes otherwise.