I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chelsea, a friend of mine who has both a brilliant mind and a beautiful heart. She is also a single mom to a precious, medically fragile boy. During our conversation, she shared about the burdens she carries, what keeps her going, and the hope with which she looks toward the future. This conversation was such an encouragement to me, and I hope it serves as a reminder that, regardless of your situation, you are not alone and hope is a powerful force.
Chelsea and T’s journey begins
Chelsea’s journey to motherhood has come through the foster care system. Now three and a half years old, her son, “T,” was 14 months old when he came into her home, though he was wearing size 0-3 month clothing at the time. Unable to keep down more than an ounce of formula, T was constantly crying and obviously very, very sick. His sunken eyes and small appearance were concerning, and Chelsea soon became acquainted with his health history.
T was born premature at 24 weeks and was on life support for almost four months. His first year brought complications and the need for extra medical attention, and life today still involves much in the way of medical care. They currently attend six therapies each week, including physical, occupational, speech, and feeding therapy. T has 16 doctors and therapists for his needs, ranging from gastric issues and anaphylactic allergies to environmental allergies and extreme asthmatic issues that are a result of scarring on his lungs from being on the ventilator. He is on a special diet of medical food that is supplemented with real food, and they continue to closely monitor his weight. Each month he is weighed at the doctor’s office, and if he gains less than one pound for the month, they will move him to a feeding tube.
Juggling the demands of single-parent life
In addition to his appointments, T takes seven medications every day that are spread out between 11 different times. From monitoring severe allergies at birthday parties to finding medically trained babysitters, there are countless variables to manage. Chelsea explains, “I have charts everywhere. I have calendars that map out his medication logs by month. It’s constant, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. As a single mom, I also have to work and pay the bills, in addition to taking care of myself.”
She continues, “There’s a constant anxiety that you deal with; you never really feel like you are off. There’s just this constant watching his body all the time to make sure he’s ok. Any little sickness can turn into something big in a matter of hours. You have to be on top of it all the time.
It’s exhausting in general, but to be on top of it all the time and know that you have no back-up is hard. No one else knows everything. To not have a partner in that can be really challenging, but I don’t really dwell on that.”
Where to turn for help and encouragement
Chelsea was quick to explain that she is surrounded by an amazing community that is there for her when she is feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Always a text or phone call away, her neighbors and small group have shown up with food, assistance with handyman jobs around the house, and, sometimes, simply their presence. One friend will cook a big batch of chili for her own family and for Chelsea and another single mom, as well. “She brings them over in two Ziploc bags for the freezer, but they are usually gone in that first week,” Chelsea smiles.
“Another thing that’s meant a lot to me,” Chelsea continues, “is when a friend and her husband invite me to do something. As a single mom, you often don’t get invited out with other couples. Even an invitation to join their family at the zoo means so much. I want T to see what a healthy marriage looks like. I hope someday I’ll meet someone, but it’s nice to have his grandparents and friends in our community who fill in those gaps.”
Battling mom guilt and fatigue
There are times when, despite being surrounded by a supportive family and community, that the reality of single parenting is difficult. Chelsea reflects, “It becomes tiring. You need some adult space. You need a mental break. And the only time that I’m gone from him is when I’m working. And although I love my job, it’s high stress and really not a true break.
Every morning you wake up and do it again and again. People talk about mom guilt, and I think for single moms it may be intensified in some ways. When I was sick recently, I felt guilty sending him to someone else’s house, but when he was home with me, I felt guilty that I was too sick to really play with him. Those are the times when it’s the hardest.
I have no back-up. I have no one to take him outside to play. I feel bad calling my neighbors one more time for another favor. It’s hard to ask my family for help again. You feel like you are always asking people for favors, but you are not always able to return the favors because you don’t have a lot to give. It’s a humbling place to be, especially when you’ve grown up to be independent and to provide for yourself.”
Finding strength through faith
Chelsea relies on finding each day’s strength from her moments with the Lord. “The human spirit is just not strong enough to hang on without supernatural help,” she explains. In the midst of the morning rush out the door and the exhaustion that comes at the end of the day, Chelsea acknowledges how difficult it can be to add one more thing. Yet, keeping the Bible in front of her, a constant reminder of Who her source is, has been important for her.
“I keep a morning and evening devotional by my bed, so it generally doesn’t take too long. But it’s at least something to meditate on in the morning and something to meditate on at night. After I drop T off in the mornings, I have a 30 minute drive to work. I’ll often listen to sermons, worship music, or even the quiet of prayer is really helpful.
I had to stop putting pressure on myself to think that God could only speak if I sit in my prayer closet for an hour and study the original Greek language of Scripture. That was nice when I had the time, but it’s not the season I’m in right now. I can read the same passage over and over for weeks and weeks, and because the Word is alive and active, it will still speak to my heart and soul.
Sometimes it’s making time during moments of desperation. I remember one time when I received a phone call about T that was really challenging. I turned on the iPad and told him, ‘Mommy needs to go spend some time with Jesus, so you can play with the iPad.’
I also don’t think it’s bad to admit that sometimes you need to be led yourself. I told my mentor the other day, ‘Thanks for leading me to the throne of God because I’m not sure I could have carried myself there this morning.’ I’ve learned much about the character of God that way. Even when I’m feeling weak, God will keep revealing His kindness and His faithfulness to me.”
Looking to the future with hope
These moments of strength continue to carry Chelsea through her days, and she has hope for what the future holds her family. Though their schedule is full, it has been rewarding to see the progress that T is making. Chelsea reflects, “Going to therapy every morning is hard, but it’s working. Seeing the progress for T has been huge. I’m seeing him do things that they said he would never do. So I feel like you can beat the odds. You just might be tired.” *smile*
Chelsea’s love for and pride in her son are evident in the way that she lights up when she talks about him. We are so grateful to her for taking the time to share her perspective on single parenting a child with special medical needs.
Chelsea is a single mom of the most precious boy! After years of working in the non-profit and community development sector, she started an organization herself, the Foster Care Alliance. The Foster Care Alliance is working to help make permanency faster for children in foster care, by supporting and providing services for the biological moms who want to be reunified with their children. You can follow Chelsea and her work at fostercarealliance.org.
If you’re feeling tired and looking for resources to help encourage your heart, you may be interested in this free prayer journal.
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