By: Rebekah Lazanis
We as moms and dads of reflux children are in a unique role as caregivers. Most of the time when people think of caregivers, they think of the men and women who work in retirement homes or taking care of the elderly and disabled. Other parents don’t seem to understand that our children not only take so much more work but that we have to do this while balancing regular child rearing duties. Many of us have other children to consider who may not understand why one or more siblings “gets extra” attention. We may have jobs, attend college courses, or do a multitude of other responsibilities.
Many of us feel helpless as we battle the almost invisible illness that is clutching our children. Most are exceptionally young and all they can do is cry as the pain of acid refluxing into their esophagus, allergies to certain foods tear up their insides, and shear exhaustion bring our little ones to tears. Some of us are trapped in our own homes and worlds because not only do some doctors not quite understand what causes infantile reflux but neither does our friends whose babies spit up but have no other side effects.
Eventually we isolate ourselves to our own homes to avoid the judgement of strangers who don’t understand why your baby cries and you can’t comfort him or her. Or because their medications require strict timing and can require refrigeration. Some of us go on very strict elimination diets to help with our little ones allergies and reflux triggers. Any little slip in diet can cause a cascade of effects and eating out isn’t worth the risk.
What does this do to us as parents and human beings?
Be aware of the signs of “caregiver burnout.” Caregiver burnout is a true state of exhaustion, both physical and emotional. It tends to happen when caregivers try to “do it all” without getting the help or rest they need. Some of us are trapped in the mindset that no one else can do it right or might be justified in that thought because a well-meaning friend or family member has tried to help and disturbed the fragile balance we maintain. For instance my own mother decided to add more water to my child’s formula because she thought it was too thick. He was miserable the rest of the day.
Because caregivers tend to be on autopilot, they don’t always realize that burnout is occurring in them. Other people might notice the symptoms first, which can include changes in appetite and sleep patterns, withdrawal from social activities, increased anxiety, or emotions that are either heightened (such as excessive crying or irritability) or decreased (feeling empty or unconcerned). Take it seriously if someone you trust notices any of these things in you.
Finally, remember that you are not superhuman. You’re a parent doing your best. So give your child your time, your encouragement, your attention, and your unconditional love. Just be sure to save a little bit for yourself.
Caregiving may be putting too much stress on you if you have any of the following symptoms:
•Sleeping too much or too little
•Gaining or losing a lot of weight
•Feeling tired most of the time
•Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
•Becoming easily irritated or angered
•Feeling constantly worried
•Often feeling sad
•Frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical problems
•Abuse of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs
Here are some more tips for reducing stress:
•Find out about caregiving resources in your community.
•Ask for and accept help. Be prepared with a mental list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what she would like to do. For instance, one person might be happy to take the person you care for on a walk a couple times a week. Someone else might be glad to pick up some groceries for you.
•If you need financial help taking care of a little one, don’t be afraid to ask family members for help
•Say “no” to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
•Don’t feel guilty that you are not a “perfect” caregiver. Just as there is no “perfect parent,” there is no such thing as a “perfect caregiver.” You’re doing the best you can.
•Identify what you can and cannot change. You may not be able to change someone else’s behavior, but you can change the way that you react to it.
•Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time.
•Prioritize, make lists, and establish a daily routine.
•Stay in touch with family and friends.
•Join a support group for caregivers in your situation. Besides being a great way to make new friends, you can also pick up some caregiving tips from others who are facing the same problems you are.
•Make time each week to do something that you want to do, such as go to a movie, take a nap, or even go for a walk.
•Try to find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet, and get adequate sleep.
•See your doctor for a checkup. Tell her that you are a caregiver and tell her about any symptoms of depression or sickness you may be having.
•Try to keep your sense of humor. Remember that old adage “don’t cry over spilt milk”, try not to cry over spilt spit-up/vomit. I know it might be hard but I have a collection of pictures of my own instances of puke in various places.
•Celebrate the wins! Even if it is something small, find a way to enjoy to good moments so you can reflect on them when the going gets tough.
Admitting that you are experiencing care-giver burn out is not admitting defeat or that you aren’t capable of taking care of your child. It means that you are human and you need help. We all are very lucky to have found these forums for advice and a place to vent but sometimes that isn’t enough. As mothers and fathers, we too need physical help with caregiving, and it is not only perfectly okay to ask for help, but essential to everyone’s well-being. I encourage you as a mom of a Gerdling (reflux baby) to take care of yourself so that you can take care of the precious life that needs you.
Here’s a list of websites I used to compose this article and I do not claim that all of these words are my own. I encourage you to investigate on your own and talk to your or your baby’s doctor at any time you might be concerned that you or your partner is experiencing care-giver burnout.
Brene Brown on Burnout
Please do your soul a favor and spend the hour+ listening to this podcast…it’s absolute gold for parents of Gerdlings!
Spoiler alert: it’s not telling you to just get out of the stressful situation or do some self-care! <3
Brené with Emily and Amelia Nagoski on Burnout and How to Complete the Stress Cycle
A message to husbands and partners…
Written by a Gerdling mom, to a twin Gerdling dad:
You have two GERD twins who desperately need help. Your wife has PPD, and will likely come out of this with PTSD, which is completely NORMAL for a mother in her situation, because GERD causes trauma to parents (especially mommas, and ESPECIALLY mommas of twins who almost didn’t survive) and should not be minimized. I imagine you are an excellent husband who wants to help any way you can, but perhaps you have just not realized the seriousness of the situation. I, myself, have a SuperDad husband with a closet full of capes, and even he did not realize how to prevent the momma-trauma until we got to GERDling #2. Your wife is throwing out a lot of red flags to us, and she needs you to make some serious sacrifices for your family, perhaps some you never thought you’d have to make. They may involve taking leave from work, budgeting for home-assistance, or getting your wife into therapy. We know God made you with strong, broad shoulders to carry this load for your family, and we are here to help in any way we can. Your wife (if she is like me and many of the mommas in this group) is likely not thinking very clearly right now because of exhaustion, depression, and trauma. She needs you to use your levelheadedness to make a plan of action. It will ease her physical and emotional burden if you can take on the responsibility of getting your babies pain free.