Liz here! I have the great privilege of introducing our next 'Betti Says' guest blogger. Please give a big Betti welcome to one of my dearest and oldest friends, Annie! Annie and I did gymnastics together at the University of Iowa and the bond of being sisters in the gym never seems to fade. As such, I will never forget the day I received a group email from Annie to all of our teammates. She had news to share, her new baby was sick with a rare and chronic health condition. This news shook all of us, throwing our expertly trained gymnastics team balance into chaos. We did what we could to help, but honestly, most of us felt pretty helpless. Leave it to Annie to lead us through it....helping us find our collective balance once again. And you know what?!...The sweet baby in question just celebrated her 4th birthday! When Annie called me about doing a Betti Box for our special 4 year old, Whitney and I couldn't wait to help. Read on to learn more about Annie's story and her journey to find balance in parenthood, one candle at a time.
For the first 20 years of my life, I understood balance to mean simply not falling. First, crawling and walking, then those wobbly baby steps. Next, I learned to balance on one foot, then balance on my hands. At the culmination of my competitive gymnastics career, I was tumbling with one hand on the balance beam and doing handstands on the high bar. Yes, I balanced school, relationships, and gymnastics for 20+ years, but I never gave it much thought. I never had to…that sense of balance just came so naturally to me.
When that chapter of my life ended and I took a job at a rehabilitation hospital, I met people who were dedicating their careers to helping others re-learn the basics of maintaining one's balance: core strength, lower body strength, focus, posture, muscle tone, reciprocal movement. I learned so much more about the science and application of balance by getting to know my patients- and their team of doctors, nurses, and occupational and physical therapists. In this phase, I still had my balance, but perhaps I became more aware of the intricacies and fragility of this thing that I’d always taken for granted.
In the next (and current) chapter of my life, I am redefining balance altogether. My understanding of balance has shifted from a predominantly physical phenomenon to a much more holistic one. Let’s start with parenthood. I could probably stop my blog post right here and you would be nodding in understanding. But that is not the end of this story. Parenthood is hard and requires SO. MUCH. BALANCE. I'm not just talking about work/life/family balance. That is absolutely critical, and immensely difficult. I'm talking about balancing the unexpected things that life throws at you; specifically in my case, having a child with a chronic illness.
As a new mom, I watched my first baby reach and surpass milestones within or near the predicted timelines: head control, rolling, sitting, crawling (though hers was more of a crazy one-legged army crawl), and walking. During her quest for upright balance, I searched for a renewed balance in my own life. I had left my job at the rehabilitation hospital and now needed to find another source of fulfillment to balance out the roller coaster of emotions that come with being a first-time parent. To do this, I turned to the familiar - I went back to the gym, this time as a part-time gymnastics coach. My topsy-turvy entry into motherhood gradually settled into a new, but stable balancing act.
When my second daughter was born though, my world was turned completely upside down and all of the balance I had worked my whole life to achieve, was thrown out the window. We knew that something wasn’t quite right after our little girl was born, but it took three excruciating months before my sweet baby was diagnosed with a rare, incurable genetic condition that left her weak and fighting for her life. Learning to balance family life with two young kids is no small feat on its own, but when a diagnosis like this comes in conjunction with a new baby, managing even the simplest aspects of life became difficult. As the harsh realities surrounding our little baby's life expectancy and lifelong medical needs became more apparent, it was clear that I would never be just a regular mom again. In the moments following diagnoses, I became a medical mom. What did balance in this new role look like? Did it even exist?
My former natural inclination for balance became much more difficult during this time, but slowly, with the help of my family and friends, I started to find ways to plant my feet on firm ground and start to seek the balance my family and I needed. I searched for silver linings wherever I could find them. For example, I felt grateful for my former employment in the rehabilitation center because it familiarized me with hospitals, medical equipment, and the accompanying terminology. I have family about an hour away who jump through hoops to help out. My oldest is an inquisitive, healthy, beautiful girl who gives wonderful hugs. I am grateful that my husband balances me out in so many ways. And, as they say, life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance, you must keep moving. And so our little family held each other tight, and just kept pedaling forward. Finding a new sense of balance.
Our baby girl started receiving weekly infusions at 4 months of age, and started physical therapy at 6 months. At that time, she could not even hold her head up, much less roll or maintain sitting balance. Her arm and leg muscles and her core were extremely weak. Something that had come so easily to me as a young gymnast was now so incredibly difficult for my daughter. It was hard to comprehend. That was over four years ago now and I’m so happy and proud to say that she has come a long way since then. If you saw her walking on the beach today, you'd never know what she has already overcome and the challenges she is still up against. As for me, there is still a lot to balance: medical appointments, virtual preschool and kindergarten, the craziness and isolation that is COVID, unexpected ups and downs in my little girl's treatments, my own health, pretending to be a short-order cook to meet the dietary needs of our whole family, and the list goes on. I believe that one of the most important balancing acts is making sure that, in the midst of all of her medical care, my little one still gets to experience the freedom and joyfulness of childhood. And that her sister does too!
It might be cliché for me to take this moment to point out that birthdays are special. These are the milestones of joy and excitement that all parents want their kids to have. And for parents with medically fragile kiddos, birthdays take on a whole new level of significance and mixture of complicated emotions and feelings. When you have a child with a chronic illness – a girl who has taught you to appreciate every single day, a girl who has taught you to find silver linings in the darkest moments, a girl who tackles every day with a smile – birthdays…more candles on the cake…mean even more.
This is where Confetti Betti comes into this story. I know Liz and Whitney’s mission of making celebrations easier for everyone is a noble one, but I’m not sure if they even realize what a gift it is to a medical mom like me. With all of the year’s appointments, infusions, therapies, the challenges of day-to-day care, and the extra stress of protecting a medically fragile child during COVID, I did not have the time or mental fortitude to plan or shop for my daughter’s birthday this year. Thanks to Confetti Betti, I didn’t have to. My daughter and I perused the Confetti Betti website during one of her treatment sessions and she picked out her favorite theme. A week later, a box packed full with fun arrived at our door.
Our girl chose the Confetti Betti ‘Princess Party’ with a few custom items from the ‘We Love Unicorns” theme as well. To let you know, I am not a girly girl, and princesses and all things sparkly and pink are a foreign concept to me. Confetti Betti knocked it out of the park. When we first opened the box, both of my girls giggled with glee. It was easy to see the how all of the items in the box would go together to make a complete, cohesive party, with no additional work or princess-y planning on my part. There was tableware, décor, matching balloons and even coordinating recipe cards with easy-to-follow instructions. After the party, both the birthday girl and her sister wanted to keep the decorations. We hung the princess garland in their bedroom and moved the castle into their play area. Busy kids plus reusing decorations as toys is a definite parenting win….for medical moms and regular moms alike!
I'll end this post with a quotation that speaks to the athlete in me and also the type A-scheduler-planner-juggler-medical mom I have become, "Finding balance in life is like standing on one foot. Be willing to shift your perspective, wobble a bit, adjust your priorities, and keep focused." This is what is required of us throughout our lives, but especially in the unpredictable adventure that is parenthood. I’m grateful for all these lessons in balance, and for the candles we will count every year as my family continues to find balance in this crazy beautiful life.
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We are so thrilled to introduce our first Betti Says guest blogger, Ashley Joines! Ashley is an amazing mom of two girls and an incredibly talented photographer. As we start to think about celebrating Mother’s Day, we asked Ashley to reflect on her experience as both a mom and a photographer. We couldn’t love this blog or all the Mama’s in our life more. Enjoy!